A month after Shadab Ahmad was arrested, his 22-year-old brother got a call. "They have booked me under many cases, but don't worry about me. I haven't done anything wrong," Shadab, who had been arrested for a 'conspiracy case' in the Delhi riots of 2020, told his brother.
The 27-year-old was arrested on 6 April, 2020 under First Investigation Report 60/20 — in connection to the killing of Head Constable Ratan Lal who had succumbed to a bullet injury during the anti-CAA protests. On Friday, Shadab along with Furkan, Arif, Suvaleen and Tabassum-- who were all arrested on the same charges-- were granted bail.
"I have only met my son twice," Shamshad Ahmad told BOOM from Bijnor, in Uttar Pradesh. Both times, he has told his son that he believes him. "I know he has done nothing wrong. He has not spoken against a politician, or any religion. He had protested for our rights," he said.
Shadab had completed his Bachelors in Computer Application from an University in Ghaziabad and then joined as a supervisor in a factory in Delhi's Jagatpur area. For the last four years before his arrest, Shadab had become the primary breadwinner in the family. His father, 62, who sells bread in villages stretching between 9-10 kilometres in Chandpur tehsil, is now putting in double hours.
While granting them bail, the Delhi High Court said that the right to protest and express dissent is a right which occupies a fundamental stature in a democratic polity and the sole act of protesting should not be employed as a weapon to justify the incarceration of those who are exercising this right.
But Shadab isn't going back home yet.
What Are The Cases Against Shadab Ahmad?
The first case against Shadab Ahmad was for allegedly being part of an anti-CAA protest in which Ratan Lal died. After he filed his first bail application, he was arrested on 20 May, 2020 in a matter related to FIR No. 59. He is accused as a 'conspirator' in the Delhi riots case in 2020 that killed at least 53 people. He was booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
The police have alleged that the riot in North-East Delhi was pre-planned and the protest against the CAA act, prior to that, allegedly created a communally-charged atmosphere that led to the clashes.
The 15 accused in the same FIR are Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Ishrat Jahan, Miran Haider, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Taahir Hussain, Mohd Parvez Ahmed, Mohd Illyas, Saifi Khalid, Tasleem Ahmed, Saleem Malik, Mohd Saleem Khan and Athar Khan. Umar Khalid, too, was arrested later.
Sub-inspector Arvind Kumar, the complainant in FIR No. 59, has alleged that one of his informers revealed to him that the conspiracy to cause communal riots was hatched by former JNU student Umar Khalid and his friends who are associated with different organizations. The FIR had alleged that the protestors had gathered and used firearms, petrol bombs, acid-stone-slingshots, and other dangerous objects.
A third case of 'rioting' was filed against Shadab on 7 November, 2020 in connection to a burning of a showroom and cars on 25 February. He was granted bail in December.
So far, Shadab has received bail in two of the cases.
Who Is Shadab Ahmad?
"Shadab bhai is a kind person. I have never seen him fight with anyone. He is more of a friend than a brother to me. I miss him," his brother, a student of Aligarh Muslim University, told BOOM.
The 22-year-old said that he gets to do one video call with his brother every month. "I want to call him more, but it's very difficult to get permission," he said. Sharing their father's sentiment, he said, "My brother has been falsely implicated. There is no evidence against him. He had only protested against the CAA Act."
Shadab had been volunteering at the protest site in Chand Bagh in North-East Delhi when the anti-CAA protests were taking place.
In the chargesheet of the Delhi riot case, Shadab is named as one of the main 'conspirators'. It stated that Shadab was entrusted with the job of maintaining the tent and the stage at the protest site in Chand Bagh, and that he would, along with the other accused, deliver hate speeches and instigate the public to be violent.
Back at home, in Bijnor, his parents were worried about his job. He was working in the factory during the day and going back to the protest site every evening. "You should not skip work, your job is important," Shadab's father had called and told him. Reassuring his father, Shadab told him, "This is important too. I am educated, I can stand up there and speak for our rights. What about the ones who cannot? I have to do it for them, for all of us."
While granting the bail, Justice Subramonium Prasad noted that the five persons had been added as an accused by way of a charge-sheet and that none of them had been explicitly caught on any CCTV camera in connection with the crime."The applicability of Section 149 IPC (unlawful assembly), specifically read with Section 302 (murder), cannot be done on the basis of vague evidence and general allegations," he remarked.
The High Court observed that the 27-year-old had not been caught on any video footage in the vicinity of the protest site. His phone details have revealed that he had arrived at the site of the alleged incident only after it had taken place.
"Further, the call detail records of the petitioner shows that the petitioner was on the move. The fact that the petitioner's location is recorded through a mobile tower which is near the scene of crime cannot, at this moment, lead to a definitive conclusion that the petitioner was there... At this juncture, it appears that the statements of the police officers that have been recorded are wholly contradictory to the CDR and Cell ID details that are on record," the order read.
What Is Shadab's Connection To The 'Conspiracy' WhatsApp Group?
A WhatsApp group called Delhi Protests Support Group (DPSG) and its members have been at the centre of the probe in the Delhi riots case, according to the chargesheets, FIRs and summons.
The DPSG WhatsApp group was created on December 28, 2019.
The Delhi Police has claimed that Shadab, an anti-CAA activist, who was booked following the riots, named some DPSG members and said that they frequently visited protest sites and gave "inciting speeches", reported The Wire. The police also claim in Ahmad's disclosure statement that many DPSG members advocated the use of violence as a protest strategy.
The group included members who were publicly opposed to the CAA. It had more than 100 members, including filmmakers Rahul Roy and Saba Dewan, political activists Kavita Krishnan, Yogendra Yadav and Annie Raja, and social activists Harsh Mander, Gautam Mody, N.D. Jayaprakash, Apoorvanand, Anjali Bhardwaj, and Nadeem Khan. Pinjra Tod founding member Natasha Narwal, former JNU student Umar Khalid and United Against Hate activist Khalid Saifi, were also members of the WhatsApp group.
In a statement given to the police, Shadab said that he was introduced to critical sentiments about the CAA and NRC by his friends and one WhatsApp group called "People Against Fascism". He then started participating frequently in anti-CAA protests in Delhi and kept in touch with the members of the DPSG WhatsApp group because of his stage management work.
His statement, according to reports, identifies a few of the members of the DPSG, which he calls "Delhi Protests Solidarity Group" and goes on to allege in some detail how DPSG members justified the use of violence and militant protests like "chakka jam" or roadblocks.
This WhatsApp group formed a major part of the Delhi police chargesheet on constable Ratan Lal's killing on the first day of the riots.
Shadab had alleged that he was coerced to sign documents without knowing the contents in them during the police custody between August 24 and August 26, 2020. On 25 August, his counsel submitted that he was allowed to talk to Shadab for two minutes over the phone.
The phone call was made by the police and handed over to Shadab when his lawyer answered the phone. Shadab was to remain in police custody for one day more and was apprehensive about disclosing such information, his lawyer claimed. After being sent to judicial custody, his lawyer was able to meet him only on September 2 due to the Covid-19 protocols. This is when Shadab had disclosed about the alleged incident.
A Delhi court has rejected the allegation saying he had physically met his counsel and also telephonically talked to him and hence it was highly improbable that he would not disclose such a thing to his lawyer.
Speaking to BOOM, his father Shamshad Ahmad said, "We have faith in the law and in the Indian Constitution. He has got bail in two cases. Now I am hoping he will come home soon."
"I was making plans for his wedding," he said.
"They don't have any evidence against him because he has not done anything wrong," his brother Shabab said.
At the Delhi High Court on Friday, the judge noted that "merely being one of the organisers of the protest as well as being in touch with others who participated in the protest is also not sufficient enough to justify the contention that he was involved in the pre-planning of the alleged incident."
"It is to be noted that the right to protest and express dissent is a right which occupies a fundamental stature in a democratic polity, and therefore, the sole act of protesting should not be employed as a weapon to justify the incarceration of those who are exercising this right," Justice Subramonium Prasad said.