This day 14 years ago, Delhi Police officers swooped on the building in a pre-dawn raid and arrested four top Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) members including its president Shahid Badr Falahi. The building was sealed. Hours earlier, on September 27, 2001, the organisation had been banned. The building was the outfit’s headquarters. It had an office and a hostel with a well-stocked library. Police burnt all the books in a bonfire.
The building’s gate, furniture, utensils and other items were stolen over time. Now, residents of the area claim the building, in Gali Number Nau (Lane No 9) near Batla Market in South East Delhi’s Zakir Nagar, has been occupied by “anti-socials”. The residents say they have complained to the police and civic officials, but have not found a way to get rid of the “anti-socials”.
Intakhab-ur-Rehman, who lives opposite the building, said in December last year someone stole a mobile phone from his house even as his aged father lay asleep. “Police caught a teenager. He had sold the phone for Rs 300 to buy drugs,” said Intakhab.
Yasmeen Kamaran, another resident, said women’s purses had been snatched by those living in the building. “These men peep into our houses and make obscene gestures at women and children. I have seen them bring in sacks of stolen goods,” she alleged. The residents claim the people who frequent the building are armed with blades and attack anybody trying to enter. “The police are scared to go inside. When they do, the occupants jump out of the windows and the terrace and escape. They have smashed windscreens of cars,” Yasmeen said.
The three-storey building shows signs of having fallen into disuse. What once were hostel rooms and library are now carpeted in garbage, cloth pieces, torn registers and broken alcohol bottles.
Sartaj, who hangs out in the building with friends, said, “Is ghar ko bhoot bangla kehte hain (They call this building the haunted house).” Sartaj denies they are involved in crime. “I earn a little over Rs 150 a day as a welder. I come here to rest. The residents scold us, branding us thieves and drug addicts.”
The SHO of Jamia Nagar police station said the building was not as dangerous as residents made it out to be. “It is not a breeding ground for criminals. It is not possible to station a police official outside the building round the clock.”
The residents said they had sought suggestions from officials on what should be done with the building. “We haven’t received any reply,” said Musharraf Husain, secretary of the Zakir Nagar Development Society.
Okhla legislator Amanatullah Khan said it was up to the land-holding authority to demolish the structure if it deemed fit. “Because the building lies entangled in a court case, it cannot be made functional unless the court gives permission.”
‘What’s in a building?’
After 9/11, the SIMI was banned by the then NDA government under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Its offices across the country were sealed and hundreds of members arrested over the next few years. The ban on the outfit was renewed in 2014 for an additional five years.
Earlier, in 2008, a special tribunal had briefly revoked the ban.
The Supreme Court, however, stayed the tribunal’s order on the request of the then UPA government. In 2010, the Delhi High Court rejected a plea for de-sealing of the building in Gali Number Nau.
Former SIMI president Yasin Patel who fought the case to de-seal the building on behalf of Falahi, said, “What’s in a building? We can always raze the structure and build a new one in its place. The garbage can be cleared in a day. But what about human rights? What about the years of our lives we lost? I am not allowed to leave Delhi, though I have been out on bail since 2004. I have not visited my family in over a decade. Who will return these years of my life to me? And then there are people who are bothered about buildings, not human lives.”
Patel was arrested in 2002 by the Special Cell and charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for allegedly putting up “anti-India” posters inside Jamia Millia Islamia. Falahi, Saif Nachan, manager of the SIMI monthly ‘Islamic Movement’, Mohammad Khalid, assistant manager, and Irfan Ahmed, assistant office secretary, the four who were arrested in the raid 14 years ago are out on bail.
Meanwhile, about the building, a sanitary inspector from the civic corporation said, “No one lives there. If someone were, we would have challaned them for creating nuisance.”