This is the first article in a five-part series on the Delhi violence of February 2020.
On March 11, 2020, a ‘Group of Intellectuals and Academicians (GIA)’ comprising Supreme Court advocate Monika Arora et. al submitted their 48-page report titled ‘Delhi Riots 2020: Report from Ground Zero – The Shaheen Bagh Model in North-East Delhi: From Dharna to Danga’ to the Union minister of state for home affairs, G. Kishen Reddy, in Delhi, portraying the arson, looting and bloodletting in North-East Delhi during February 23-26 as the handiwork of an ‘Urban-Naxal-Jihadi’ network’ (a term coined by the party in power at the Centre to discredit dissenters and civil society/academia, which has no basis in reality.)
On May 29, a similar 70-page report titled ‘Delhi Riots: Conspiracy Unraveled’ – Report of Fact Finding Committee on Riots in North-East Delhi during 23.02.2020 to 26.02.2020’, prepared on behalf of a group, Call for Justice (CFJ), by a six-member committee headed by Justice Ambadas Joshi, a retired judge of the Bombay high court), was submitted to the Union home minister, Amit Shah, in Delhi.
Both reports were unequivocal about their “findings”. The GIA Report concluded that:
- “The Delhi Riots, 2020 were pre-planned. There are evidences of a ‘Left-Jihadi model of revolution’ that has been executed in Delhi and is sought to be replicated at other places.”
- “The Delhi riots are not genocide or a pogrom targeted at any community. They are a tragic outcome of a planned and systematic radicalisation of the minorities by a far left-Urban Naxal network operating in universities in Delhi.” [paras 1 & 2, p.1]
Such “findings” were more than enough for the RSS mouthpiece “Organiser” to state:
“Even before the ground report from the riot hit parts of Delhi emerged, a large section of the media and the western media aided by their sepoys in India gave a partisan outlook to the riots and made the perpetrators into victims. The sufferings of the Hindus was [sic] deliberately ignored and only the statements of Muslims were recorded and publicised. Now, a ground report by the Fact Finding Team of Group of Intellectuals and Academicians (GIA) has exposed the conspiracy behind the anti-Hindu riots and also the media machinations behind it.” [Emphasis added]
Taking a cue from the GIA Report, Organiser was quick to conclude that “…a large section of the [Indian] media and the Western media…made the perpetrators into victims”! Admittedly, there are perpetrators and victims in such situations, but who the perpetrators and victims are is yet to be conclusively determined.
Incidentally, as per records, 53 people died during the violence. However, 39 out of the 52 identified bodies or 75 % belonged to the minority community. This by itself gives the lie to the narrative of “anti-Hindu” riots.
The main “findings” of the CFJ report, which was submitted to the Union Home Minister, were also similar in tone. According to the report:
- “…these groups [“Anti National, extremist Islamic groups and other radical groups”] conspired together and in a well pre-planned and organized manner executed attacks in a targeted manner on the Hindu community, as explained in detail hereinafter…” [ p.1]
- There were “[t]argeted attacks on Hindu Community: ….The Hindu community was totally unaware about the attacks while the attackers belonging to the Muslim community meticulously planned not only the manpower and other resources but also the timing as well as the pre-defined targets.” [p.8]
- A recorded testimony of Mr. Jaibeer Singh stated, “….Stones as well as petrol bombs, already stored on the roof of high rise buildings by the Muslims, were used in the attack on the people of Hindu Community.”[p.23]
- “The targeted attacks on Hindu community were executed in a pre-planned manner, organized in terms of logistics, and targets were pre-identified, and timings were synced to cause maximum impact with minimum resistance.” [p.51]
- “The testimonies and other evidences revealed that the attacks were done in the Hindu localities and there also, the persons who were rich or influential have been made specific targets and their houses suffered maximum damage.”[ p.52] [Emphasis added]
What the call records say
According to one pro-establishment website:
“The Delhi Police informed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that its control room received 4,000 SOS calls in the wake of Delhi Anti-Hindu riots on February 25, the first day of US President Donald Trump’s visit to India. The calls were made by locals to narrate the horrific incidents of violence, arson and clashes.” [Emphasis added]
In fact, the number of SOS calls was apparently much more. The Hindustan Times (Delhi), reported on March 05, 2020, “On February 24 and 25 alone, when the communal violence was at peak in several parts of North East Delhi, the police control room received over 13,000 riots related calls.”
Whether it was 4000 or 13,000 distress calls, the fact is that the Delhi Police, which is under the direct control of the BJP government at the Centre, desisted from taking prompt action on those distress calls. It beggars belief that the police did not respond at once to stop the purported “anti-Hindu riots” resulting in “the horrific incidents of violence, arson and clashes” as the above-mentioned OpIndia report noted.
As per records accessed by NDTV in at least two police stations in violence-hit areas, in most of the cases reviewed, the column for action taken in response to distress calls was blank.
This included calls even from members of “Hindu establishments and homes which were targeted by the Islamist mobs”, as OpIndia has been claiming. Two specific instances would give an idea of the police inaction during the arson and looting allegedly perpetrated by “Islamist mobs”.
The first instance was of looting and arson in two schools in the violence-hit area sharing a boundary wall, one owned by a Hindu and the other by a Muslim. Dharmesh Sharma, administrative head of Shiv Vihar’s DRP Convent School told NDTV that despite making frantic calls to the police:
“The school kept burning for about 24 hours. Fire brigade never arrived. Apparently fire officials were also attacked.”
The CFJ Report has corroborated that:
“There were 3 attacks on the [DRP Public] school on February 24, 2020, due to which the police was called but they came at 8 p.m. on the next day, i.e., February 25, 2020.” [p.26]
Faisal Farukh, the owner of the Rajdhani Public Senior Secondary School, which shared a common boundary wall with DRP Convent School, also had an identical grievance. He told NDTV:
“They attacked us on Monday [24 Feb]. By 2 pm all the students and staff had left and around 4-5 pm all of this happened. We kept calling the police but they just kept saying ‘we are coming’. But they never came.”
Call records from the logs maintained at the Karawal Nagar Police Station provide further proof of police inaction to the said SOS calls. According to the same NDTV report:
“Shiv Vihar falls under Karawal Nagar police station.
“A review of the logs at the police station show at least two calls being made at around 3:54 pm on Monday [24 Feb], saying that the school was being attacked. The action taken column in both these cases says that it is pending.
“Several other distress calls to the police station were also marked as ‘pending’.”
Regarding the second instance of police inaction, in an interview to NDTV, Neetu Choudhary, cashier of the Arun Modern Senior Secondary School (owned by a Hindu), located in Brijpuri, lamented the failure of the police to respond to any of their numerous calls for help. She recounted that while the school was set on fire around 04.00 pm on February 25, the fire brigade arrived four hours later. By then, the raging fire had caused extensive damage. The CFJ Report too had taken note of this incident:
“Mr. Abhishek Sharma, who runs Arun Modern School, told that [sic] the mob captured the school on February 25, 2020. Police help was requested by civilians but police denied [sic] due to non-availability [sic] of orders.” [para (f), p.25]
While even the pro-Establishment website ‘OpIndia’ has acknowledged that thousands of distress calls were made to the police during the riots, barring a single mention in the GIA Report [p.8] of a PCR [police control room] call “…made by locals at 3.05 pm”, on February 23, both reports have scrupulously avoided asking why the Delhi Police failed to respond to distress calls, and that is very intriguing.
In a context where police organisations are perceived as having a majoritarian bias, ignoring SOS calls from the Muslim owner of a school is “understandable”, but what explains their lack of response to the frantic calls from the ‘Hindu’ owners of the other two schools?
Why did the Delhi Police, which comes under a BJP government at the Centre remain completely unresponsive when ‘Hindu’ victims, who were ostensibly being targeted by “Islamist mobs”, were crying for help?
Was there an ulterior motive in remaining indifferent? Or was the reality the very opposite of what is being claimed by these two “fact-finding” reports? Is there a possibility that the police was directed to remain passive as most of the arson, looting, and killings were actually being perpetrated by “Hindutva” mobs? It is also a bit strange that “anti-Hindu” rioters would burn down 14 mosques and a dargah, while “Not one of the many Hindu temples, big and small, in the entire area was reported to have been attacked.”
A closer examination of the chain of events will shed more light on the issue and may provide answers to these questions.
Timeline of violence
In the early morning, on February 23, 2020, i.e., a day prior to a major Supreme Court hearing relating to the ongoing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, at Shaheen Bagh, a group of anti-CAA protesters, who were holding their protest near Jaffrabad Metro Station (North East Delhi), suddenly decided to block the Jaffrabad main road just outside the station. (page 8, GIA Report).
It was a completely unwarranted move since the Court was already questioning the logic of blocking public roads for organising protests. Were the protesters at Jaffrabad misled by some vested interests into taking this adventurous step – vested interests trying to infiltrate the protest movement to serve their own ends?
The objective of the protest movement was to generate empathy and support for the cause; it was not intended to alienate or incite others. Let us not forget that prior to this move there had been similar attempts to disrupt the protest movement at Shaheen Bagh, which had not succeeded. (If there is any influence of Salafi madarsas, as the GIA Report [page 44] has tried to imply, such groups should certainly be taken to task. However, the concerted attempt to dub every anti-CAA protester as a “Jihadist” is disingenuous.)
According to a February 23 report by NDTV, simultaneously “The protesters are also supporting nationwide strike call by Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad…” Whatever may have been the reason for blocking the Jaffrabad road at that time, ultimately, it was the protestors at Jaffrabad and elsewhere in the area, who were made to pay a heavy price for this misadventure.
The ‘events timeline’ on page 8 of the GIA Report states that CAA supporters (who are designated as “locals” in the Report) began to gather at Maujpur Chowk (which was close to the anti-CAA protest site at Jaffrabad Metro Station) on February 23 from 09.00 a.m. onwards, leading to the first round of clashes between the two groups (anti-CAA protestors and CAA supporters).
Subsequently, on the same day, Kapil Mishra (ex-MLA and a BJP politician), arrived at the spot and delivered a speech to a group of CAA supporters, also posting a summary of it on twitter.
However, the GIA Report has not even mentioned the fact that Mishra’s speech and tweet were inflammatory. A summary of that speech, delivered standing alongside the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Ved Prakash Surya (DCP North East Delhi), is very revealing. According to India Today (Delhi, February 27, 2020):
“On Sunday, Kapil Mishra had issued an ultimatum to the Delhi Police to clear the streets of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters.
Mishra tweeted (roughly translated from Hindi) stating, “Giving a three-day ultimatum to Delhi Police to clear the roads in Jaffrabad and Chand Bagh of protesters. Don’t try to reason with us after this, because we won’t pay heed.”
Kapil Mishra also attached a video with his tweet and wrote, “We will maintain peace until Donald Trump is in India. After that, we refuse to listen to even the police if the roads are not cleared…. we will be forced to hit the streets.”
The only action on the part of DCP Surya was to meekly walk away from the scene without even a warning to Kapil Mishra to not hold out any such threat that could lead to violence. Even if the anti-CAA protestors were wrong in blocking the road, the onus of maintaining law and order was on the police.
As for the CAA supporters, they had every right to complain to the police against such a blockade and also express their support for the cause they uphold. But intimidating anti-CAA protestors was certainly not the way to demonstrate their stance.
Incidentally, while the GIA Report has chosen to overlook the provocative speech of Kapil Mishra, the CFJ Report has conceded that:
“At around 03:00 pm, Kapil Mishra of the BJP, reached at Maujpur Chowk and in a provocative speech told the crowd there to hit the street if the Police failed to clear the protest site in Jaffrabad and Chand Bagh. He threatened that peace would be maintained only until US President Donald Trump leaves the country.”[p.46]
According to fresh information provided by a report in the Caravan, before his provocative speech at Maujpur, Kapil Mishra had delivered an incendiary speech just two kilometres away, in Kardampuri. Two complaints have been lodged with the Delhi Police in this regard:
“The complaints noted that on the afternoon of 23 February, Mishra gave an incendiary speech in Kardampuri, calling upon a mob to attack Muslim and Dalit protesters in the area. One of the complainants accused Mishra of brandishing a gun as he instigated the crowd.”
The open threats held out by Kapil Mishra had immediate effect.
According to information dug out by The Times of India:
“Delhi Police was sent at least six alerts on Sunday [23 Feb] warning of possible violence and asking for deployment to be stepped up after BJP functionary Kapil Mishra called for a gathering at northeast Delhi’s Maujpur…. Sources said the special branch and intelligence wing had sent multiple alerts through wireless radio messages to northeast district and the police brass. The first alert…was sent after Mishra posted a tweet at 1.22 pm asking people to assemble at Maujpur Chowk at 3 pm to support Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).”
As reported by NDTV, about 700 distress calls were made to the Delhi Police on February 23 alone, which was a clear indication of a dangerous situation brewing in North East Delhi. Despite signs of an imminent flare-up, there are no indications whatsoever that the Delhi Police took requisite preventive steps to bring the situation under control. CNN-News 18 correspondent, Saahil Murli Menghani’s tweet at 20.07 hrs on February 23, 2020, from Maujpur, Jaffrabad, gives an idea of the kind of provocative slogans that CAA supporters had raised.
“The tension in the Maujpur area in Delhi had escalated on Sunday [February 23] evening when a group of people pelted stones at another group that was holding a demonstration against the citizenship law.”
The Hindustan Times, too reported that:
“On the night of February 23, Maujpur saw clashes between pro Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) groups and those opposing it.” [see: photo 2]
Conditions went from bad to worse during the night and by the morning of February 24 it became evident that the situation was going out of control. According to the Caravan report, “A third complaint stated that on the morning after Mishra’s speech, police officials attacked protesters in Chand Bagh on his instructions.”
Whether or not Kapil Mishra had instigated the police to attack anti-CAA protesters can be established only after proper investigation. However, what happened subsequently is not in doubt.
According to India Today (Delhi, February 24, 2020),
“Police fired tear gas shells and also resorted to lathicharge as clashes broke out between pro and anti CAA groups at Jaffrabad, Maujpur, Chandbagh, Khureji Khas and Bhajanpura….
“Ratan Lal (42) a head constable attached to the office of ACP Gokalpuri, died after he sustained injuries during stone pelting at Gokalpuri….
“At least 11 police personnel, including Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Shahdara, Amit Sharma and ACP (Gokalpuri) Anuj Kumar were injured while trying to quell the protests.”
It appears that there is video evidence to prove that the attack on the police took place around 12.40 pm on February 24. Head Constable Ratan Lal unfortunately succumbed to his injuries around 02.00 pm.
What followed was utterly bizarre: despite a Head Constable being killed; despite several other policemen (including two senior police officers) sustaining serious injuries; and despite purported “Jihadi mobs” [para 6, p.9, GIA Report] being on the rampage, the top brass of the Delhi Police and the Union Home Ministry seemed to be unconcerned about arresting the spread of violence! Adequate police force was still not deployed in the violence-affected areas! This was in spite of the fact that the police was continuously monitoring the developments through the use of drones.
The following sequence of events provide a glimpse of how and why the situation had deteriorated at a fast pace.
At 04.20 pm on February 24, India Today’s reporter, Tanushree Pandey tweeted:
“Unprecedented scenes in North East Delhi’s #Maujpur! #AntiCAA & pro-CAA protesters are overpowering hundreds of security forces. Agitators from both sides throwing stones, firing, and setting vehicles and shops ablaze. Never witnessed such large scale violence in National Capital.”
At 04.46 pm, February 24: Delhi Police tweeted, “Sec 144 has been imposed in the affected areas of North East district and strict action will be taken against miscreants and anti-social elements.”
However, little effort was made by the police to strictly implement Sec 144. The order was flouted with impunity as tweets by journalists around that time show. It is strange that no attempts were made to impose curfew to prevent group clashes!
At 05:20 pm, February 24, Arvind Ojha of India Today reported: “While Section 144 has been imposed in North East Delhi clashes broke out between pro and anti-CAA protesters in Maujpur, protesters from both the sides are still out in the streets. The police are trying to pacify the protesters. [Emphasis added]
At 05:46 pm, February 24: IndiaToday again reported, “No sight of police personnel in Maujpur, Ghonda, Chand Bagh areas where clashes have broken out.”
At the height of the ongoing clashes between pro and anti-CAA protesters, after “trying to pacify the protesters” from both sides, the police apparently withdrew from the affected area! Under whose orders — and for whose benefit – did the police take such a step?
The decision that impelled the police to lie low, which allowed the violent mobs to run amok, had immediate consequences.
At 05:57 pm, February 24, according to Sushant Mehra of India Today:
Obviously, much of the truth about the communal violence in North-East Delhi in February 2020 is yet to come out. This article, while critiquing the said two “fact-finding” Reports, is also an attempt to probe why some of the crucial questions relating to the violence continue to remain unanswered.
N.D. Jayaprakash (firstname.lastname@example.org) is with the Delhi Science Forum.