NEW DELHI ― “We are out of clothes,” Meeran Haider, a PhD candidate at Jamia Millia Islamia University, told Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat during a court hearing on 3 November in which the accused in the conspiracy case of the Delhi riots said they don’t have access to warm clothes and medicines inside Delhi prisons.
Adit Pujari, lawyer for Devangana Kalita and Natashta Narwal, two graduate students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, requested Rawat to pass a joint order for all the accused to get warm clothes inside their respective jails.
Sarwar Jahan, co-counsel for her sister Ishrat Jahan, a former Congress Party councillor, said that Jail No. 16 inside Mandoli Jail had been quarantined because five inmates were showing Covid-19 symptoms, and her family’s request to give her a warm tracksuit was denied. “We went there for a physical meeting but the family members were not allowed to meet,” she said. “Please pass a general order so that we can give warm clothing to them.”
Sowjhanya Shankaran, who represents Asif Iqbal Tanha, a Persian language student at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, said that she too wanted warm clothes and bedsheets for her client. “While the jail rules allow this, the jail superintendent is not allowing this without a court order,” she said.
The video conference hearing on 3 November was about the Delhi Police’s failure to comply with the Judge Rawat’s 21 October order telling the police to supply hard copies of the chargesheet in FIR 59/2020, the conspiracy case of the Delhi riots, to the 21 accused in the case. The Delhi Police on 3 November moved the Delhi High Court against Rawat’s order to provide the accused with hard copies of the chargesheet.
During the hour-long hearing, lawyers also spoke of the problems their clients were facing inside their respective jails, including the urgent matter of getting warm clothes.
Of the 21 arrested in the FIR, including political activist and PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Umar Khalid, 15 have been charged with terrorism, murder and conspiracy. Only two people — Safoora Zargar, a sociology student at Jamia Millia Islamia University, who was pregnant when she was arrested amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Faizan Khan, a salesman of mobile phone SIMs against whom the Delhi High Court did not find any prima facie evidence, have been granted bail after the Delhi Police invoked the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), India’s terror law.
The Delhi Police’s conspiracy case pins the blame for the February riots on the people who led the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in December and January, including students and activists in their twenties and thirties. Critics have characterized the Delhi Police’s investigation as an operation to silence any dissent against the Narendra Modi government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which has pushed the country towards Hindu majoritarianism following two sweeping electoral victories in 2014 and 2019.
The Delhi Police, which reports to Amit Shah, Home Minister in the Modi government, maintains it is carrying out an unbiased investigation.
Most of the 53 people killed in the riots were Muslim.
As lawyer after lawyer in today’s hearing made the same request to get warm clothes to their clients, Judge Rawat said, “I’m not getting this particular point. For these small things, I’m not able to understand why lawyers have to move applications?”
Shankaran, Asif Iqbal Tanha’s lawyer, replied, “My lord, for basic things like slippers…”
Sarwar Jahan, Ishrat Jahan’s lawyer, said, “Even basic plastic slippers have not been provided to the inmate. She fell down and she had serious injury in the bathroom and the superintendent (Mandoli jail) denied giving her a basic slipper. The slipper that is being provided in the canteen is very slippery. We are not being able to give her even a basic plastic slipper.”
Rawat said, “I still can’t understand this.”
Public prosecutor Amit Prasad said that in a previous submission, the state’s position is that anything that needs to be sent to an inmate cannot be physically delivered, but has to be parceled. “It is only because of the Covid reasons that they are not allowing that,” he said.
Mehmood Pracha, lawyer for Gulfisha Fatima, an MBA graduate, said, “From my experience, that is not the case. They don’t accept.”
Ishrat Jahan, the former Congress Party councillor, said that in Mandoli jail where she is lodged, eight people had been quarantined after displaying symptoms for Covid-19, and she believed that five of them had been hospitalized at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital.
“This is psychologically terrorising,” said Jahan, as she informed Judge Rawat that she was granted interim bail to get married, earlier this year, and pleaded with him to allow her lawyer to file another application for interim bail.
“The whole jail is being quarantined and no one is being allowed to step out of the barracks. I’m requesting interim bail. Please sir,” she said. “There are too many difficulties because of the quarantine. Basic clothing is not allowed. There is too much problem, sir. Kindly appreciate my difficulty.”
Athar Khan, another accused in the Delhi riots conspiracy case, said that he was lodged in Jail No. 4 of Tihar Jail where he said that eight people were quarantined after displaying coronavirus symptoms and two of them were hospitalized at the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital.
“We are not allowed to step out of our barracks,” he said.
(Correction: An earlier version of this report said that Ishrat Jahan was lodged in Tihar jail instead of Mandoli jail. The error is regretted.)