‘It Is Only Because Of God's Mercy That I Could Come Out [Of Jail]. This Is Injustice & An Atrocity’

03 Apr 2024 18 min read  Share

After eight cases, preventive detention and 21 months of incarceration, Javed Mohammad was released from a jail in Uttar Pradesh on 16 March 2024. While the police said he was the “mastermind” of the violence that erupted in Prayagraj on 10 June 2022 and bulldozed his house, judges who granted the social activist bail in eight cases found no evidence he had committed any crime. In this interview, the 58-year-old spoke of the violence and humiliation he suffered and his continuing faith in the judiciary.

Social activist Javed Mohammad, jailed in connection with violence in Prayagraj on 10 June 2022, was released after 21 months in prison/ JAVED MOHAMMAD'S FAMILY

Delhi: In August 2023, after Javed Mohammad received bail in the last of the eight cases the UP police had filed against him under the Indian Penal Code, 1860,  the 58-year-old social activist was booked under the Gangsters and Anti Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986, prolonging his incarceration for many months. 

Justice Vikram D Chauhan, granting him bail on 5 February 2024, said the allegations were “vague in nature,” and the police had disclosed “no specific instance” to show he was the leader or organiser of a gang. There was no “factual foundation” to proceed under the Act. 

The judge wrote, “General allegations without material particulars and evidence against the applicant could not by itself be a ground to deny bail to the applicant in view of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” 

Still, Mohammad was not released from Deoria district jail, where he had been incarcerated for close to two years after the UP police accused him of masterminding the violence that erupted in Prayagraj on 10 June 2022 over remarks that a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Nupur Sharma, made about the Prophet Mohammad. 

A month after the Allahabad High Court granted him bail and while he was waiting to be released, the UP police invoked the Arms Act, 1959, alleging two pistols were recovered from his house when the district administration demolished it on 12 June 2022, two days after the violence without due process or investigation. 

In a recent interview, Mohammad said his lawyer said the police were repeating the allegation after 21 months to keep him in jail. 

After the trial court granted him bail on 11 March 2024, Mohammad was released after 21 months in jail. 

“Is it not the limit,” he said. “First they put five cases, then the NSA, then three more, then the Gangster Act, then the Arms Act. It is only because of God's mercy that I could come out. This is injustice and an atrocity.”

Mohammad referred to the National Security Act, 1980, a draconian law that allows for preventive detention for up to a year without giving grounds for detention for five days. The detainee is not allowed a lawyer while appearing before the advisory panel that reviews the order, which is renewed every three months. 

Even though Mohammad was behind bars for crimes alleged under the IPC, the police invoked the NSA on 16 July 2022. 

Crippled by prosecutorial delays, it took ten months for the Allahabad High Court to finish hearing Mohammad’s habeas corpus petition against preventive detention. The high court order was reserved on 12 May 2023, but no pronouncement was made. Two months later, the NSA order expired, went before a new bench and was dismissed. 

Article 14 has previously reported that Mohammad was a social worker and a bridge builder between the administration and Muslims in Prayagraj. He famously worked with the authorities and courts to clear a cemetery of illegal encroachments. 

A firm believer in the rule of law, Mohammad, who sold pumps for a living and is a father of five, moved the courts on social justice and human rights issues. 

While he worked with the administration, Mohammad was critical of the majoritarian politics of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), organising protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019, criticising the Supreme Court for the Ram Mandir verdict, and the state government for seemingly one-sided arrests of Muslims after violence broke out in Kanpur over the remarks about the Prophet Mohammad, a week before the violence in Prayagraj. 

Article 14 has previously reported that the police appeared to have implicated Mohammad. 

On the morning of violence, Mohammad wrote a Facebook post telling Muslims not to gather after Friday prayers and to go home and pray that harmony, peace and love will prevail. 

There was nothing incriminating found after the authorities bulldozed his house and removed its contents in full view of news channels that televised the destruction. The police made the allegation of recovering a 12-bore and 315-bore pistol later to the media. A different case said a police spy apprehended Mohammad near his house and recovered a 315-bore pistol and live bullets from his person. 

Mohammad’s family said they had CCTV footage which showed him on a scooter near his house at 2:27 pm, about 30 minutes after violence erupted in the old city, approximately 2.6 km from his house. 

The FIRs registered against him concerning the destruction of public property had no specific allegations against him, Article 14 reported. In one case, unknown persons tried to take “advantage of the darkness” when, in fact, violence erupted during the day. 

In bail orders, the Allahabad High Court said there was no evidence to show that Mohammad was an “instrument” of violence or instigated a mob. District court judges also said Mohammad was not a named accused, and while the police said he had a criminal history, no information was provided about any convictions. 

In February 2023, Justice Ajay Bhanot wrote, “He is a law-abiding citizen who holds the unity of the country and amity between various communities very close to his heart. The applicant has neither posted nor shall post any messages which disrupt social harmony in the society.”

“Several people had gathered after Friday prayers for which the applicant cannot be held responsible. Neither is the applicant culpable for irresponsible acts of violence committed by some persons,” he wrote. 

Mohammad and his family are still fighting the case of the demolition of his house, one in a series of extra-judicial demolitions in UP, earning BJP chief minister Yogi Adityanath the title of “bulldozer baba”, denoting brutal and immediate action. The state claimed it was an illegal construction. 

The family said they were not informed before the demolition, and the notice that was pinned to the door of their house on the night before the demolition was in Mohammad’s name, revealing that the authorities did not even know that the house and property belonged to his wife, not him. 

After Mohammad went with the police on his scooty when they came to get him on the night of 10 June, his daughter Sumaiya Fatima and his wife, Parveen Fatima, were detained by the police for 36 hours. 

The police said that his other daughter, Afreen Fatima, a student leader at the time and a vocal critic of the BJP government, was “involved in notorious activities”, and the father and daughter “propagate propaganda”. 

In the two years since her father’s arrest and the demolition of her home, Afreen has spoken out less and less. 

In this interview, Mohammad said his worst fear was that the police would come after his daughter, but they did not, which was the one thing that made him pull through. 

The social worker spoke of the violence and humiliation he suffered, having to endure silently State persecution of Muslims without evidence but still having faith in the judiciary. 

Can you talk about what happened on 10 June? 

That day, I was at home in the morning. Around nine-thirty, I got a call from the city magistrate saying, “Javed sahab, we are getting inputs that a crowd may gather, and we are contacting community leaders. Will you come to help?” I replied, “Yes, of course. I will come to help.” Around 10:30, the SP city called and told me to put a message on Facebook saying people should say namaz, go home and not gather, and people should give a memorandum. Around 12, I went to say namaz, came home and ate. Around 2:30, I got a call from SSP Allahabad, who first asked where I was. I said I was at home. He said that stones were being pelted. I said things were normal where I was, and I had just returned from namaz and there was no news like that from the mosques nearby. He asked how they could stop the stone pelting and that I should come and get it stopped. I said it was a law and order issue. He wanted me to go to the spot, but I did not go. 

In the evening, the station officer of Kareli called at around 4:30-5, saying the sahab was calling you to chauraha. I said I could not go there because the situation was bad and my going would not be appropriate. When I returned from Maghrib namaz at around 6:30, I went to meet a friend who lives close by. When I returned, there were police cars of inspector Khuldabad and inspector Kareli. My neighbour said to go home after they left, but I said to let me find out why they came. They said that SP city had called me. I changed into pants and a shirt from my kurta pyjama. I phoned a few cousins to tell them I was going on my scooty. 

We first went to the Khuldabad police station, where they made me park my scooty. From there, we went to the police lines. They said Sahab was there and they would drop me back. When I sat in their car, they took my mobile. I started to get suspicious that they would detain me. 

In the police lines, I saw about 30 to 35 people sitting in two rooms. Between six and eight, they had picked up about 50 to 60 people from the chaurahas. There were people who were going to buy things, get milk, and go home after work. They had caught them,  beaten them up and made them sit on the floor. I was also made to sit. Everyone was getting two or four blows from the lathis. After about an hour and a half, SP crime called me and asked for my family details.  He said you seem to be from a good family. How have you come here? I said I’m not involved in this and am a social worker. I was sent back and spent the night there. 

Did they hit you? 

Yes. The next day, when the SSP Sahab came, he, too, misbehaved and kept swearing. He was furious at the incident and took out all that anger on me, saying we had not given the information or managed the situation. But what could I have done? It is their fault that they did not have intelligence. 

I was treated inhumanely by the SSP, but those things are now also in the past. He spat on me. They put a chappal on my face and said lick it. Should an IPS officer do this? They put a brick on my head and hit me to show what was being thrown. I asked, ‘What have I done?’ They said, ‘Your thinking is wrong, your thinking is jihadi’. Is this any answer? 

Had you met this police officer earlier? 

Three months earlier. The last Friday before Eid. There was an announcement that we should not read namaz on the roads. There was a meeting of Shia, Sunni, Barelvis and Deobandi groups with the DM and the SSP. That was the first meeting. I don’t know why he was so angry. 

So, you sense that the local administration and police were under a lot of pressure from above, especially after they could not stop the violence and they took it out on people like you? 

I don’t know if there was pressure from above or not, but the officers seemed to be very agitated of their own accord. After incidents like this, there is always fear of being transferred. I think because of that fear, it was decided from the first day on that I should be made the conspirator, and they can tell the state government that we have caught the main culprit. This was my assessment. 

When did you find out that your house had been demolished? 

I was sent to Naini jail (in Prayagraj) at about eleven on Saturday night with about 65 people. For about two days, we did not get food or water (while in the police lockup). My blood pressure and sugar levels were high. I kept saying, please get my medicines from home. They kept saying yes, yes, but they did not get them. Three or four people in those 65 had grave injuries. Blood was flowing from their head, and their clothes were soaked with blood, but they did not receive any treatment. After we entered the jail, the doctor checked us and sent these three or four people and me to the hospital. The next day, when I read the newspaper, it was written that the main culprit, Javed Mohammad Pump, was arrested. There was a statement by the DGP that the houses of such people would be demolished. I thought they were just saying that. I didn’t imagine that they would actually break my house. I knew that I wasn’t the culprit. I just thought I’d been caught up in their anger at that moment. 

So how did you find out?

From the TV in the hospital. It was on the news. Around ten or 10:30, I saw a reporter start his commentary on ABP news. I saw a lot of police had gathered. I saw the bulldozer. They rang the bell at my house, but no one came out. Then, around 12, they started demolishing it. I was shocked. I was an innocent man they had implicated. If I had disappeared for two days, this would not have happened. But then I thought, why should I have run away from the police? I had done nothing wrong. I knew nothing about who had done this or who was behind it. They just made up a story without any investigation. 

Did you see the whole thing on television?

I saw some of it. Our things were removed, and the bulldozer knocked down a wall. The four or five people who were with me at the hospital had tears in their eyes. I felt tears welling up from inside. They told me not to watch. I stopped watching, but my heart was so heavy. They carried out a huge injustice against an innocent man. 

We were never given any notice of demolition. It was stuck to the door, and it was in my name. They did not even bother finding out that the house belonged to my wife; the house, the land and the house and water tax receipts were in her name. They were in such a hurry to demolish it and say look, we have punished a very big conspirator. They could have sealed the house and investigated if they thought I was a conspirator. But there was no investigation. But to do it immediately shows what a cruel government we are under. 

And let me tell you something else. There were big protests in Allahabad during the CAA NRC movement. But the DM and SSP of Allahabad were perhaps very just people. There was no lathi charge, and no one was locked up.

When did you find out that your daughter and your wife had been detained? 

That was after four or five days when my son came to visit me in Naini jail. It was excruciating to hear it, but what could I do? I had no choice but to bear it. I was thinking about what kind of administration this is. Never trust them. Never go when they call you. They are not good people. 

Were there guns in your house? 

We had no guns in the house. I was so scared of what else they could do, but thank god it stopped at this, and I was able to come out after 21 months. One almost wants to laugh at how much the police lie and what they write. How can a citizen trust the police and the administration? No one is safe. They could have included my wife and daughter in this story. But they left them after 36 hours. 

If I were involved, my mobile phone would have been switched off. If I were involved, I would have run away and not gone with the police. People were angry about the incident, and people gathered. The police administration could not manage it. If they had taken the memorandum, there would have been no stone pelting. This slackness was the fault of the police. The intelligence could not give the correct report to the officers. They put all these allegations on me to show the government what great work they have done. What great work did they do?

How did you survive jail?

I was in jail for 21 months, and my family stood very firmly with me. They would come to see me once or twice a month. It is because of them that I stayed strong. I continued to do my social work inside the jail. They were inmates who did not have lawyers or anyone to show them the way forward. I would counsel them with the legal knowledge I had. I would have helped about 50 people in Deoria jail get bail from the Allahabad High Court. I sent many letters and gave phone numbers, and I would ask my own advocate. I prayed a lot, five times a day. I had a good relationship with the inmates. The word spread there was someone from Allahabad named Javed Pump. People started calling me “neta ji”, “neta ji”. People would come and ask for help. 

How did you deal with being called a criminal, being accused in so many cases, and locked away in jail? How do you deal with injustice? 

You know there is an atrocity happening against you, but you have no choice but to bear it. The UP government put the NSA on a social worker. To what extent they had fallen. There was so much mental pressure that I feel like I have lost 40% of my memory. Once, my wife visited me and told me that my granddaughter Maryam had started attending school. I asked who Maryam was. I forgot the names of my friends and family members. 

How did you cope as the police started filing more cases against you? 

I was scared. When they added a case, I would get a message for production before the court. I would think every day, “Let there not be another video production. Let there not be another case”. I once said that instead of putting so many cases on me, just take out a gun and shoot me if you think I’m so dangerous. But I knew the dark night had to end sometime, and they would not be able to crush me inside forever. 

The police also spoke of Afreen to the media. 

I felt terrified. I don’t know why they wanted to connect her with this matter. It was excruciating that they were implicating not only me but also my daughter. What was her fault? She was a student leader at Aligarh Muslim University and JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University). Were they angry with some statement she had made? She was not connected to any political party. Her activism was inside the campus. 

Has she left activism because of what happened to you and your family?

Activism is something she wanted to do, and I supported her. When she sometimes asked me for advice or a discussion, I would support her. But after what happened to me and they tried going after her, we were all terrified. She is now married, and it is up to her and her husband what kind of life they lead if they want to do any activism.

When you got bail for a week to attend your daughter’s wedding, did you see your demolished house? 

It was around that time my father passed away, and my younger sister and mother-in-law also passed away. My daughter tried a lot, but I was not allowed to attend his funeral. I went to the cemetery to say a prayer for them. I went to see the old house. It was excruciating to stand there and remember how we slowly built it and settled there. The time and money that was spent. My children grew up there. It was our family home. But what can you do? You have to bear it. 

How do you cope with the anger inside when you can’t do anything about it?

I’ve removed the anger from inside me. All the pain and loss I have turned over to God. God had given it, and God had taken it away. In the time to come, we’ll make another house. A new path will open. One house has gone. Another one will come. I think about the huge tragedies that fall on people. Entire communities are destroyed. I’ve just lost a house. I will bear it.

But it isn’t just about the house. It is living with injustice. 

For the injustice, I’m going to the Supreme Court regarding the unauthorised demolition of the house. It has been pending in the Allahabad High Court, and the government lawyers have only delayed it. Only the Supreme Court is left. I will use the favourable order in the Gangster Act. I will fight a legal battle to remove the stains they have put on me and show that the allegations against me were false. There is no other way. 

What will you do now? Continue with your activism?

A large part of my life has gone into activism. It can’t change in the remaining time I have left, but it could become less. I have just been released. I can be quiet for a while, but a person’s nature does not change. My old life will come back. My objective was to work for the people.

You are speaking with journalists. Were you advised to lay low for a while?

People told me to be silent and go underground. But I thought, "Why should I do that?” When I have committed no crime, why should I be afraid? So, I agreed to interviews. I have said the truth. The truth always comes to the fore. There is not a single wrong sentence in what I have told you. What more will they do? In the future, administrators will change, and governments change. Things will change. 

(Betwa Sharma is the managing editor of Article 14.)

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