Family of Delhi riots accused fights for justice

Mohammed Salim Khan, who was an exporter of shawls and scarves for 25 years, now languishes in jail

Updated - October 11, 2021 10:11 am IST

Published - October 11, 2021 02:56 am IST - NEW DELHI

 Shavina Khan at her residence in Yamuna Vihar in north-east Delhi.  SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Shavina Khan at her residence in Yamuna Vihar in north-east Delhi. SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Two years ago, in a photograph with his wife, standing near the fridge in his house, Mohammed Salim Khan wore a blazer and had black hair. In a photograph from the jail a few days ago, he has grown bald and his beard has turned grey.

Salim — an exporter of shawls and scarves — was arrested on March 11 last year in FIR number 59 registered by the Delhi Police Special Cell under Sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Indian Penal Code in connection with the communal riots that broke out in February 2020. This is the same FIR based on which former JNU student Umar Khalid among others have been lodged in Mandoli jail.

Back at the house in north-east Delhi’s Yamuna Vihar, 48-year-old Salim’s wife Shavina (43) tries hard to control her tears as she says, “He sounds disoriented on the phone. He is starting to become forgetful. We have one son and two daughters. Sometimes, he thinks we have three daughters.”

“I don’t see anything apart from dying now. I have gone so deep into depression... I don’t even feel like eating. I am alive because my children are outside,” Salim reportedly said in front of a judge a few days ago after seeking permission to speak.

In the court — hearing him speak — was his daughter Saima (24) who along with her brother Sahil (23) have been taking care of the family and trying to encourage their father to not lose strength.

But Saima has had to fight.

“I ensure that my siblings and I are not photographed at court or anywhere because it’ll directly impact our future… our career. People in the neighbourhood do not know that my father is in jail. We have told him he has gone abroad for work,” she said.

Saima has just completed her Bachelor of Dental Surgery and wants to pursue her Masters. Sahil completed his Bachelor of Business Administration in 2020 and had plans to go abroad for Masters to further expand his father’s export business in the U.K.. Another younger daughter is now in Class XII. All the higher education plans of the siblings have fallen apart at the moment as they manage their survival and pick up the pieces of their father’s export business, which had taken a severe hit.

12-page letter

Salim wrote a 12-page summary of his life before jail, the events that led up to his arrest and his time in jail, and sent it to his family a few days ago through another riots accused who has been granted bail. “I was 47 when I came to jail; now, I look like I am 60,” he wrote.

Worried about his children’s future due to a visible financial crisis, he wrote, “ Agar yahi halat rahi to dono betiyon ki padhai bhi ruk jaaegi (If this continues, further education of both my daughters will stop).”

Salim had been an exporter of shawls and scarves for over 25 years and the business reached new heights in early 2000s.

A man who has travelled the world for work and had plans to shift his business to London, now languishes in jail, waiting for court dates.

2015 main mujhe U.K. main shift hone ka pura chance mila tha par yeh kahkar chhor dia ki hamara desh India bohot accha hai. Aaj jab jail main sochta hun to hasi bhi aati hai aur rona bhi. (In 2015, I had had a chance to move to the U.K. but I thought our country was very good and quit the idea. Now, when I look back, I feel like crying and laughing at the same time),” he wrote in his letter.

The reason he is worried about his children’s future is because after completion of his daughter’s higher education, he had planned to open a hospital — after taking a loan — where the poor could be treated for free. He also used to run an NGO, The Care, which would help the needy, his family said.

“For the first three months after my father got arrested, we had no idea what to do with his established business, which was crumbling down. My brother then decided to understand the business and started to getting involved a little bit. That’s how we have been managing so far,” said Saima.

The daughter claimed that he never actively participated in the protests but “unfortunately”, the protest site was barely a few hundred metres from his office in Chand Bagh and his route to and from home was via the protest site.

In his letter to the family, he also said that a langar by advocate D.S. Bindra was set up barely 300 metres from his office-cum- manufacturing unit. He wrote that about four-six times a day, he would cross the protest site while going home for lunch, coming back, or bank work etc. On the day of protest as well, February 24, he was at his factory when violence broke out. “Construction work was going on in the shop next to my office. When violence broke out, the workers fled. I then took the articles that were lying outside — drum, bucket, wiper — and kept them (aside),” he wrote.

Disclosure statement

The Delhi Police Special Cell, in the chargesheet, claimed that Salim — in his disclosure statement — said that he along with advocate Bindra and others had erected the protest stage and he was assigned the task of maintaining the tent. He is also attributed to be saying that secret meetings were held in his office where the direction for the future course of action was decided and eventually followed by everyone.

The police also told the court that during investigation, it was revealed that “accused/applicant Saleem Khan was using a mobile and the call detail record (CDR) of the said mobile number was collected from the service provider and was scrutinised”. The police claimed that his CDR showed that he was at Chand Bagh, Yamuna Vihar and Bhajanpura at the time of riots on February 24, which meant he was involved in the riots. The police have also submitted in the court a video in which Salim can be seen carrying a wooden stick.

‘No credible evidence’

Advocate Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, who is representing Salim, said, “Prosecution is simply relying on two CCTV footage captured near his office in Chand Bagh. In one video, he is empty-handed and walking on an inner lane, and in the other, he is carrying a wiper from his office. The police have no credible evidence against him. Apart from this, the police have illegally implicated him in three different cases on the basis of the same video footage in which he is carrying a wiper with different and contradictory narratives.”

My father is struggling… he has heart ailments and needs medicines which he isn’t getting, a worried Saima said. “We talk to him for five minutes every day. That’s allowed. He asks about us and we ask about his day. We hide our pain and he hides his,” she said.

Salim’s family — who feels he is depressed — urged him to utilise his time writing a book. He began with the 12-page letter.

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