‘Is Najeeb Not a Citizen of This Country?’

“Is my son not a citizen of this country? Am I not a citizen of India? Why doesn’t he [Modi] give instructions to the police that Najeeb should be found?

We were not sure about where Najeeb’s mother had been detained. We were first told that she had been taken to the Parliament Street Police Station. When we rushed there, the place was calm and quiet. The absence of friends and activists there was a clear indication that 48-year old mother was kept somewhere else.

Our journey to trace and meet Najeeb’s mother began about an hour ago from the Delhi High Court, situated near the river Yamuna. It was there that a protest was scheduled on Monday (October 16). The protest was all set to begin soon after the end of hearing by the High Court. The police, however, did not let the protest happen and detained all the protestors. What was more shocking was the way Najeeb’s mother was detained: she was mercilessly dragged and thrown inside the police vehicle. The police did not care that she has been ill for quite some time. All this had happened minutes before we reached there. We saw the police chasing away the onlookers. “Go away”! Some TV journalists were still there and one of them was on air: “Najeeb’s mother has been detained…”

I crossed the road and tried to talk with one of the journalists. I thought that they would have better idea about the detention of Najeeb’s mother. Meanwhile, my friend Gautam – who had come along with me from JNU to participate in the protest – insisted, “Call Akbar and ask him where she has been taken to.” Akbar, our common friend, is the former JNU Students’ Union president. He had been with Najeeb’s mother in the court since morning.

Yet, I did not call Akbar up. I thought he would not pick up my call at that moment. Instead, I asked a TV journalist, who was present there. “She has been detained and taken to the Parliament Street Police Station,” he replied. I believed him. Afterwards, we hired an auto rickshaw. “40 rupee de dena”, the driver asked me to pay Rs. 40 and I agreed.

Sitting in the auto rickshaw, we wanted to reach the Parliament Police Station as soon as possible. But the traffic slowed down the movement of vehicles. As the North India was amid festive season with Diwali just a few days to go, the national capital New Delhi witnessed heavy traffic. Our auto rickshaw was literally creeping on the Ashoka Road, which hosts the headquarters of the ruling BJP.

I felt that the auto rickshaw driver was overhearing our conversation. He was in his middle age. His face was dark and plumb. And his forehead had a big mark of sindoor (vermillion). Suddenly he interrupted. “It’s not true. The police have just asked Najeeb’s mother and other people to sit in the vehicle and they did it.” The auto rickshaw driver was trying to persuade us that the police did nothing “unlawful” in detaining Najeeb’s mother.

Sitting with us, Gautam could not help interrupting the driver. And he asked, “What were you doing when the police picked her up? Aap wahan tamashabin the [Were you just an onlooker there]?” Gautam’s anger was justified. As several photographs, circulated later in the day, clearly showed, the police were literally dragging Najeeb’s mother. Contrary to all this, the driver was trying to deny the police excesses. His reply generated several questions in my mind. How could a driver, who often faces police harassment in his work, defend the police? What prevented him to express his solidarity with the victim?

The continuous propaganda of communal media and the Hindutva forces might be one of explanations for this. It is trying to manufacture prejudice against Najeeb. It is trying to turn Najeeb’s issue as a “Hindu-Muslim” issue. I have often encountered some people – literate and illiterate, conservatives and liberal and rural and urban alike – who have exhibited such a prejudice.

Several people have asked me if Najeeb had joined any “illegal”/”terrorist” organisation. Recently, a security guard of JNU expressed his apprehension that he might have joined any illegal organisation. Next day, an upper caste student leader of JNU-NSUI (Congress’s Student Wing) – who was unmindful of the fact that several senior Congress leaders such as Mani Shankar Aiyar and Shashi Tharoor have come to JNU and spoken in favour of Najeeb – said, if Najeeb had not become a member of illegal/terrorist organisation, he would have come back. One could see here how deep-seated is such a prejudice: instead of the assaulters, they blame the victim for injustice. I often think that such (latent) prejudice among a section of people is more dangerous than the violence inflicted by Najeeb’s assaulters. The legitimacy for the right-wing assault on Muslims flows from this kind of prejudice.

For a while we continued to argue with the driver. But before our argument grew louder and shriller, the auto rickshaw brought us to the Parliament Street Police Station. We got down and paid him money. However, we could not find anyone there. I had then realised that Gautam was right and I should have called up Akbar. As it is often seen, the police deliberately create confusion and hide the information about the location of the detainees.

For a while, we stood near the Parliament Police Station. Close to it stood a large black statute of Sardar Patel, the first Home Minister of Independent India. The right-wing forces praise him as “ironman of India”. Contrary to the “liberal” Nehru, Patel is seen as a “hardliner” and more “capable” than Nehru, in the eyes of the Hindutva forces. Last week, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, reiterated the same position. “Had then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru given free hand to Sardar Patel to merge Jammu and Kashmir with Indian Union like Hyderabad and Junagarh then today we would not have been facing Kashmir issue… Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) would also have become part of the Indian Union”, the English newspaper Business Standard quoted Singh as saying this.

Eventually, I called Akbar up. The call was answered. “Najeeb’s mother is at Tilak Marg Police Station and other protestors have been detained at Barakhamba Road Police Station”, Akbar briefed me over phone.  Hearing this, our frustration grew. Now we had to go back to the same area from where we had just come. Tilak Nagar Police Station is close to the High Court.

We had to hire another auto rickshaw. This time again, we got involved in a conversation with the auto rickshaw driver. The auto rickshaw driver – like the previous auto rickshaw driver – was a middle-aged person. But his face was less dark and plump. Moreover, he spotted white stubble beard. “What has happened to Najeeb?” the driver asked us after we told him about ourselves. “We do not know. We just want a fair inquiry so that Najeeb could be found,” I replied. He agreed to this and said that he would also pray for Najeeb. As the time passed, he felt more comfortable with us. “I am Salim from Old Delhi,” he introduced himself and he said that he had been reading a number of newspapers to keep learning about Najeeb case. He also aired his own view about the incident. “This is an attack on Muslims,” he said in anger. The fact that Salim had to wait so long to express his anger shows Muslims’ deep-seated fear and insecurity.

As is evident from these two conversations, the issue of Najeeb is being perceived in contrasting ways. While a large number of people – belonging to all sects and religions – believe that he is innocent and victim of the ruling Hindutva forces backed up by the state machinery, there are many others who operate within the communal narrative. It goes like this: Najeeb has gone away and joined an illegal/terrorist organisation.

Within half an hour, we reached Tilak Marg Police Station, situated close to the Supreme Court of India. We got down from the auto rickshaw and looked around. Afterwards, we stood at the entrance of the police station.  Despite all these efforts, we did not get any clue about Najeeb’s mother. We felt scared to go inside the police station. Finally, we decided to wait outside.

After an hour of wait, Najeeb’s mother emerged from the Police Station. We rushed to her at the entrance. Seeing us, she felt a bit more confident and began to narrate everything. “I was standing outside the court and speaking to media when the police dragged me. They dragged me in such a way that my back got scratched. The clothes of Geeta [who accompanied Najeeb’s mother] also got torn. They cruelly threw us inside the vehicle. Such treatment is even not meted out to animals. On our way, the lady constables kept misbehaving with me,” she alleged.

Listening to her was very painful. I wondered how India could be called a democracy where protestors are treated like this. It is ironical that the police, which have so far failed to find Najeeb, are harassing the victims instead.

We tried to console her. One of our friends gave her water. Meanwhile, some media persons came and requested her to narrate the incident. She went on to say, “The police are insensitive and they are hiding their failure…They should find Najeeb back…This is an attack on every woman.”

Next, she questioned the sincerity of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The Prime Minister Modi talks about the empowerment of women but he has not said a word about Najeeb.”

Her struggle for Najeeb has made her more courageous. She has become politically sharp. It is often seen that she has been able to connect her own suffering to the larger issues.  She went on to raise several “uncomfortable” questions against the ruling establishment. “Is my son not a citizen of this country? Am I not a citizen of India? Why doesn’t he [Modi] give instructions to the police that Najeeb should be found? Why have the assaulters not been punished so far? Why is there such discrimination? Is it because we are Muslims? We are not Muslims first. We are first citizens of this country.”

Needless to say, these questions bring to light the dark side of the Indian democracy. When she finished her narration, we all sat on the floor at the police station’s entrance. After a while, she began to narrate what transpired inside the police station. The journalists had already gone. “I have also given befitting replies to the lady police constables who misbehaved with me.” But the way she replied a lady sub-inspector was amusing.  As she narrated, “when a lady sub-inspector came to me and started irritating me. She was speaking English. I replied to her that ‘you [sub-inspector] are an Indian and you should not try to become angrez [the British] by speaking English’.” On hearing this, some of us burst into laughter.

It was already late afternoon and we had to leave the police station anytime. CPI-leader D. Raja, who came earlier and expressed his solidarity with Najeeb’s mother, asked us to take her home. Later in the evening, she also visited a hospital in Jamia Nagar area where the doctors found cramps in her muscle. The cramps were the result of the police’s brutalities. After taking a rest overnight, she left for her home town Badayun next day. I called her up sometime evening the next day, and she said that she had pain in the body. But she did not forget to reiterate that I should continue to write for the justice of Najeeb. When the talk was over, I wondered if my writing would ever be able to reflect a small fraction of her courageous struggle for Najeeb.

(First published in Radiance)

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