'Answer Every Call': 5 Yrs On, Missing JNU Student Najeeb’s Mother Awaits Son
On 15 October, it would be exactly five years since JNU student Najeeb Ahmed went missing.
Fatima Nafees ensures her phone’s battery is charged 24X7, and the mobile data is never switched off. She answers each call promptly, even those from unknown numbers.
“What if it’s my son Najeeb?” asks the 52-year-old.
It’s been exactly five years since Najeeb Ahmed, a first-year MSc Biotechnology student at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, went missing, after a scuffle with three members of the right-wing students’ organisation Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) outside his hostel room.
At first, the case was investigated by the Delhi Police case, and an SIT was formed. Soon after, the case was transferred to the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police, and in 2017, it was taken over by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Najeeb is, however, still missing.
A Mother's Steely Resolve
“You can’t ask a mother why she holds onto hope, she just does. I am sure that one day I will find both justice and my son. The Delhi Police and the CBI have broken my trust… They didn’t do their job of looking for Najeeb sincerely. I wrote a letter to the CBI that they should search for Najeeb in all jails of Delhi, and of neighbouring states using his photo,” said Fatima, over the phone from Uttar Pradesh’s Budaun, where the family hails from.
In August 2016, Najeeb, the eldest of her four children, moved to Delhi to study at JNU, merely months before he went missing.
As the case went from one agency to another, Fatima found herself protesting outside the CBI headquarters and Jantar Mantar -- with student leaders Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar, activist Khalid Saifi, students from Jamia Millia Islamia and JNU, and members of the civil society in attendance.
“Khalid Saifi and his family stood shoulder to shoulder with me, so did Umar… Now they are in jail. Anyone who speaks up against injustice is thrown in prison. Those who stay quiet, stay safe in a corner but if we don’t look for our children, who will,” she asks.
This year, as 15 October inched closer, she received a call from a few students in Delhi wondering if Fatima will undertake the seven-hour road journey to the Capital from Budaun to mark five years since Najeeb went missing.
“I refused due to health reasons but there’s another reason… I don’t want any child to suffer due to me. What if there is a protest, and there is lathicharge by the police, or worse, jail. What if there is no bail for a long time? I know what it’s like to not see one’s child, I wouldn’t want to punish another mother because of me. I am less active now, you can say… But I haven’t lost hope at all,” she says.
Talking of hope, Fatima recalled a personal trip she took to Bidar, the hill-top city in Karnataka, two years after Najeeb went missing.
“It was lush green like a jungle, with hills. I wondered what if my son was kept at a place like this, from where he couldn’t reach out to us. A place where no one saw him, no one recognised him, where he didn’t understand or speak the language… If something or someone is lost, shouldn’t a real effort be made to find them?” she asks.
After Najeeb went missing, the then-JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) accused the ABVP of “kidnapping” him. The Delhi Police filed an FIR under IPC section of kidnapping, and a proctoral inquiry at JNU found ABVP member, Vikrant Kumar, guilty of assaulting Najeeb during the scuffle on October 14 night. Next morning, he went missing. Till date, little is known about the reasons behind the scuffle.
Najeeb’s phone and laptop, which were found in his hostel room, were taken by the police. Also found in his room were a pair of slippers, a few clothes he had purchased recently, and a Titan watch.
“The police had asked me then to clear the room, and take it all away but I said no. I told them that these things belong to my son, he bought them, so he will only bring them back home to us in Budaun. I have no idea what happened to his room and belongings,” said Fatima.
Nine people were named as accused in the case but that didn’t yield any conclusive results. Fatima alleges that the accused were let off easily. “The agencies have failed to do their job; I won’t get tired of saying this. The accused got jobs, the police officers who investigated the case moved on, got promoted… And here we are, still waiting for justice,” she says.
Almost two years after Najeeb went missing, Fatima filed a defamation suit against some media houses that identified her son as an “ISIS sympathiser.” The same year, the CBI filed a closure report, and declared Najeeb “untraced.” This was challenged in court by Fatima, and last year, the court sought the CBI’s response in the matter.
“The agencies have misguided us, troubled us, and those who stand with us. Am I an accused or a victim’s mother here?” she says.
Fatima’s two sons, aged 28 and 26 years, have jobs, and her 22-year-old daughter is finishing college. “Yeh acche din hai par Najeeb ki kami mehsoos hoti hai… Par kab tak hai zulm ki raat, subah kabhi toh aayegi,” she says.
Apart from the resolve of a mother, another thing that has kept Fatima going is the support of university students from across cities all these years.
“JNU, Jamia, AMU, and other universities… These students are my strength. Many have finished their studies and have jobs now; they’ve stayed in touch. They call and ask ‘Ammi, are you okay?’ I am everyone’s ‘Ammi’ now. I was told that on a phone ID app, if you put my number, the name it reflects is ‘Ammi’ not Fatima,” she says, breaking into a short-lived laugh.
Apart from the students, another person who has supported Fatima’s quest for justice is her Delhi-based niece, Sadaf Musharraf.
“As a family, we all believe that Najeeb will be home soon. Hope is all we have. Since he went missing, Najeeb’s father is sleeping outside the room, closer to the gate most nights, just in case Najeeb knocks… That knock can’t go unanswered. Ummeed hai.”
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