Anti-CAA protests hot spot Shaheen Bagh was PFI base in Delhi
Officers in the Delhi Police, who have investigated the 2020 Delhi riots case, said that the ban validated their allegations against PFI
In Shaheen Bagh, where Delhi Police on Wednesday sealed the offices of two affiliated groups of the Popular Front of India (PFI), most residents in the area said they knew little about the activities of the organisations.
After the arrest of PFI members and a government notification declaring it a banned organisation, police sealed apartments from where PFI, the All India Imams Council, and the Rehab India Foundation functioned. All three offices were located in south-east Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh -- a place that gained prominence during the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, protests in 2019. The three offices were in adjacent blocks next to Shaheen Bagh’s road 13A, where protesters famously blocked the road against the citizenship law for four months between December 2019 and March 2020.
Officers in the Delhi Police, who have investigated the 2020 Delhi riots case, said that the ban validated their allegations against PFI. Delhi Police have, in their charge sheets in the riots case, maintained that PFI funded the anti-CAA protests across the city as part of a planned conspiracy to spark communal violence in north-east Delhi.
“PFI had carefully selected the offices of these groups in Shaheen Bagh just next to their office. PFI had used this strategic advantage of location of these groups in Shaheen Bagh to fuel the protests. It was not a spontaneous protest. It is groups like these with their offices next door that fuelled the protest for over three months with money and logistical support,” said a senior police officer, who asked not to be named.
On Wednesday, residents in Shaheen Bagh said that while they were aware of PFI and its members, they did not know much about the other groups.
For the residents of Hila Homes Society, Rehab India Foundation was an NGO with expertise in heath care and education. The RIF office is located in the housing society near the Shaheen Bagh police station.
One resident said all they knew was that an NGO from southern India had taken a ground floor flat on rent. “The NGO sometimes held health camps for the residents and taught the children of the poor. But this was not a regular feature. We were told that the NGO has its main office in Kerala. Beyond that we do not know much about this group. For the past 4-5 days, it was also locked. Maybe it was locked the day, government conducted raids across PFI offices and arrested its members last week,” added the resident, who asked not to be named.
The office of another PFI affiliate group, the All India Imam Council (AIIC), is located in the F block of Shaheen Bagh. This is just two lanes away from the PFI office, also in the F block. When HT visited the building where AIIC’s office is located, the apartment was locked.
“It has been locked for the last week or more than that. Earlier, there was a board too outside their door. Someone must have removed it after the controversy of the arrests last week. The flat where the office is located hardly remains open unlike our flats. We did not even know this was an office of a controversial group. We know about the PFI’s office but did not know that there were many other splinter groups of the same party here in Shaheen Bagh,” said a neighbour on condition of anonymity.
Last week, government agencies and police raided PFI premises across 15 states and arrested 108 people. In a second raid on Tuesday, nearly 240 people belonging to PFI and its political wing SDPI were arrested.
During the September 22 raid, PFI office-bearers Parvez Ahmad (Delhi president) and Ilyas (Delhi secretary) were arrested. On March 11, 2020 the two along with another PFI member, Danish, were arrested for rioting and conspiracy in the Delhi riots case.
PFI, which has accused the government of launching a witch-hunt against it, said in a statement on Wednesday that it would abide with the government’s decision and the organisation therefore stood disbanded.