Three years on: When did the people closest to missing JNU student Najeeb give up hope?

JNU student Najeeb Ahmed mysteriously disappeared on October 15, 2016. Three years later, nobody knows where he is
Radhika Vemula, Ammi and Haseeb
Radhika Vemula, Ammi and Haseeb

Najeeb Ahmed's was a face that not many in JNU were familiar with. Most people have not met him. But from what people close to him have told us over the past three years, he comes across as somebody who was in stark contrast to your garden variety JNU student. He wasn't vociferous, vocal or political. Instead, accounts from people who knew him paint a picture of a rather timid, quiet and studious 27-year-old who stayed away from trouble. Therefore, when his disappearance from the university's Mahi Mandvi hostel on the afternoon of October 15, 2016 came to light, it was indeed a shocker for most people who knew him.

In a span of three years, a missing person FIR and a Habeas Corpus writ have been filed by his mother Fatima Nafis. Multiple investigation agencies, including the Delhi Police's Special Investigation Team and the Central Bureau of Investigation have investigated the matter. However, 1095 days down the line, there is neither a clue nor an arrest in the case.

Haseeb and Ammi (Pic: Facebook) 

That's not to say that nothing was done. There were multiple searches on the campus and in nearby areas. There was even a reward of Rs 10,00,000 announced to anyone who spots Najeeb. However, after 26 rounds of interrogation, the CBI had filed a closure report in the case.

Not a single person who was close to Najeeb or his lower middle-class family has a clue about what happened to him. Strangely enough, while most people have given up hope, for some, it has now become their life's purpose to bring him back. One such person is Qasim Dargahi, who used to be Najeeb's roommate in JNU. "From the first day, I was quite adamant that I'll fight for justice and bring Najeeb back. This has, in fact, become the purpose of my life," says Qasim, who is possibly the last person to have seen Najeeb. "I don't know what has happened to him. The investigation agencies must tell us that," he says.

What happened in the hostel?

The duo shared Room 106 in the Mahi Mandvi hostel. Qasim says that Najeeb was his roommate out of choice. "He looked older than me and was a student of science. So, I thought that he's someone who's serious about studies and life and it will be a good idea to have someone like that as my roommate," recalls Qasim. He tells us that Najeeb mostly spent all his time studying and reading and stayed away from politics and scuffle.

However, the minutes of a meeting held between the warden and students of Mahi Mandvi on October 15, 2016, at midnight, tells us another story. It says that Najeeb had accepted that he had slapped Vikrant Kumar, another inmate of the same hostel. Following this incident, he was asked to vacate the hostel before October 20, 2016.

Umar Khalid

At the same time, a petition filed by the then JNUSU President Mohit Pandey says that Najeeb was assaulted by nine students. Pandey says that the same set of students still continued threatening Najeeb and asked that he be handed over to them so that they could 'finish him off'. He was then quoted as saying, "It is pretty clear that they are involved in the matter of Najeeb Ahmed's disappearance". All these nine students are believed to be associated with the ABVP.

Qasim recalls whatever he remembers from that night. "I had come to my room and was shocked to see around 200 students outside the door. Najeeb was assaulted by those nine people even in front of me," he says. An member of student rights organisation AISA, Qasim believes that Najeeb could have been targeted because the duo were roommates. "Hostel elections were coming up and maybe the ones who assaulted Najeeb were targeting my room because I was active in politics," he says, adding, "Najeeb was never a fanatic or an extremist. In fact, he would walk around with a rakhi that somebody tied on his hand."

The struggle is real

Soon after it became a reality that Najeeb was indeed missing, the student community in JNU became quite active in leading protests seeking justice for Najeeb and his family. Three years down the line, they still actively organise meetings, press conferences and marches. When we spoke to Fatima Nafis, she said, "Their love is what gives me the strength to fight these days."

Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students' Association activist Umar Khalid is one of them. But like most others, Umar too is clueless about what could have happened to Najeeb. "It is for the investigating agencies to find out what has happened to him, where is he and if he's alive," says Umar. "But, the investigation hasn't moved ahead because there is political interference to ensure the same. The prime suspects here are from the student wing of the ruling party and hence the investigators are interested in shielding them rather than finding where Najeeb is," he adds.

We also spoke to Sunil Kumar, a filmmaker who made a documentary on Fatima called Ammi, two years back. He too did not hold back on his views about the disappearance of Najeeb. "I don't know what they did with him. It's been three years. I have a lot of questions. Did they really kill him? Or have they kept him as a captive? The unbelievable part here is that no one was interrogated," he says.

Why Najeeb?

Which of course caters to the majority view that this was a crime perpetuated against him because he was a Muslim. "If you notice, it's mostly innocents who have been lynched over these few years. Look at Pehlu Khan, Akhlaq and Tabrez Ansari. None of them had any political allegiance," notes Sunil. "But the ones who assaulted them always belonged to a particular political party. They carried the same saffron flag. They wanted to make a mark in JNU and scare the students there. That could be why they caused Najeeb's disappearance," he adds.

Umar too notices something similar and draws parallels between Rohit Vemula's and Najeeb's cases. "What happened to Najeeb could have happened to anyone else. ABVP in different campuses across the country is unleashing violence. In HCU, their target was Rohit Vemula, in JNU it was Najeeb," he says. "BJP knows that it won't be an easy task for them to implement their anti-student policies. They know that there will be resistance. To prevent that resistance and attack the peace and harmony inside campuses and the minorities are targeted here," he adds.

Questions on the family front

This view is one that is shared by Najeeb's family, as well, "These forces did not want many students from minority backgrounds to come forward and study. They know that targeting a few will stop many from coming forward," says Najeeb's 25-year-old younger brother Haseeb Ahmed. "The CBI comes directly under the BJP government. Therefore, they are not doing anything here," he says. Haseeb was, most recently, given a job by the Delhi Waqf Board and that has come as a godsend for the struggling family.

But Najeeb is his family, his big brother. That could be the reason why he's among the few people who are still hopeful. "I do not know what could have happened to my brother. It will be a difficult thing to think about. However, I know that Bhai (Najeeb) will come home soon," adds a hopeful Haseeb.

Hope is all they have. And to believe that after so many days Najeeb may still return alive, takes a lot of it.

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