Delhi Riots 2020: A Chronicle of Double Standards, and an Unending Witch-Hunt

A look at partisan role played by the police in identifying and arresting the riot accused, a perception strengthened by its refusal to share more information in the public domain about those it has arrested.

This is the fourth article in a five-part series on the communal violence which occurred in Delhi in February 2020. See also:  Part 1| Part 2 | Part 3

Several anti-CAA activists and students have been arrested by the police in the past couple of months and incarcerated under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The FIRs on the basis they have been arrested contain no averment, let alone proof, that any of them have committed a single violent act.  The suspicion, therefore, is that they have been targeted and charged for merely holding or expressing a different point of view.

Of course, the official Delhi Police claim, as reported by PTI,  is that they have been “arrested for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to incite the communal riots in February.”

To beef up these allegations, “The students have also been booked for the offences of sedition, murder, attempt to murder, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and rioting.”

Among those arrested is Safoora Zargar, a 27-year old research student from Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central university.  As the award-winning film director Bedabrata Pain has pointed out:

“Safoora was not arrested because she was involved in any act of violence, or because she was in possession of arms and ammunition, or because she has a criminal record. No, none of them. She was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA – and thrown in prison for no other reason but that she was an outspoken critic of CAA and mobilised others to peacefully oppose the law – as they have the democratic right to do. In other words, Safoora was arrested only because she exercised her right to dissent.

Even according to the yarn the Delhi police has spun, the only concrete charge against her is that she supposedly helped block a road during a demonstration. That’s it. But because the police have linked that demonstration – where no violence occurred – to events separated from it in space and time that she had no role in and claimed they are all part of one grand conspiracy to engineer riots in Delhi…”

 In this regard, the legal scholar Gautam Bhatia’s comments about Safoora’s case in the aftermath of the trial court denying her bail are very pertinent.

The court had turned down her bail plea with the ringing words, “when you choose to play with embers you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark a bit too far and spread the fire.”

Although the police had presented no evidence of Zargar committing any act or making any speech that instigated violence, the judge had ruled that the “acts and inflammatory speeches of the co-conspirators are … admissible against the accused” because there was a conspiracy. But, as Bhatia notes, “it is unclear what the “acts” are, as the order never mentions them; it is also unclear what the “inflammatory speeches” are, as the order does not mention them either.”

In short, “the law was stretched from one side, and the facts from the other, and they met in the middle to make out a prima facie UAPA case. This prima facie case was then used to justify keeping a pregnant woman in an overcrowded prison in the middle of a nationwide pandemic. What that says about the state of the justice system is best left to the readers’ judgment.”

Also Read: Having Scripted a Drama About the Delhi Violence, the Police is Now Casting for Characters

This is just one example of the manner in which cases are being foisted on anti-CAA protesters. Thankfully, Justice Rajiv Shakhdher of the Delhi high court on June 23, 2020, ordered Safoora’s release on bail.

The arbitrary manner in which the names of social activists Harsh Mander, D.S.Bindra and Dr. M.A. Anwar have cropped up in charge-sheets for allegedly aiding and abetting the riots are other examples.

Fate of others under custody

Apart from the high profile cases, a large number of people were taken into custody, most of them without charges, in the aftermath of the violence. According to the Economic Times: “Police have filed over 700 cases and arrested or detained 3,400 people in connection with the communal violence in northeast Delhi last month, officials said on Saturday [March 14, 2020].”

However, till date, the names of those arrested or detained have not been made public, although furnishing the details of those arrested and in custody to the concerned families is necessary.

Activists have been raising this issue repeatedly over the last three months. In fact, as early as March 01, 2020, they had brought this matter to the attention of the Commissioner of Police, Delhi:

“Human rights activists on Sunday wrote to the Delhi Police Commissioner demanding that the names and addresses of those arrested in connection with the violence in the national capital be publicised as mandated by the law.

In a letter, signed by activists Anjali Bharadwaj, co-convenor of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, advocate Prashant Bhushan, CPI leader Annie Raja, Amrita Johri among others, said Section 41-C of the CrPC mandatorily requires that a police control room be established in all districts and section 41-C(2) demands that the names and addresses of all persons arrested be displayed on the notice board outside the control room.”

 It has been over 130 days since the riots/pogrom shook North-East Delhi, but the names of the 3400 arrested and detained suspects have not yet been displayed by the police outside the district control rooms in total disregard of the relevant sections of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973. In fact, as per Section 41-C(3) CrPC:

“The control room at the Police Headquarters at the State level shall collect from time to time, details about the persons arrested, nature of the offence with which they are charged and maintain a database for the information of the general public.”

The Delhi Police is withholding vital information from the public and has turned down Right to Information requests by The Wire in defiance of a ruling by a senior police officer who heads the RTI appeals process in the department.

Also Read: Also read: ‘Unending Witch-Hunt of Muslims’: Eminent Citizens Condemn Targeted Arrests of Anti-CAA Protesters

The general public has a right to know who the arrested and detained suspects are. How will the families know whether their missing member is dead or alive? The detained have a right to legal defence, but how will their families arrange legal defence if they are unaware that a family member is under detention?

What if many of the detained are actually victims and/or witnesses and the real culprits are roaming free? Also, there has to be public accountability for the health and safety of those in custody during the period of trial/detention.

Delhi Police claim

In this regard, reference may be made to Delhi Police’s Letter to the Editor of The Hindu, dated May 16, 2020, written in response to a report of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) published by the newspaper. The Delhi Police was right in criticising a few of the issues raised by PUDR in its report. However, PUDR had raised some valid points to which the police have not been able to provide satisfactory answers. According to the police:

“It has been admitted in the report itself that PUDR is privy to only [a] ‘few’ FIRs, in fact, less than 6% of the total FIRs registered during the riots. What have been the criteria of selecting those FIRs is not clear. It is deliberately done. We may leave it to the readers to conclude.” [Emphasis added]

Certainly, that is a good suggestion – to “leave it to the readers to conclude” whether it is PUDR or the Delhi Police that is stating the facts correctly.

However, to do that in a considered manner, readers would need to know how many of the more than 750 FIRs (as stated by Delhi Police in its letter) have been placed by the Delhi Police in the public domain for them to examine the same from “verifiable sources” and ascertain if PUDR has been deliberately misleading the public.

If the police did that, this would also provide people with the opportunity to establish the exact truth regarding the contents of the FIRs: whether they demonstrate a bias against one community or the other. However, the manner in which the police dismissed this issue raised in the PUDR statement is disappointing.

The Delhi Police have drawn the attention of the readers to another issue as well:

“It is no surprise then that PUDR has dismally failed in projecting the quantum and nature of arrests. As per the records, about 1300 accused have been arrested in over 750 cases concerning the riots. To the sheer discomfort of PUDR and its likes, it may be added that in terms of proportion of the arrested accused, the numbers from two communities are almost identical to each other.”

This statement by the Delhi Police raises an important question. While PTI had reported on March 14 that the police had “arrested or detained 3,400 people in connection with the communal violence in northeast Delhi…”, the Delhi Police letter to The Hindu says the number of those arrested is only 1300. The Delhi Police have refrained from disclosing the number of those detained purportedly for riot-related violence, i.e., those who were taken into police custody but were eventually not arrested for any crime.

Why doesn’t it place all the relevant facts in the public domain and “leave it to the readers” to make up their minds about who is misleading them – the Delhi Police or “PUDR and its likes”? As of now, the passionate police rebuttal notwithstanding, the readers have no means to determine the truth. [The Wire too had raised several questions under RTI in this regard. However, those questions remain unanswered till date.]

In the same letter, the Delhi Police also claimed that it has been dealing with all the Delhi riot cases in an impartial manner, stating,

“The allegations of malafide arrests falls flat on its face as several Writ petitions have been filed in the Honble High Court by the ‘activists’ with similar allegations where Delhi Police has given suitable response and in none of these matters the Hon’ble Courts have passed any adverse remarks”.

The courts may not have passed any adverse remarks until May 16, 2020. However, on May 27, 2020, additional sessions judge Dharmender Rana, at the Patiala House courts, did take the Delhi Police to task for its bias in dealing with riot cases. According to the Indian Express, “A Delhi court, while sending arrested Jamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha to judicial custody, has remarked that ‘the investigation seems to be targeted only towards one end’.”

The court observed:

“Perusal of the case diary reveals a disturbing fact. The investigation seems to be targeted only towards one end. Upon inquiry from inspectors Lokesh and Anil, they have failed to point out what investigation has been carried out so far regarding the involvement of the rival faction. In view of the same, DCP concerned is required to monitor the investigation and ensure fair investigation.”

To reiterate the valid point made by PUDR in its statement, the Delhi Police have a challenging task ahead to demonstrate fairness in its investigations. 

Double standards

While the 3,400 suspects in the north-east Delhi riots arrested or detained by the Delhi Police include Hindutva foot-soldiers and RSS members too, there has been no effort to investigate, let alone proceed against leaders of the ruling BJP who made inflammatory speeches in the run up to the violence.

Thus, one of the main alleged instigators, BJP politician Kapil Mishra, as well as Union minister of state for finance  Anurag Thakur, who delivered an inflammatory speech on January 27, 2020, Parvesh Verma, who delivered an inflammatory speech on January 28, 2020, and Abhay Verma, who made a provocative statement on February 25, 2020, to arouse communal passions, continue to remain free.

This is despite the fact that the Delhi high court bench of Justices S. Muralidhar and Talwant Singh took note of some of these speeches on February 26, 2020, and gave the Delhi Police time until February 27, 2020, to take a decision on filing FIRs against Mishra, Thakur, Parvesh and Abhay Verma. “When you’ve registered FIRs for damages to property, why aren’t you registering it for these speeches. Don’t you want to even acknowledge the presence of a crime?”, asked Justice Muralidhar. “Every day’s delay in registering FIR is crucial. The more and more you delay, the more problems are getting created.”

While Justice S. Muralidhar was promptly transferred to the Punjab & Haryana High Court on February 27 itself, the Delhi Police have quietly refrained from initiating any action against the said accused for the last three-and-a-half months. Let alone initiating action, even the names of Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma, Kapil Mishra and Abhay Verma do not find mention in the purported Chronology of Events leading to the riots, which provides a classic example of the ’even-handed’ manner in which the Delhi Police is dealing with the matter. 

In fact, the Delhi Police has refused to register FIRs against several complaints filed with the police by victims. The Caravan published a report last month:

“The Caravan is in possession of numerous complaints filed in February and March by residents of northeast Delhi, who wrote that they witnessed violence perpetrated by or at the behest of BJP leaders. Several complaints were copied to the prime minister’s office, the ministry of home affairs, the Delhi lieutenant governor’s office and multiple police stations. Many of them bore the stamp of the office or station that received the complaint, sometimes bearing multiple receiving stamps. The other BJP leaders named in these complaints include Satya Pal Singh, a member of parliament from Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat constituency who previously served as the commissioner of police in Mumbai; Nand Kishore Gujjar, UP’s MLA from Loni; Mohan Singh Bisht, the MLA from Delhi’s Karawal Nagar constituency; and Jagdish Pradhan, a former Delhi MLA from the Mustafabad constituency, who was defeated in the assembly elections held weeks before the violence broke out.”

 As if the police’s refusal to act against powerful people were not bad enough, the Caravan report alleges that the complainants are being intimidated too:

“While the BJP leaders appear to be comfortably escaping culpability, the complainants said they continue facing threats on their lives and that of their families for attempting to pursue their complaints. Mehmood Pracha, an advocate who helped the residents file their complaints, said his main concern now was the security of the complainants. ‘The police is openly knocking at their doors, threatening them not to pursue’ the complaints, he said.”

Disturbing trends

There have also been shocking reports of the Delhi Police hobnobbing with some of the rioters. According to the Deccan Herald:

“While tributes poured in for Delhi Police head constable Ratan Lal who was killed in city violence evoking anger and outrage on social media, role of some of the cops has also come under cloud as several videos surfaced on social media on Tuesday [February 25], suggesting their complicity with the rioters in some of the violence-hit areas in the national capital….

“In another video, a man was seen praising the Delhi Police as his companions hurled stones at a group of people on the other side while chanting Jai Shri Ram.”

Video evidence of the Delhi Police sheltering pro-CAA rioters can be seen in the video footage, which has been authenticated by AltNews (Ahmedabad, March 12, 2020). According to AltNews:

“The video reveals a heavy police presence in the area [Vijay Park, Babarpur]. Police vans are spotted on the left – the same direction in which the shooter runs after firing into the all[e]y. Here, policemen can be seen amidst the mob present outside the all[e]y….

“Times Now [TV] ran a clipped video of the February 25 violence in Babarpur’s Vijay Park. The channel claimed that the man seen shooting in the video was aiming at policemen. Longer videos of the violence, however, reveal that the channel’s interpretation was grossly misleading. The man can be spotted running in the direction of the cops after he fires into a residential colony. Journalists who reported from the ground and area residents confirm that the shooter was part of the pro-CAA mob.”

While there were reports of those among the police who seemingly had no reservations about hobnobbing with CAA-supporters, the manner in which sections of the police dealt with some of those who were perceived as anti-CAA protesters is an eye-opener. According to Newslaundry,

“One of the most disturbing videos to emerge during the communal violence in Delhi shows five bloodied men spread out on a metalled road being beaten up and forced to sing the national anthem by, purportedly, a group of policemen. The incident, according to some of the victims and eyewitnesses, took place near Kardampuri on the afternoon of February 24.

One of the victims was Faizan, 23, from Gali No.5, in Kardampuri. He succumbed to his injuries two days later, apparently after being denied medical treatment by the police.”

Although the authenticity of the video has not been questioned [in fact, AltNews has reaffirmed its authenticity], the Delhi Police is yet to initiate action against the culprits in uniform. Indeed, the FIR files after Faizan’s death fails to mention the beating incident or name any suspect.

What is also disturbing is the manner in which the police have attempted to erase evidence on the Delhi riots by destroying CCTVs.

One such video was uploaded on YouTube by The Logical Indian on February 26, 2020. India Today TV also uploaded a video on YouTube on February 27, 2020, in which policemen can be seen in the presence of rioters who are throwing stones and attempting to destroy CCTVs (at 01.09 minutes of the video). But there is no information till date on whether the concerned police personnel have been taken to task.

N.D.Jayaprakash ([email protected]) is with the Delhi Science Forum.