Four Years of Delhi Riots: No One Killed Ashfaq, Zakir, Mahtab — Here's a Saga of Cooked Up Cases, Fabricated Evidence

Five people, including four Hindus and one Muslims, were arrested and sent behind bars on the charges of murdering four Muslim men. But a Delhi court recently acquitted all after the prosecution’s “star witnesses” turned hostile.
Four Years of Delhi Riots: No One Killed Ashfaq, Zakir, Mahtab — Here's a Saga of Cooked Up Cases, Fabricated Evidence

New Delhi: Ashfaq Hussain, 22, who ran an electrical shop at Chand Bagh in northeast Delhi and got married just 10 days ago, had gone out to offer prayers on February 24, 2020 when he was killed in nearby Brijpuri locality at around 6 pm. His family members said he had five bullet injuries on his body.

Mahtab, 22, a resident of Brijpuri, had gone out to buy groceries and milk on February 25 the same year. While returning home, he found the iron gates in his lane locked. He decided to take another lane, but he was brutally attacked by a murderous mob and later succumbed to his injuries.

Zakir Saifi, 28, was offering afternoon prayers at Farooqia mosque at Mustafabad on February 25. Chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Lord Ram), a violent mob entered the mosque and began attacking the devotees. Injured Saifi was rushed to a private nursing home, which referred him to a bigger hospital so that he could get better treatment. Unable to take him to LNJP or GTB hospitals in absence of an ambulance or other vehicle, he was brought to closeby Al-Hind Hospital where doctors declared dead the father of two young daughters — then aged eight and four.

Fifty-three people (as per official death toll) were killed in the Trans Yamuna region of the national capital in the worst sectarian violence the city witnessed post Independence. The deadly clashes began from February 23 and continued till February 27, 2020 following a mob led by Kapil Mishra, a leader of the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), targeted sit-ins being staged against new citizenship legislation [the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019] — which critics argue goes against the secular ethos of the country.

The passage of the law by both houses of Parliament in December, 2019 triggered nationwide agitation — mostly led by Muslims who described it discriminatory in nature as it paved way for persecuted religious minorities (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians), excluding Muslims, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who arrived in India before the end of December 2014.

One Jameel also lost life in the violence. Even after four years of the riots, his case still remains unsolved.

Partially charred and mutilated bodies of the four men were found by the Delhi Police — which initially lodged a single first information report to investigate the four cases before filing four separate FIRs. 

Around a dozen Hindus were also killed in the violence.

But in three above-mentioned killings, the police booked one Muslim man and four Hindu men as accused. 

However, a trial court in the city in February this year acquitted all the four men  — Arif Khan ala Mota, Jitender Kumar, Subham Singh, Ajay alias Monu and Ashok Kumar on account of the prosecution’s inability to provide sufficient evidence to support the murder charge that was brought against them.

It raises a question as to who killed Ashfaq, Zakir, Mahtab and Jameel (whose case is still open).

In this second part of The Mooknayak’s three-story series on the fourth anniversary of the violence in northeast Delhi, we will delve into the experiences of the five men — who are now cleared of all charges — who from behind the bars saw themselves losing their source of livelihood and their families slipping into debt.

The story will also talk about the people who lost loved ones in the riots.

Of the 53 murder cases filed in relation to the riots, according to data, 14 are still unsolved. Jameel’s death remains one of the 14 unsolved cases. 

In the rest, 39 murder cases, chargesheets have been filed.

As already discussed in the first part, a total of 757 cases were registered in connection with the communal unrest. Of these, 63 cases — all of which involved murder — were transferred to the special investigation (SIT) of the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch. 

Following registration of separate FIRs, the first consolidated case — involving the four killings — was canceled.

All ‘Star Witnesses’ Turned Hostile

Acquitting all the five men who were accused of killing Ashfaq, Zakir and Mahtab, the Delhi court said all “star witnesses” of the prosecution turned hostile after their depositions before the court conflicted with their previous statements recorded by the police.

The prosecution’s failure to establish any connection between any of the accused and the killings of the trio was also noted by the court. The court further stated that the prosecution was unable to provide any proof, not even circumstantial, to prove that the accused were part of the mob — which went on the rampage at the time and location of the murders.

The court further emphasized in four different judgments that forensic analysis was unable to establish that the blood-stained clothes that the police had found — purportedly at the accused’s instances — actually belonged to the deceased.

Additionally, the prosecution failed to prove that the CCTV camera footage it had used had any connection to the four killings, nor were the investigators able to provide the videos in question before the court.

Charges of murders and riotings were framed against the four Hindu men by the court on November 16, 2021. Arif Khan aka Mota had charges of rioting and related offenses against him as the court — at the stage of framing charges — did not find him prima facie guilty of killing Ashfaq, Zakir and Mahtab due to a lack of common intention.

The police claimed that the three killings were reported to the police control room by Shashi Kant Kashyap, the prosecution’s “star witness” at around 6 pm on February 25, 2020.

According to investigators, Kashyap was an “eyewitness” to the three killings and the accused were apprehended after he recognized them as members of the mob.

However, Kashyap denied making any such statement to the police. He was also unable to identify any of the accused in court. All he said was that he had made the PCR call.

The court records suggest that Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Videsh Singhal claimed during cross-examination by Arif’s counsel that Kashyap named 10 rioters in his statement recorded by the police under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.).

The officer did not, however, record statements of anyone regarding enquiry made in respect of aforesaid five persons since he was unable to find their complete particulars.

The prosecution’s second witness, Surender Sharma, who also turned hostile, denied giving any police statement in which he might have implicated Arif in the rioting. He stated in the court that he had only seen Arif standing close to the spot and had never seen him engaging in any illegal assembly.

Advocate Abdul Gaffar, who defended Arif, alleged it’s clear that the police “played the pick and choose game” in this case. 

“A Muslim man is accused of killing other Muslims during the rioting. However, the star witness, who was later found to be hostile, provides five more names, which you choose to disregard. This suggests that the investigation had significant flaws,” he told The Mooknayak.

Struggle to Bring Life back on Track

One of the four Hindu men, who was acquitted, claimed he spent several sleepless nights during incarceration.

“My both daughters, now seven and fifteen, were diagnosed with tuberculosis, which added to my worries. The older one required surgery. In order to make ends meet, my wife had to borrow money. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of my mobile phone repairing shop,” he described his ordeal, requesting anonymity.

He now sells vegetables in front of his house at Brijpuri. He was engaged in the same business when he was apprehended by the police.

“They (police) planted everything, including weapons and clothes, and claimed to have recovered it from me,” he alleged.

It is still difficult for Arif’s parents, Babu Khan and Parveen Khan, to accept that their 35-year-old son, a daily wage worker, was arrested by the police and made to languish in jail on suspicion of killing several Muslims, including their neighbor Mahtab — whom he used to call uncle.

Since we have always lived nearby, I would refer to Mahtab’s mother as my ammi (mother). “How can anyone believe that Arif would kill his own chacha (uncle) during the riots?” asked Parveen.

“He (Arif) has some other police cases like theft, etc. against him,” said Arif’s father Babu Khan, alleging that the cops “framed” his son.

Subham Singh can relate a similar tale. “I have to start over because my life has regressed by several years,” stated the 26-year-old, who lost his T-shirt manufacturing company while dealing with the legal battle.

“My father had to sell our lands to fund my sister’s marriage,” he said.

The others, who were charged but ultimately found not guilty, are employed but facing difficulties in reintegrating into society. They said they have gone four years back in their life and it’s difficult for them to bounce back.

“Once you come out of jail, the world sees you differently,” asserts 26-year-old Ashok Kumar, saying, “How do you break the news to everyone that you have been found innocent? You continue to be seen by the people as a murderer and a rioter”.

Cases Closed But Sufferings Continue

Though the cases of those who lost their lives were closed with the acquitalls in court records, there seems to be no closure in the sufferings of the deceased families. Their sufferings are in fact endless.

Mahtab’s mother has not been doing well for the past four years since she lost her son. She recently moved to Loni and has been residing there ever since.

It has been so long since he was killed, but for his mother the incident took place only yesterday. “The wounds are still fresh. We did not get justice — the least we were hoping for our legal system. But our hopes were shattered with the acquittals. We have lost faith in the system, which betrayed us in the name of a fair probe,” she said and burst into tears.

“A young son was lost. We can never forget the carnage,” said the mother after a long pause. 

Ashfaq got married just 10 days before he was killed while returning from his electrical shop.

After getting a compensation of Rs 10 lakh by the Delhi government, she left her in-laws house. She is now happily married. What his elderly parents are left with is the memories of their deceased son.

Zakir supported himself by helping his brothers in their wielding shop. He was killed while offering prayers at Farooqia mosque at Mustafabad that was torched by the rioters.

“My brother was not just killed by the Hindutva mob, but also by the men in uniform who were standing there as mute spectators and let the mob go on rampage,” claimed the deceased brother, Gulfam.

The family has been making an effort to move on ever since.

“His wife remarried and left with their two daughters. Since there is nothing left to look back on, it is better that they are no longer here,” he said. 

“Zakir was killed while offering namaz (prayer). We kept saying that the killers also comprised of the men in uniform as they did not intervene, but no one listened to us, and never will,” he said, with a visible anger on his face.

Not surprised by the acquittals, he said it was inevitable given the kind of investigation that was carried out. “It was nothing but a farce. However, we don’t want to go to the past,” he concluded.

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of our three-story series on the fourth anniversary of the 2020 Delhi riots. 

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