NEW DELHI — In March 2020, Rubina Bano filed a complaint in her local police station accusing local policemen of violently attacking women at a peaceful protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act at the behest of Kapil Mishra of the Bharatiya Janata Party on 24 February.
Rubina also said that supporters of BJP lawmaker Mohan Singh Bisht participated in the Delhi riots in February, the worst communal violence in the national capital in decades.
Since then, Rubina, in a recent phone conversation with HuffPost India, said that she and her family have been living in fear. Rubina, who was three months pregnant at the time, said she was at a protest against the CAA in Delhi’s Chand Bagh neighbourhood in February when she was hit with rifle butts by the policemen who forcefully broke up their protest.
In June, the Delhi police issued a public statement claiming that some of those who had filed complaints against the police were actually complicit in the violence. In July, menacing strangers began appearing outside her home, she said.
On 7 August, in a court hearing where Rubina was seeking protection from the Delhi High Court, the prosecutor for the state Amit Prasad told the High Court that the “application seeking non-bailable warrants has been filed but no coercive action has been taken on account of her pregnancy.”
Then just last week, on 22 August, two plain clothes policemen showed up outside her home to summon her teenage son and nephew to the local police station to question them in connection with the riots. The police, Rubina said, showed her son an image of him and his cousin captured from the CCTV camera just outside their home.
The screen capture, which HuffPost India has not seen, purportedly shows the two boys standing outside the house with a cricket bat and a wicket. Rubina says the boys were playing cricket when the riots broke out.
“They are now calling every day and saying send your children to the police station or we will come and arrest them,” a harried Rubina told HuffPost India, earlier this week.
Rubina is now a little over nine months pregnant, having missed her delivery date, and living with police protection – the same force she has accused of assaulting her with batons back in February.
Rubina’s experience, rights activists say, reveals how the Delhi police is harassing witnesses in the course of the investigation into the February riots in the national capital.
A report, Manufacturing Evidence: How the Police is framing and arresting constitutional rights defenders in India, released on 13 August by Polis Project, a New York-based research organisation, said that in the aftermath of the riots, the Delhi Police has established “a veritable reign of terror in Muslim neighborhoods” such as Rubina’s, by repeatedly summoning young Muslim men for interrogations that go on for hours, making a mockery of social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, and using coercive methods.
The Indian Express on 16 July reported that an order dated 8 July, signed by Special CP (Crime & Economic Offences Wing) Praveer Ranjan, stated that the arrest of “some Hindu youth” from riot-hit areas in Northeast Delhi had led to a “degree of resentment among the Hindu community” and “due care and precaution” must be taken while making arrests. The order was addressed to senior officers heading probe teams, and asked them to “suitably” guide the investigating officers.
The Delhi Police maintains it is carrying out an impartial and unbiased investigation.
BJP leaders Mishra and Bisht have both denied any role in the violence.
A widely circulated video has documented Mishra threatening violence a day before the riots broke out.
‘Too afraid to get an ultrasound’
The police summons for their son and nephew has upended the lives of Rubina and her husband Mohammed Islam.
“Should I go to the hospital or stay at home to protect my son? I don’t want to lose one child as I welcome another,” said Islam, explaining how he was torn between helping his pregnant wife and his son.
“The rioting is over, the people who carried out the violence are gone, but there is no end to our suffering. I don’t think we’ll ever be free of fear if we continue living in Delhi,” he said.
Rubina, for her part, says she is living with the consequences of speaking out against powerful men. The investigation into her son, she believes, is retaliation for her accusations against the Delhi Police.
The strangers showing up at her home, and skulking around her lane, have frightened her to the point that she was forced to move the Delhi High Court in August, seeking protection.
Judge Vibhu Bakhru in his 7 August order noted that state counsel Prasad assured the High Court that Rubina’s allegations about strangers showing up at her house would be inquired into and she would also be “provided sufficient protection to enable her to avail medical services considering the advanced stage of her pregnancy.”
Rubina said that starting from earlier this week, a male and female constable accompany her when she steps out of the house.
“It is the ninth month of my pregnancy but I’m living in such terror that I’m hiding in my house and I’m afraid to even step out to get an ultrasound,” she wrote in the statement that she sent to the Delhi Police on 30 July.
Islam and Rubina have waited a long time to have a child. Rubina’s two teenage children, Daraksha and Saquib, are from her previous marriage, Islam said, but he has always loved them like his own. While his wife Rubina had “some education,” Islam said that their children had taught him to write his name.
“I have raised them. If anything should happen, I will be the one in pain,” he said. “I’ve always been a very scared person. When I leave home, I say this dua to not get into any kind of trouble so that my children are not left alone in the world.”
Rubina’s complicated pregnancy amid the riots and the coronavirus pandemic, have made what should have been days filled with anticipation to ones filled with dread. Ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Islam said the factory where he makes shirts and pants has been closed for business.
Islam says he has so far borrowed Rs 20,000 from the factory owner, who will deduct Rs 2000 from his salary every month once work resumes. He hopes to repay his debt in a year.
With their child on the way, Islam is desperate for the factory to reopen.
“I would love to have a baby girl. They are such a joy,” he said. “Having a baby brings joy to a family, but with our problems growing and growing, I don’t when we will be happy again.”
“Should I go to the hospital or stay at home to protect my son? I don’t want to lose one child as I welcome another.”
Five months after the riots, Islam says he can still remember that terrifying night in February when he thought Rubina was going to die because of the blows to her head. He had to get her to a hospital amid the violence.
There was nowhere to go but for the Al Hind Hospital in Mustafabad, two kilometres from where they were hiding, Islam recalled. They arranged for a scooter and she was propped between two relatives and driven to the small clinic where the wounded were pouring in.
Islam said that he followed on foot, scared stiff the whole time.
“It was chaos outside,” he said.
As the riots raged on for another two days, Rubina was effectively trapped at Al Hind as there was no ambulance to get her to a better equipped hospital.
When they finally reached the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the doctors sent him out to get an injection at two in the morning, and kept Rubina waiting for a bed for almost 12 hours, until she felt so sick that they went back home, he said.
A few days later, Islam said, the Guru Tej Bahadur (GTB) hospital, the government hospital near their locality, refused to admit her.
In her complaint dated 18 March, Rubina said that GTB hospital refused to treat her or make a medical legal complaint, or MLC, detailing her injuries. An MLC from a hospital is a standard requirement for police complaints in which a victim has been injured.
“What could we have done? There were so many wounded who were coming back from there without treatment,” said Islam, explaining why they left GTB hospital without a proper MLC. “They only seemed to be taking those who were in an ambulance. They refused Rubina twice.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever be free of fear if we continue living in Delhi.”
Where to survive?
Islam said he didn’t know how involved Rubina was in the anti-CAA protests in Chand Bagh. Those days, when the factory was open, he said he left early in the morning for work and returned late in the night, putting in overtime to supplement the Rs 8,000-10,000 he makes every month.
“Lots of women from the neighborhood used to go,” he said, of the sit-in protests that garnered international attention. “We have our two worlds. I would have never stopped her. What’s the point in being happy or sad about it now? What has happened has happened.”
Islam says that as long as they are in Delhi, he believes his family is always going live in fear of the police showing up at their door, but there is nowhere else for them to go.
It’s been too long since they left their villages in Uttar Pradesh, and while Islam still sends some money home to his parents, there is no going back.
Neither of them have any land or knowledge of farming, Islam said, and working as agricultural labourers was something they can do for only a few months during the planting and harvest seasons.
“What will we do in the village? All we will have is a roof to hide under?” he said. “This is our home. We have to try and survive here.”