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Shahrukh Pathan: The Person Behind the Iconic Image of Northeast Delhi Riots

Was he known to be dangerous? Did he have a criminal record? What led him to that road with a pistol in his hand?

11 min read
Shahrukh Pathan: The Person Behind the Iconic Image of Northeast Delhi Riots
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Illustrations: Shruti Mathur

An image of twenty-four-year-old Shahrukh Pathan where he is seen pointing a gun at a policeman on the first day of the 2020 Delhi riots, shook the entire country. He walked out on the main road between northeast Delhi's Jaffrabad and Maujpur, which was the epicentre of the violence. Unfazed by the policemen in riot gear, he shot bullets in the air while media persons captured his acts in astonishment. The fact that the gym enthusiast, who was also a local, did not wear a mask to hide his identity, made his 'bravado' seem peculiar and odd.

Accused in 2 FIRs under charges of attempt to murder and sections of the Arms Act, his bail plea may now be moved in the Supreme Court. While rejecting his plea under FIR 51, the Delhi High Court said that "the video clips (of Shahrukh Pathan) had shaken the court's conscience". The bail plea against the second FIR against him, is being heard in Delhi's Karkardooma court.


Delhi HC: Shahrukh's Picture Speaks Volumes About His Involvement

While denying him bail, Justice Suresh Kait from the Delhi High Court said that Pathan was not only a part of a crowd but was leading it too.

He said:

“It is hard to believe that the accused had no knowledge that his act may harm anyone present at the spot. The role attributed to the petitioner is not confined to participation in the mob of rioters but of heading the large crowd, holding a pistol in hand and releasing open fire shots."

The court said that they will uphold the trial court's decision to deny him bail.

“...In the opinion of this court, the learned trial court has rightly held that the petitioner is alleged to have participated in riots and his picture speaks a volume about his involvement. Keeping in mind the gravity of offence committed by the petitioner as also the facts of the present case, I am not inclined to grant bail to Pathan."
Justice Kait said.
While the court has found grounds to not grant him bail, we also wanted to speak to Shahrukh's family and friends, to understand what their side of the story was. Was he known to be aggressive and dangerous? Did he have a past criminal record? What led him to that main road with a pistol in his hand?

We answer these queries and beyond, to find out who Pathan is and the sequence of events that led him to being called the poster boy of the Delhi carnage.

Day 1 of The Violence: 24 February 2020

Going back to 24 February, Shahrukh was waiting for his mother to serve him biryani hours before his image would go viral.

"He got dressed up, as he would and said he was stepping out with his friends. I told him I would offer namaz first and then give him food. He proceeded to wait downstairs with his friends," his mother, 60-year-old Shahana Begum, tells this reporter while she presses her limbs that are in pain.

His family members tell us how Shahrukh's primary interest was how he looked and what he wore. Contrary to what the court's observations are, they refer to him as not harmful but silly. His preoccupation with clothes seemed to be the only highlight about him. He was also going for spoken English classes to improve himself.

"He made TikTok videos and stared at himself in the mirror most times. He was always modelling and taking photos. He was simple-minded," his mother said.


They live in two rooms, with a shared bathroom, on the first floor of a shared living space in northeast Delhi's Mustafabad area.

The area where they live was already highly tense. Approximately 15 minutes from where they live, there was stone pelting and sloganeering after a heated speech by BJP leader Kapil Mishra a day before. Speaking to a crowd of pro-CAA protesters, in the presence of a Delhi Police DCP, Mishra had said that if the police would not move the protesters, then in three days, they would remove them themselves.

He was referring to the anti-CAA protesters who had moved from the Seelampur protest site to under the Jaffrabad metro station on the night of 22 February. Crowds had swelled in Jaffrabad as well as in Maujpur, which is a Hindu-dominated area where pro-CAA protesters had gathered. The Quint, which was present on ground zero then, heard pro-CAA slogans and saw several flags of various right-wing groups, including the RSS, at the spot.

Unaware of these developments, Shahana was offering namaz. Which she claims was disrupted due to some noise. "Aadmi chad gaye hai aurton ko maarne ke liye (the men have come ahead to attack the women)," she heard. All the boys then ran towards the Maujpur-Jaffrabad road, including her son, Shahrukh.

How Shahrukh Got His Hands on a Pistol

Shahrukh's father, 65-year-old Samar Ali who is over 6 feet tall and a Sikh who converted to Islam, claims that his son got caught in a crowd.

"We asked the boys who went with him to tell us what happened. They said that while they were able to run back, Shahrukh had got stuck in a crowd where he had to fend for himself. There were all kinds of people there," Ali, who is originally from Amritsar, said in a heavy Punjabi accent.

He had surgery on his left leg a few months before the 2020 riots and has needed another to replace the right knee for a long time.

Later Shahrukh allegedly told them how he got his hands on the pistol.
"When he was in the crowd, Shahrukh spotted a man in front of him with a pistol. With the intention of saving himself, he used his presence of mind and kicked the man above his ankles. He slipped and the pistol fell from his hands. Shahrukh got hold of it and then shot in the air, dispersing the entire crowd."
Sharukh's father, Ali, said.
These claims of how he got the pistol are in stark contrary to what the police has said. The police has said that during their investigation they found out that Shahrukh had taken the pistol two years ago from a labourer who worked in their sock manfacturing unit. It was a semi-automatic pistol. This they said the same day that Shahrukh had been arrested, on 3 March last year. The sections of Arms Act slapped on him are derived from this part of the investigation.

As Shahrukh's mother narrates the day's ordeal, a rat runs from under her chair to the second room that is used as a store room in their small home. "We have to buy a rat catcher to kill it, we will do it soon," she says with an assuring smile to this reporter. There is minimal furniture in the room, and the deep orange on the walls need repainting. The air conditioner that has been switched on, is making a sound, louder than usual.

The couple lives alone. They have an elder son, 27-year-old Faiz who has not returned home since Shahrukh was arrested. "He stays with the (Tablighi) Jamaat and goes for long journeys to spread the good virtues of Islam. He does not call home or anything. We are surviving on the goodwill of relatives, along with limited money that we are able to make by manufacturing socks," Ali says, adding that it was Shahrukh who did all the running around for the work. They also said that Shahrukh was not as religious as his brother, and did not want to join the Jamaat.

From getting orders to getting material and distributing it to various people, Shahrukh did everything.

While his mother wept staring at the television in shock, Shahrukh returned home nonchalantly minutes after he had furnished the pistol in the air.

Shahana says that Shahrukh had peanuts in his hand when he said to his mother. He looked at her and said, "Mother, why are you sitting like this."

The lives and the fate of the family had already changed, but Shahrukh was unaware. Soon his eyes fell on the television news that his mother, and other guests who had come to visit, were watching.

"Ye kya kiya tune beta, ye kyu kiya (What did you do, son. Why did you do it?)," she asked repeatedly.

Hours After Shahrukh and His Parents Left Their Homes, A Mob Landed At His Doorstep

Shahrukh went into shock, his face fell and so did the peanuts he was eating. He spent the next few minutes, allegedly telling his mother that he never wanted to hurt anyone. "I was doing that so the men from the other side would go back and stop stone pelting, abusing and hurting us. I did not hurt the police constable. I told him, 'aap hat jao uncle, main idhar chala rahaan hoon. (you move on the side uncle, I am aiming the pistol elsewhere)."

The constable who faced Shahrukh with only a stick in his hand, Deepak Dahiya, told multiple news channels that Shahrukh had not fired at him. "The boy looked young and good and educated. He could have made something of his life, but he did this," Dahiya says betraying sympathy for the man who had pointed a gun at him.

The deed was already done. The family did not have much time to talk to each other. Shahrukh fled soon after. The entire day Ali and Shahana lived in fear every time they heard the roar of slogans. The next day they packed their clothes and left for a relative's home. They feared being arrested or being killed.

A day after they left, a mob arrived at their doorstep.

Chants of Jai Sri Ram were reverberating in the streets. Everyone knew the name and address of the man who had brandished the gun in front of the policemen by now. "Earlier they thought his name was Anurag, so the Hindus were celebrating his confidence and bravado. When they got to know he was a Muslim, the abuses began," his parents tell this reporter together, talking over each other.

By now Shahrukh's closest friend for at least 17 years, Shubham Thakur, had returned from Lucknow.

When this reporter asked if it was possible to meet him, Thakur came promptly upon being called by the family.

"I was in Lucknow on business. I returned on 26 February and saw Shahrukh's home was locked. A mob came with the intention of burning his home," 25-year-old Thakur, who also has a preoccupation with good clothes, hair and looks, said.

The mob said:

"Let's set his home on fire."

"Shahrukh lives here, that Pathan lives here."

"Burn it up!"

Shubham, whose home is behind Shahrukh's, went right up to the crowd and asked them what their problem was. "I told them that they were outsiders, who would do damage and leave. But we had to live here. By then Muslims from the locality had come and were folding their hands in front of the mob," he recalled the utter helplessness on their faces.


Shubham, says that when he was involved in a legal issue, and was away from home, Shahrukh fulfilled the role of a son for his parents.

Recalling what happened, he said the mob got restive and angry with him. "They started calling me a Pakistani agent. They said I had also converted to Islam while being with my friend," Thakur, laughed, and told this reporter.

8 Days on The Run Across Delhi, Punjab and UP

While this happened, Shahrukh was still on the run.

His cousin brother, Akhlad Khan, told The Quint about where he was for those eight days.

Akhlad said, "He was in Delhi for a few days, he was in his car. Then he went to Punjab, where his paternal relatives stay. After that, he went to Bareilly, to his maternal cousin's place. By then the police had tracked his location as he was under surveillance. He was caught at the bus stand in west Uttar Pradesh's Shamli on 3 March. After which he was brought to Daryaganj police station on the same day."

Akhlad, who is based out of Moradabad in UP, works as a freelance journalist and does content writing too.

He told this reporter, how through informal chats, the family was assured repeatedly that Shahrukh would not be killed in an encounter or tortured in custody. "There was a lot of news going around that he was already arrested, or that he was killed in an encounter. We were very worried that they would kill him as the craze around him was as such then. But the policemen stuck to their word," Akhlad said.

His parents, Ali and Shahana, who had still not returned home till now heard that Shahrukh was going to be brought to Daryaganj police station. They hurried to get there at their own risk on 3 March last year.

Both parents were still petrified that they could be arrested. His mother could barely hold back her tears. She struggled to look above the crowd ahead of her to catch a glimpse of her son. Ali, who is over six feet tall, also could not get a glimpse of their son either.

"I spotted a policeman a few feet away from us," Shahana says. She went up to him without thinking much, driven by emotion, with Ali tottering behind her with a walking stick, and told him, "Don't hit the boy too much, he is only a child."

The parents said that while making this request to an unknown policeman. They consciously tried to not come across as his parents. "We spoke to him like we were like any other neighbour or well-wisher of Shahrukh," Shahana recalls.


Shahrukh and The Trial: His Bail Rejected Twice Over

Over the next few months, they finally got to return to their home once things settled. They also got to see their son after he was sent to jail.

In front of his mother, Shahrukh jokes around. He asks her how he is looking so he could get compliments from her, a ritual from when being in jail was not a thought in anyone's mind. With his father, he is more honest. Ali asks him to remain calm and repose his faith in Allah.

From being a gym enthusiast, who was well built, Shahrukh has lost considerable weight. However his preoccupation with looks continues in jail. When he has appearances in court, he thinks of what to wear and asks his parents, and his cousin brother Akhlad, to bring it for him.

"Earlier he also used to be in better spirits, now he is always anxious and keeps asking us to bring him out," Shahana says.

The trial court, while rejecting Shahrukh's bail, said “going by the conduct of the accused and the manner in which he absconded and was arrested later on, suggests that he is a flight risk.” The order was then upheld by Delhi High Court judge Justice Kait.


When some UAPA accused got bail, Akhlad told us how there were slogans raised for various accused outside Tihar jail, the same jail Shahrukh has been kept in. "But no one raised a slogan for Shahrukh. There were slogans for Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid but not Shahrukh.... so there was a sense of being alienated and ignored by the other accused of the Delhi riots. I told one of those activists how offended I was that you have not included Shahrukh's name and given him the cold shoulder. They said that was what their lawyers had told him," Akhlad said betraying a sense of abandonment.

"What do they mean the lawyers told them? Is holding a gun up for self-defense a crime that differentiates UAPA accused from Shahrukh," Akhlad scoffed. He as well as the police has said that Shahrukh had no past criminal record.

Shahrukh has two FIRs registered against him. They are FIR 49/2020 and FIR 51/2020, with sections of the Arms Act and Section 307 (attempt to murder) of the IPC.

"While under FIR 49, the arguments have ended and the order is awaited from the judge in a Karkardooma court. In FIR 51, the bail has been dismissed by the sessions and Delhi high court. We have plans to move the Supreme Court soon," Akhlad said.

(Disclaimer: The copy has been updated on 10 August with additional details about the case.)

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