One of the more disturbing aspects of the communal violence which took place in Delhi in February 2020 is the manner in which sections of mass media also came under attack for showing what was happening on the ground.
Two Malayalam channels, Asianet News and Media One, were targeted, with the Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting issuing orders to ban their telecast for 48-hours, from 7.30 pm on March 6 to 7.30 pm on March 8, 2020.
Among the remarks made by the Asianet News anchor/ correspondent in the February 25 telecast cited by the I&B ministry were the following:
“The violence of the previous day has continued this morning. The violence turned into communal violence after a group of Hindu people chanted Jai Sri Ram and the Muslims shouted Azadi slogans.
The commuters on the roads are forced to chant Jai Sri Ram. Muslims are brutally attacked. Union Home Ministry claims that 33 company central forces [about 4500 armed personnel] are deployed, but still violence continues in the areas. The Centre can control the violence within hours, but no action has been taken till now….
Army may be deployed to control the violence. But no such decisions have been taken….But the situation is getting worse in the riot hit area.”
Similarly, among the remarks made by the Media One anchor/ correspondent in the February 25 telecast cited by the I&B ministry were the following:
“It seems the vandals and police are hand in glove….
“The provocative speech of BJP leader in Jafrabad has led to the violence and it seems vandals were prepared to target anti-CAA protesters. Delhi police has failed to register an FIR for hate speech…. But most significant thing is the inefficiency of Delhi police in containing the violence. In many areas police paved the way for vandals to roam free with weapons and carry out attacks and arson.”
It is pertinent to note that the I&B ministry did not accuse either Asianet News or Media One of broadcasting fake news. The only fault of the two channels was that the news they were broadcasting was completely at variance with the official narrative on the Delhi riots. In the face of protests against the unwarranted ban on the two channels, the ministry effectively nullified its orders dated March 6, 2020 with the result that both the news channels were back on the air within 14 hours of the ban – Asianet News by 1.30 am and Media One by 9.30 am on March 7.
The midnight hearing
The accuracy of the reports of the two Malayalam news channels about the worsening situation in the riot/pogrom-hit areas which earned the wrath of the I&B ministry – “The Centre can control the violence within hours, but no action has been taken till now” (Asianet) and “It seems the vandals and police are hand in glove (Media One) – was borne out by a concurrent event.
The circumstances and the manner in which the Delhi high court bench consisting of Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani was constituted past midnight, at 0030, on February 26, to respond to the humanitarian crisis at Al Hind Hospital in New Mustafabad, shed ample light on the gravity of the situation that existed on the ground in the riot/pogrom-hit areas on the night of February 25-26.
The rioters were preventing the shifting of scores of seriously injured victims from Al Hind hospital to a better equipped hospital for proper treatment. The unwillingness of the police to act until the high court issued necessary orders to evacuate the injured from the Al Hind hospital to appropriate government hospitals spoke volumes about its conduct.
Even the CFJ report submitted to the home ministry to buttress the claim that the Delhi violence was a conspiracy against the government could not but admit this fact:
”…on the phone call of Advocate Suroor Mandar [sic], the Division Bench of Delhi High Court, comprised of Justice S. Murlidhar [sic] and Justice Anup J. Bhambhani, conducted the hearing [on February 26] at 12:30 a.m., at the residence of J. Murlidhar [sic] and directed the Police to ensure safe passage to Government Hospitals and emergency treatments for injured and spoke with doctor Anwar of the Al-hind Hospital situated in New Mustafabad who deposed that they are looking forward for police assistance since 4p.m. on 25/02/2020 without success, to manage the 2 dead bodies and provide medical care to 22 injured persons.” [p.31]
In short, there is plenty of evidence regarding the partisan role that the Delhi Police played or was compelled to play during the Delhi pogrom of February 2020.
Apart from the 53 known cases of deaths, the police say 473 people were injured. Arson and looting resulted in the destruction of hundreds of houses, shops and vehicles and loss of other property. Thus, a large number of victims need to be adequately compensated and the displaced properly rehabilitated.
Moreover, it is members of the minority community (perceived as synonymous with the anti-CAA protestors) who constitute most of the victims. Of the 53 deceased who have been identified, 40 were Muslim and 13 Hindu. The kind of religious structures destroyed (14 mosques and a dargah but no temple) provides yet another indication of the the kind of targeted violence which took place.
The aim of this five-part article was to examine the chronicle of an ‘anti-Hindu’ riot flowing from a conspiracy by ‘anti-CAA protestors’ (as Delhi Police alleges) – or ‘Left-Jihadi’ elements, as two ‘fact finding’ reports submitted to the MHA call it – and study the role of the Delhi Police on those fateful days of February 23 to 26, 2020.
A thorough examination of the statements of the police, and valuable on-ground information provided by media outlets, throws up much evidence pointing to the questionable role that the Delhi Police played, or was compelled to play.
In the end, the conclusion is inescapable that the partisan and distorted narrative being put forth by the police (and by the GIA and the CFJ ‘fact-finding’ reports) based on completely unsubstantiated allegations, has one purpose – to discredit anti-CAA protesters as anti-national provocateurs, who were responsible for perpetrating the riots.
The covert plan
What is extraordinary is the manner in which the various Delhi Police statements and chargesheets hold the anti-CAA protestors guilty of engineering the riots by claiming that they had planned it, when the realities on the ground were entirely different.
Yes, the anti-CAA protesters were wrong in blocking the road at Jaffrabad. However, it was still a peaceful protest – a matter that the Delhi Police could have easily handled and resolved.
Instead, the police not only allowed ‘CAA supporters’ mobilised by BJP politicians to hold a counter-protest very close to the anti-CAA protest site but also chose to look the other way when the BJP’s Kapil Mishra delivered an incendiary speech, which instantly inflamed the passions of his supporters.
Moreover, as we saw in Part 1, the intelligence wing of the Delhi Police alerted the police headquarters at least six times about the need to deploy more forces to prevent an outbreak of violence – warnings that the police headquarters and the Union home ministry conveniently ignored.
The CAA supporters could have chosen a different location to demonstrate their support for the CAA if they had no intention of physically confronting the anti-CAA protesters. On the contrary, the very fact that they chose a spot near the site of the anti-CAA protest announced their intent to provoke a confrontation.
If the Union home ministry had deployed an adequate strength of the Rapid Action Force in time at the spot where outbreak of violence was imminent, as intelligence reports had warned, a confrontation between pro- and anti-CAA protesters could have been avoided.
What happened was that an ill-equipped and undersized contingent of Delhi Police was reduced to the status of an onlooker, at best, when confrontation broke out between pro- and anti-CAA protesters.
When the ill-equipped and under-staffed police personnel did make a pretence of intervening, they effectively got sandwiched between two confronting forces. It is in this melee that several policemen got injured, one of whom – head constable Ratan Lal – was attacked and succumbed to his injuries.
What is inexplicable is that even after the unfortunate death of a policeman and despite some senior police officers sustaining injuries, the Union home ministry still desisted from sending in adequate reinforcements to control the situation.
What these facts show is a method in the madness. The escalation of violence would be an opportunity to hit hard at the anti-CAA movement that had earned considerable international recognition for being peaceful and inclusive which, in turn, had not reflected too well on the Modi government.
Although the MHA had the wherewithal to make a fairly accurate assessment of the ground situation through the use of drones, what actually happened was that ‘CAA supporters’ were left with a free hand to do as they pleased for 82-hours (from 14.00 hrs on February 23 to midnight of February 26). The ‘CAA supporters’, many of whom who were mobilised, in all probability, from outside Delhi, are the “outsiders” who indulged in mayhem.
As Prabhjit Singh has reported in Caravan magazine, at least two notable “outsiders” have been named by riot victims: BJP leaders Satya Pal Singh, a member of parliament from Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat constituency who previously served as the commissioner of police in Mumbai and Nand Kishore Gujjar, UP’s MLA from Loni. It is inconceivable that they would not have been accompanied by their supporters as well.
While nothing much has emerged by way of police investigation on those outsiders, the Delhi Police is busy with the task of implicating as many anti-CAA protesters as possible, as the perpetrators of the riots.
Anti-CAA movement – a grave irritant for the government
There is no doubt that the spread of the anti-CAA movement across the country has been a grave irritant for the home ministry. Its efforts to brand the anti-CAA movement as ‘anti-national’ have been accompanied by a systematic and widespread campaign to portray the CAA in favourable light by repeatedly stating that there was nothing discriminatory about the CAA.
The CAA grants citizenship rights to all religious minorities who migrated to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh before December 2014, barring those of “Muslim” origin. Through this Act, religion was used for the first time as a criterion for granting Indian citizenship, which is clearly discriminatory and, therefore, unconstitutional, since Article 14 of the Indian Constitution categorically states that: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”
It is absolutely evident that persons of “Muslim” origin who had migrated to India before December 2014, were being denied “equal protection of the laws” solely on the ground of religion – a discriminatory and unconstitutional practice.
Moreover, the home minister’s statements about the proposed National Register of Citizenship (NRC) and National Population Register – in their current form – created intense anxiety in the minds of the largest minority in India that these measures would have an adverse impact on the status, rights and privileges of all those of “Muslim” origin in India as many of them could be declared non-citizens on the specious charge that they had failed to prove that they had not migrated from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh.
It is against this larger political backdrop of India’s political churn that the peaceful anti-CAA movement was started, helmed largely by women, and attracting people from all sections of society precisely for its quality of inclusiveness.
The unpalatable truth is that there is no dearth of trouble mongers in this country. The Hindutva groups and their counterparts among Muslims represent two sides of the same ideological coin, which can tear apart the social fabric to suit their sectarian interests. There is a need to remain vigilant against their machinations.
But when the forces of law and order, which directly report to the Union home ministry, are completely passive in the face of terrible violence in the national capital, no less, what is one to make of it? The failure on the part of the Delhi Police to attend to some 13,000 distress calls from residents in the riot/pogrom-hit areas during February 23-26 speaks for itself. The concealment of video evidence by the police that was obtained through the use of drones is another disturbing fact.
As for the Hindutva propaganda narrative of ‘anti-Hindu’ riots unleashed by “Leftist-Jihadist” elements, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of the dead (75 %) were Muslim. Moreover, they are completely at a loss to explain the failure of the police to attend to distress calls of even “Hindus” in time.
The only possible explanation for the police’s total inaction is that in order to obfuscate the truth about the identity of the rioters and also to drive a wedge between the two communities, it became necessary to let the rioters target a section of the Hindu community as well.
A further element of this strategy of painting the protest against the CAA as ‘anti-national’, ‘anti-Hindu’ and violent has been the attempt made by the police and Hindutva activists to accuse two prominent activists, Harsh Mander and Umar Khalid, of advocating violent protests on the basis of truncated video clips.
Delhi Police has repeatedly claimed, in court and in its chargesheets, that Mander instigated violence in a speech he delivered at Jamia Millia Islamia on December 16, 2019. On March 4, Rajesh Deo, deputy commissioner of Delhi Police, legal cell, filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court demanding action against the former civil servant-turned-activist for ‘contempt of court’ and instigating violence:
“It is submitted that I have come across a video clip showing Harsh Mander delivering a speech which is not only instigating the violence but is also seriously contemptuous as it makes derogatory remarks against the Supreme Court of India to a huge gathering of people”
The police took exception to these words of Mander, which formed a part of a longer speech: “I do not have faith in the apex court and that it did not safeguard humanity, secularism and equality in the cases related to National Register of Citizens (NRC), Ayodhya Verdict and Kashmir…‘ultimate justice’ could only be done on the streets.”
In fact, the full speech makes it clear that contrary to the police’s claims, Mander was advocating a Gandhian strategy of non-violent civil disobedience. The same is the case with Umar Khalid’s speech in Amravati, which the police and even home minister Amit Shah have, incredibly, presented as evidence of his instigating violence:
“Right now, when IPS Abdur Rehman (the person who introduced Khalid prior to his speech) was speaking, he spoke about Gandhi and told us that the weapons that Mahatma Gandhi has given us to fight are Ahimsa and Satyagrah…. We won’t respond to violence with violence. We won’t respond to hate with hate. If they spread hate, we will respond to it with love. If they thrash us with lathis, we keep holding the tricolour. If they fire bullets, then we will hold the Constitution. If they jail us, we will go to jail singing, ‘Saare Jahaan Se Acha Hindustan Hamara’.”
The concerted attempts by the police and the wider Hindutva eco-system to pass off concocted stories as truths certainly indicate that there was a planned conspiracy to implicate the anti-CAA protesters as the perpetrators of the Delhi riots of 2020 as a way to quell the anti-CAA movement. The Delhi Police is busy executing that plan to perfection by providing full immunity to the real perpetrators of that heinous crime.
N.D.Jayaprakash ([email protected]) is with the Delhi Science Forum.