‘Jail is a Trailer for Hell’: UAPA Accused on Bail Breaks Silence
Faizan Khan speaks about FIR 59, the circumstances of his arrest and being lodged in Tihar Jail for three months.
Illustraitons: Aroop Mishra
Jail dozak ka trailer hai... Aap apne parivaar se baat nahi kar pa rahain... pata nahi kya hoga aapke saath har din... dozak main bhi yahi hona hai... koi saath nahi hoga... (Jail is a trailer for hell... One can not speak to their family, one does not know what can happen to you from one day to another. This is what will happen in hell as well, no one will be by your side.)
Sim card seller, 35-year-old Mohammad Faizan Khan is the only UAPA accused who is out on regular bail granted by Delhi High Court on legal grounds under FIR 59. To clarify, while Jamia student Safoora Zargar is also out on bail, this was granted on humanitarian grounds as the state decided not to oppose it. On the other hand, in Khan’s case, despite it being opposed, the judge granted bail after looking at the material on record.
This case is the most significant FIR from the communal violence of February 2020, as it probes the alleged ‘large-scale conspiracy planned to defame India during US President Donald Trump’s visit’. Khan’s role, as outlined in the charge sheet, is of selling a SIM card to another UAPA accused and Jamia student from the same FIR, Asif Iqbal Tanha. The reason this number is relevant is because the police claim it was allegedly used on WhatsApp groups by the media team of Jamia Coordination Committee to ‘plan the conspiracy and the violence.’
In his first-ever interview after being released from Tihar jail, he opens up to The Quint about the circumstances of his arrest, the 91 days he spent in jail and how it changed him and his life forever.
‘Moved to Delhi to Support Family, Make More Money’
Unmarried and with two younger sisters and a younger brother, Faizan had moved to Delhi in 2017 to make more money and take care of his family. “My father died in 2019 of a heart attack and had a paralysis attack before his death. He used to remain sick and had not worked a day in the last 20-25 years. In this situation, I was the sole breadwinner of the family. All I thought about was how I could make money and take care of everyone which is also why I have not got married till now,” Faizan said looking down and avoiding eye contact.
Faizan lived in a room in Delhi’s Batla House and worked as a mobile salesman at Golden Communication in Jamia Nagar for Rs 14,000 a month, when Delhi Police reached out to him.
“Golden Communications is a mobile store where phones, SIM cards, and mobile accessories are sold. I used to work for Airtel and they had sent me to work at this particular store, before this I was attached to a store in Kailash Colony. We had to work seven days a week, nine hours every day and had tough targets. If our targets were not met, we were threatened by our seniors that we will lose our jobs. For example, we had targets for how many numbers we could get activated by a particular time,” he explained.
Speaking about him not selling any such SIM card to co-accused and Jamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha, he gave context about the particular mobile number. “Now to meet these targets, we would often leave the store and roam in the market to get the numbers activated. In the chance that we were not able to meet targets, we would ourselves activate some numbers sometimes. This number in question is one we had activated within us staff members itself. However, that does not mean that I gave the number to anyone. I had no idea where the number went. It was in the shop for very long, and when I asked others in the staff they said they did not know when it left the shop either," he said.
The Delhi Police came looking for him in March because Faizan’s number was mentioned as the alternate number in the documentation. "If my intention was to do something wrong, then why would I write my alternative number there?," he asked looking helplessly at this reporter.
The First Hint of Something Bad Happening...
Faizan’s introduction to FIR 59 was through a call made to him from his boss in late March.
"One day before lockdown, on 21 March, I went home to Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh. This is when I got a call from my boss asking about the number. I could not remember instantly, as we activate many numbers every day. Then he gave me the number of a senior officer from Delhi Police and asked me to call him which I did. It was around noon, so I wished the officer Good afternoon and told him I was Faizan. He inquired where I was and when I would return to Delhi. Since all transportation was suspended due to lockdown, I said I would return in June. The officer said koi baat nahi, aaraam se aana (no problem, take your time and come.)"
Faizan was leaving for Delhi after the lockdown had been eased. He thought he would return to his job, his one room in Batla House and clear up all the confusion about the SIM card.
"It was a nine-hour bus journey from Pilibhit. I had not said anything at home about the Delhi Police official wanting to meet me. I was certain nothing would happen with me, or at least I wanted to believe that as I was and continue to be innocent. I'll never forget that bus ride, the uncertainties that accompanied it. I did not know if I was going to go to jail or if I was going to get to see my family again," he said pausing and composing himself after every few words. “I remember vividly saying bye to my sisters and brother, any my mother seeing me off.”
Just like Faizan told the police official, he came to Delhi on 22 June 2020 and promptly made a call to the officer a day later. "I called the officer on 23 June and asked him what I needed to do. He said he will call me and I will have to show up at the Delhi Police office in Lodhi Road. I knew I had done nothing, I had an explanation for everything which I thought they would listen, they would understand," he said.
‘Removed From His Job Without Reason’
As Faizan waited for the police officer to get back to him, his employers were being distant with him. Then finally one day he was told that ‘he had been put on hold’.
"They did not give me any explanation for removing me. All they said was that I was put on hold. I said that please talk to seniors, but they all came back with the same line. That I was being put on hold. The meaning of that is that I was being thrown out of my job by a company I had worked for since 2017,” he said wearing a look of being cheated.
Faizan could not afford to stay in Delhi without a job, and days were passing but the senior police official was not calling him back. So instead of returning home, Faizan called the police officer again and said, “So I called the police officer back and said, I had no job anymore and could not afford to keep living in Delhi. Too many expenses for me to stay here."
He was asked to come to the Delhi Police special cell office in Lodhi Road on 2 July. He entered and gave his details like name, address and mobile numbers. He was asked to leave and return for interrogation the next day. Till now Faizan continued to have no idea about what this case was about. “They kept asking me who I gave the number to, but since I did not give the number how could I answer their question? They were getting frustrated and kept harassing me. This is when I understood what this case was about..." Then after a lull of a few weeks, Faizan was called again every day from 25 July till he was arrested on July 29.
"They would call us at 11:00 am and let us go at 8:00 pm, they would not ask me anything and just make me sit there. But on 29 July, they registered an FIR against me," he said. His wallet, mobile phones were taken away. He still has not got them.
“This is the moment I was most afraid of during my bus ride to Delhi... I had convinced myself that nothing could happen with me but things had just spun out of control and my imagination,” he said. Faizan called his cousin Naved as he did not want to scare his family by calling them. “I knew my family would get very anxious, so I asked Naved to tell them with proper context and utmost care. Despite that I got to know that my mother had been hospitalised, my sisters fell sick," he said.
Meeting Tahir Hussain in Jail
“When the first court date happened, I saw a man I did not recognize join me for the virtual conference in Tihar jail. Later on, I would get to know what the name Tahir Hussain meant for the Delhi riots case,” he said.
Recalling the first time he met Tahir, Faizan said, "He asked me do you know who I am? I said I did not. Then he asked if I knew a Tahir Hussain. I said I did not. Then he said, you don't know Tahir Hussain who is such a famous person? I said I do not. Then he said he was Tahir Hussain. At that moment I did not know what that meant at all." Faizan and Tahir were the only two accused from the Delhi riots FIR 59 case that were lodged in Tihar jail, he said.
When the video conferencing started, Faizan said he did not know one person in the several boxes he saw on screen. "Just like I did not understand who they were, they looked at me confused as well. They must also be wondering who I am."
Faizan says he did not have any extra conversations with Hussain, other than the odd dua and salaams (pleasantries) and sitting next to each other during the hearings. “He was always accompanied by two personal security guards always and we were in different cells. So yes, there was no conversation. Actually, I would not talk to most people...”
'Only Prayed and Cried Inside’
Explaining why he wanted to keep to himself, Faizan said, "If you talk to people then there can be fights and then there will be punishments. I was told that if you fight with people then it becomes harder to be granted bail. I only did one thing there, ibadat hi ki hai maine andar. (I only prayed inside)"
Speaking about how he spent all his time in the area designated a mosque inside, Faizan said, "Wahaan par maine chaar Quran mukammal kiye the, aur paanchwa mera quraan mukammal hone wala tha aur fir mujhe bail mil gayi thi. (I read the Quran four times inside, I was going too complete the fifth time when I got bail). The imam was transferred to another jail, so everyone was wondering who would teach the namaz there. Now I was the only one there who spent all my time in the area that was designated a mosque..."
Speaking about how he has changed for good, Faizan said he was never someone who cried as much. “I was never someone who cries a lot... My grandmother, to make me feel better, would keep reminding me of how during weddings, when everyone would be crying, I would be laughing and asking people why they were so sentimental. From there to here, I've changed as a person. I cry the most now,” he said.
Bail Granted by Delhi HC, Challenged in SC by Delhi Police
Faizan was granted bail on 23 October and he got to know when he called his cousin Naved on 24 October. A few days later he was out of Tihar jail finally.
His lawyer Azra Rehman, who works in the chambers of Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid, said she was not able to speak to Faizan during the time he was in jail.
"I was not able to speak to Faizan as lawyers were not getting to talk to the accused then. This was back in July, bang in the middle of rising cases of COVID-19. I did speak to his mother, sister and relative. His mother kept telling me how her son was innocent. How she was a widow, Faizan, her eldest son, was taking care of the entire family. His sister told me they will sell everything they have to get him out. Their neighbours were hounding them, their relatives were asking questions, but the family did not know what was happening at all." The first bail was rejected by a lower court on 28 August, but on 23 October it was granted by Delhi High Court judge Suresh Kumar Kait.
However the matter did not end there, Azra told us how the Delhi Police challenged the bail order of the Delhi HC in Supreme Court. However on 23 November, the Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the Delhi Police seeking cancellation of bail granted to Faizan.
The bail order from the Delhi HC read: There is no proof on record such as CCTV footage, video or chats of petitioner with any of the group except the allegation that he provided SIM on fake ID in December 2019 and taken a small amount of Rs.200/- for the same. It is not the case of the prosecution that he provided many SIMs and continued to do the same. It is also not the case of prosecution that he was part of any chat-group or part of any group who conspired to commit offence as alleged in the present case.
Leaving Tihar and The 9-Hour Journey Back Home
Over the three months in jail, Faizan had lost a lot of weight.
"It was like life had been sucked out of me." So to protect his family from seeing him in this vulnerable state he stayed with his cousin Naved for twenty days. "As soon as I was out of Tihar jail, Naved had video called the family. I asked them to disconnect the call, I could not see eye to eye with any of them and could not deal with them seeing me like this."
There were no celebrations for bail, Faizan said he spent the entire night crying profusely.
"I told you right? I was not the same person anymore."
The next twenty days Faizan ate three meals a day, but did not step out for anything. "I was very scared. Thought everyone's eyes were on me and I kept thinking that they probably knew about the allegations against me."
Then again on 13 November, I took the nine-hour journey back home... “This time I was returning as a different person. I was returning as someone who never wanted to return to Delhi... I was returning as someone who wanted to spend all his time with his family... I was returning as someone who would never take anything for granted again...”
Everyone saw him and whispered under their breath. His family started crying, there was a crowd that had come together, including locals, neighbors and relatives. "For days people kept coming home, asking me what had happened and I would have to repeat the story to them again and again. I got very tired eventually. I went to a friend's wedding where people started asking me again, I just left the wedding... In small cities everyone get to know everything."
The biggest loss was my uncle cutting his ties with us. "After my dad passed away I had thought if there was anyone I could trust, it would be my uncle. In the three months that I was in jail, not once did he come home and ask after my younger brothers and sisters or his sister-in-law. Till today he has made no effort to reach out to me. That was a big eye-opener," he says looking dejected.
His friends however are the same with him. Faizan's reluctance to return to Delhi to work was something all of them picked up on. They understood his friend needed support and decided to loan him money so he could start something of his own and stay close to his family. "They all have supported me, which is why I was able to start my own women’s clothing store. It has not even been a month yet...”
As he tried to go back to taking care of his family, he says the impact of his arrest can already be felt. “I am struggling to get my second younger sister married... the moment they get to know that I have spent three months in jail they do not want to take any conversation forward,” he says looking embarassed.
“I am rebuilding myself... I am trying, just do not think I deserved any of this. Not me or my family. Without any real evidence, why would any person put another through so much? Did it have anything to do with my identity? I’ll never know...”
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