VV Correspondent’s Father Released from Jail After 113 Days; Was Booked For Forwarding a WhatsApp Message

Zainab Siddiqui, a Video Volunteers Community Correspondent from Lucknow, is thrilled to have her father, Naeem Siddiqui, back home after his release on bail on February 25. Naeem Siddiqui was arrested on November 5 on charges of promoting communal disharmony and spent nearly four months in Lucknow’s district jail. From the moment of his arrest, Zainab had worked relentlessly to secure his release.

On the evening of November 5, about 10-12 plainclothes policemen forcibly arrested her father and brother without any valid documents. They also manhandled the women of the family and snatched their phones to delete any evidence of their wrongdoings. “I managed to save my phone from them and it has the video recording of them beating and forcibly taking away my father and brother,” said Zainab. Zainab’s video recording of the arrest, that captures her fury at what was unfolding, went viral online. 

Zainab discussed the case for ninety minutes on November 6 with VV’s Stalin K. on  Facebook Live, and gave many details about the case and her views on it. 

She explained to Video Volunteers that initially, there was chaos and confusion as she didn’t know where exactly they had taken them. Neither did they know the location, nor did they know which police force or unit the men belonged to. Was it the local police? Or the ATS (Anti-Terrorist Squad)? Or was it the newly created UP Special Security Force that is empowered to arrest without warrant.

Video Volunteers’ Safety and Security Committee got into action immediately to locate the whereabouts of her father Naeem Siddiqui (52) and younger brother Shaad (16) and started the process to secure their release. The live session with Stalin K also helped Zainab generate support and solidarity. “The policemen justified the violence saying the women of my family had encircled them and they had to use force to free themselves. Shame on them! The truth is visible in the video,” Zainab says in the live session. 

Several legal delays later and after about four months (113 days), Naeem Siddiqui was released on bail. Shaad, being a minor, came back home on November 6 - a day after the incident - but not before he was beaten up severely the previous night. His arm was paining and he had difficulty moving it.

“My father is the only earning member of my family of 10. During the time he was away in jail, I was unsure how we would be able to take care of our family. Our savings were fast getting used up and there was no release in sight. I could not meet my father this entire time from November 2020 until his release in February 2021 due to COVID19 protocols in place. Even if he is acquitted of all charges, who will make up for the lost time with my father and of the moments I missed being with him,” asks Zainab.

Zainab with her father Naeem Siddiqui and other family members after his release

Naeem Siddiqui was charged with creating or promoting communal disharmony in society. From his phone, he had forwarded a WhatsApp message that called for a symbolic, stay-at-home protest against the French president Emmanuel Macron’s statement on "freedom to speak, to write, to think, to draw". The statement was made in reference to a case of beheading of a middle school teacher in France who had used drawings of Prophet Mohammed to help children debate the balance between freedom of expression and religious freedom.

The violent incident that happened with Zainab and her family on November 5 was also reported by independent news outlets like The Wire and Quint. Social organisations and public figures like Jan Jagran Abhiyan and Yogendra Yadav tweeted in solidarity with Zainab back in November.

Police brutality on Zainab and her family members was covered by independent as well as mainstream media

Now that her father is out on bail, Zainab is relieved. “My faith in the Constitution of India has strengthened. As a minority, I feel happy and secure to be a part of this nation and that strength comes from the rights given to all of us by the Constitution,” said Zainab.

However, her volume drops as soon as she talks about her brother Shaad. From the beatings that he was subjected to on the intervening night of November 5 and 6, he is showing signs of trauma. “He is not the usual self he was before. He is a college going kid, but he hasn’t looked at his books in months. He used to go out and play sports, but now he has lost all enthusiasm and doesn’t even talk to his friends,” said Zainab.

Zainab has been working with Video Volunteers (VV) since October 2016 and has created more than 30 video reports documenting the problems of her community. In 2017, Zainab created a video report highlighting the education problems of underprivileged children in Lucknow. As an impact, more than 250 children were admitted to private, convent and government schools under the Right to Education (RTE) program.  You can read more about her and watch her videos on her profile page on the Video Volunteers’ website. She has also worked as the Cluster Facilitator for YES (Yeh Ek Soch) and was also associated with the National Alliance of People Movement (NAPM). She is a well-known figure in the localities she works in and that is also one of the reasons why she quickly generated support from social and political quarters against the November 5 incident. “My mentor at Video Volunteers Anshuman Singh, other members of VV and my old friends supported me wholeheartedly. If I hadn’t learnt video reporting at VV, I would have never had the presence of mind to pull out my phone and record the video that has proved to be a crucial piece of evidence. In contrast, a lot of other local organisations, with whom I have worked for women empowerment didn’t come forward to help when I was targeted,” she says.

She sees this incident as a motivated action to target Muslims. No action was taken against the person who originally created and forwarded the message for which Naeem Siddiqui was booked. The police haven't also shared the video footage they were recording at the time of the incident to prove their point of them getting encircled, says Zainab. She fears that her brothers and sisters living in other cities could be targeted next to pressurise her and make the case weaker.

In the midst of all this, where she feels anxious for her family and of the people close to her, she drops a hint of her political aspirations. “I want to go to the parliament once. Not as a visitor but as a parliamentarian. With every passing government, we see promises of passing the Women Reservation bill that reserves 33% of the Lok Sabha seats for women. But no one acts on it. My goal is to increase the participation and representation of women in leadership positions. We have to challenge this patriarchal notion that women can’t work as leaders,” Zainab says.

When Zainab went to the Lucknow district jail to receive her father, her brother Shaad started crying profusely at his sight. In her words, it reflects the months of uncertainty and hardships that the family has faced and how she has stood strong through all of this. Her parting words show her concern for her brother, her family and how the case against her father develops in the future.

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