As Complaints Go Unprobed, Muslim Riot Victims Accuse Delhi Police of Bias

Here is the story of three such complaints filed five months ago. In each case, the complainants say they are in the dark about what the police has done since.

New Delhi: Is the Delhi Police being handled with kid gloves when it comes to allegations of complicity in Delhi riots? Why are allegations of a biased investigation – in which anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act activists are being arrested without any evidence – being ignored by the courts?

Apart from allegations of colluding with rioters or engaging in violence against Muslims themselves, the Delhi Police have also been accused of not registering FIRs on complaints of Muslim riot survivors, especially cases where the rioters have been identified and named.

Here is the story of three such complaints filed five months ago. In each case, the complainants say they are in the dark about what the police has done since.

When a mosque was attacked

It was an evening Khursheed Saifi will never forget. He says when he closes his eyes, the whole episode plays out in front of him as though he were watching a film. He wakes up at night shivering, his heart racing and his body drenched in sweat.

Saifi says he was inside the Farooqia masjid in Mustafabad, northeast Delhi, when rioters and men in uniform attacked the anti-CAA protest at Brijpuri Puliya next door and then wreaked havoc inside the mosque.

The attack took place on February 25 at 6:30 pm. Not only did Khursheed witness the violence that evening, he himself was brutally assaulted. One of his eyes was permanently damaged and his scalp literally had to be stitched back together.

“I was coming back from Mohan Nagar and had no idea riots had broken out near my neighbourhood. I somehow escaped the violence and took shelter in the mosque, but they entered the mosque and asked me to show them my identity card. They were not policemen; they were dressed in … paramilitary uniforms. They saw my ID and realised that I am a Muslim, so they started beating me up…” he says.

Though Khursheed was able to identify the men who attacked him, the fact that they were accompanied by men in uniform made him meant he was too scared to approach the police. He claims he could not bring himself to trust men in uniform anymore. Within a fortnight of the incident, plain-clothed officers of Delhi Police’s Special Cell started detaining young men from Mustafabad, Chandbagh and other riot affected areas. News of people being picked up from street corners and homes, at odd hours, spread further panic and fear amongst residents. There were also rumours that those who were approaching the police to file complaints were being harassed and detained. Khursheed stayed home, too scared to venture out and too terror-stricken to appeal for help. It was finally with the help of a team of lawyers that he mustered the courage to approach the police.

On March 15, nearly 20 days after the events he witnessed and personally suffered in, Khursheed filed a complaint at the Delhi Police help desk at the Idgah relief camp. The complaint was received as Diary No. 61 and bears the stamp of Dayalpur Police Station in North-East Delhi.

In his complaint, Khursheed identified three people from Brijpuri by name – Rahul Verma, Arun Basoya and Chawla – and said they were part of a group which attacked the anti-CAA protest site on Brijpuri Pulia  with the help of the police. The protest site had a large gathering of women from the neighbourhood. He said in his complaint:

“These people were carrying wooden sticks, swords, tridents, spears, petrol bombs and stones. They fired gun shots at the women and attacked them with stones and sticks. In the meantime Rahul Verma and Arun Basoya threw a petrol bomb that had been made with a bottle because of which the tent caught fire and people started running, causing chaos. At this time, I was  standing at the gate of the mosque. Then some policemen, people dressed in blue uniforms and the rioters entered the mosque and started attacking namaazis [people who had come to offer namaaz] with swords, wooden sticks and firing at them.”

Shelf with burnt copies of the Quran inside Farooqia Masjid. Photo: Seemi Pasha

Khursheed claims that those who managed to run outside the mosque were fired at by policemen waiting on the road.

In his complaint, Khursheed said the three men he identified by name were part of the mob which attacked people inside the mosque.

“Arun Basoya, who was carrying petrol bombs, started throwing them inside the mosque. He also threw a petrol bomb at the cupboard in which copies of the Quran were kept saying, ‘Aren’t these the books that you consider so great, look how they will be set on fire.’ He then threw a petrol bomb at copies of the Quran Sharif because of which all of them were set ablaze. Arun Basoya then screamed and asked his friends to kill Maulvi Sahab and his friends. He said, ‘Kill the maulvi and his friends and then we will build a mandir at this place.’

“After this they attacked Maulvi Sahab and Muezzin Sahab, hitting them with wooden and iron rods. When I moved forward to protect them, Rahul Verma hit me with a rod which hit me in my eye. The second rod hit me on my head and I fell down on the ground. Then they launched an attack on me with sticks and rods. Somehow I managed to escape.”

Khursheed’s complaint was received by the police on March 15. According to the people of Mustafabad, the police at first refused to accept complaints. After public pressure due to allegations that the Delhi Police was ignoring the complaints of Muslim riot survivors, a police help desk was set up, on March 7,at the Mustafabad Idgah Relief Camp and complaints were recorded as diary entries.

Also read: Despite Two Orders from HC, Delhi Riot Survivors Still Unable to Claim Compensation

Delhi Police’s M.S. Randhawa, responding to The Wire’s query about the case, said,

“It is to inform that the complaint diary No. 61 received at Mustafabad Police Help desk on 15.03.20 is of Khursid Saifi…pertaining to arson and vandalism took place at brij puri pulia and the adjoining Farooquia Masjid. A case FIR No. 64/20 u/s 147/148/149/186/353/341/332/427/436/323/34 IPC PS Dayalpur has already been registered and is being investigated and two accused persons have already been arrested in the case’.

Surprisingly the complainant, who is also a victim, was not notified about the registration of the FIR or given a copy.

Is the police bending rules in riot cases?

According to Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the police must register an FIR on receiving information about the commission of a cognizable offence and give a copy of the FIR to the complainant.

Any confusion about the applicability of Section 154 was clarified by the Supreme Court in the case of Lalita Kumari vs Government of UP where the court ruled that registration of an FIR is mandatory if the information discloses commission of a cognizable offence and no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a situation.

The court also ruled that action must be taken against erring officers who do not register FIRs on receipt of such information.

It appears that first by not registering an FIR on Khursheed Saifi’s specific complaint and secondly by not giving him a copy of FIR 64/20, which according to the police pertains to the same incident, the police has violated both rules mentioned in Section 154 .

Mehmood Pracha, a lawyer who has been working closely with riot survivors, says, ‘The police is registering FIRs but not on the basis of real complaints. The entire exercise is being carried out to protect themselves and RSS and BJP functionaries. They register FIRs against unknown persons without telling the complainants and victims and then file chargesheets which are a complete eyewash. Why are these details not being shared with the complainants? If the victims don’t even know about your FIR, what is the point?”

While the police has not shared a copy of FIR 64/2020 with the media, a clear discrepancy is apparent between Khursheed Saifi’s complaint and the IPC sections mentioned in the FIR registered by the Dayalpur Police Station. Khursheed has specifically made allegations of murder, attempt to murder, targeting on the basis of religion and murder by men in uniform, burning of religious texts and, communal and inflammatory statements that amount to promotion of enmity in his complaint. However none of these charges appear in the FIR which has been registered. Instead, the IPC sections mentioned in FIR 64/20 are as follows:

  • IPC- 147, 148, 149 – Rioting
  • IPC 186- Obstructing public servant in the discharge of his public functions.
  • IPC 353- Assault or use of criminal force against a public servant in the execution of his duty
  • IPC 341- Punishment for wrongful restraint.
  • IPC 332- Voluntarily causing hurt to a public servant in the discharge of his duty
  • IPC 427- Mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees.
  • IPC 436- Committing mischief by fire or any explosive substance, intending to cause destruction of any build­ing which is ordinarily used as a place of worship
  • IPC 323- Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt.
  • IPC 334- Voluntari­ly causing hurt on grave and sudden provocation, if he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to cause hurt to any person other than the person who gave the provocation, shall be punished.

Khursheed’s lawyers say they are not surprised with the police’s response and claim that they are trying to scuttle the investigation.

Burnt pages of the Quran collected in a tray after the assault on Farooqia Masjid. Photo: Seemi Pasha

Complaint Number 2

Khursheed’s testimony has been corroborated by other eyewitnesses and riot survivors who were at or near the Farooqui Masjid on that day at that time. Gulfam, a resident of New Mustafabad, saw his 24-year-old brother being shot and killed outside the mosque that evening. His complaint was received via diary entry No. 60 on March 15 by the Delhi Police help desk at the Idgah Relief Camp. The complaint bears the stamp of the Dayalpur Police Station.

In his complaint, Gulfam wrote:

“On February 25th, my brother had come to meet me at my house. Around 6 pm he went to Farooqia Masjid to officer Maghrib prayers. Suddenly there was a lot of noise and sounds of people screaming and shouting. I came out and saw that some people were raising slogans saying, ‘Kapil Mishra zindabad’ (long live Kapil Mishra), ‘Katue murdabad’ [down with Muslims; ‘katue’ is a slur used for men who have been circumcised], ‘Jagdish Pradhan zindabad’ (long live Jagdish Pradhan) and saying, ‘Today we will set the mosque on fire and no one will be spared.’

“There were some people in the group who were frequently seen with Jagdish Pradhan. I will be able to recognise them if I am brought face to face with them. These people were carrying sticks, batons, tridents, spears and swords which they were waving in the air. They were accompanied by a large number of men in police uniform, some of whom were carrying two guns. Just then my brother got out of the mosque and started running towards us. I saw that one man in uniform, who was carrying two guns, shot at my brother. The bullet hit him on the back of his head and he collapsed on the ground.’”

Graffiti on the wall at Brijpuri Pulia where the anti-CAA protest was held. The wall separates the road from the large open drain where eye witnesses allege that bodies were dumped. Photo: Seemi Pasha

Gulfam claims that the violence continued for close to an hour and that the rioters, accompanied by men in uniform, shot, hacked and killed Muslim men. In his complaint he stated:

“The men in uniform started shooting indiscriminately in all directions causing mayhem. Then the policemen and rioters entered the mosque and started vandalising and looting the place. They started attacking people who had come to offer prayers. Those people who managed to escape and run outside the mosque were being shot at by the men in uniform. Some of those killed were cut and chopped by rioters and thrown into the drain. The situation was so bad that these rioters were poking my brother and other injured people with spears and policemen were standing by and watching the show and saying, ‘In mullo ko azaadi do azaadi’ (give these Muslims freedom). Then some policemen and rioters, whom I can recognise if they are brought in front of me, poured petrol inside the mosque and set it ablaze. They also set the cars and motorcycles parked outside on fire.”

It has been four months since Gulfam filed the complaint about his brother Zakir’s murder and the violence he witnessed. His lawyers claim no action has been taken on his complaint so far. Interestingly, Delhi Police’s FIR No 77/20 mentions Zakir’s murder but neither Gulfam nor his lawyers were notified about the FIR. Like many others, Gulfam found that an FIR had been registered from an affidavit that submitted by the Delhi Police before the Delhi high court on July 13. Details of the FIR have still not been made available to the complainant.

Pracha says, “A few officers of Delhi Police are actually culprits in these systematic attacks on Muslims and CAA-NRC protesters. Since they were doing all this at the behest of their political masters at the Home Ministry and in full cahoots with RSS and BJP functionaries, any hope of expecting free and fair investigation from them will be pure foolishness. This is [clear from] the fact that a large number of police officials investigating these cases are acting in a manner a culprit would – hiding their tracks and withholding information regarding investigations from the prime stakeholders i.e. the complainants and the victims.

Also read: ‘Tear Them Apart’: How Hindutva WhatsApp Group Demanded Murder, Rape of Muslims in Delhi Riots

The question that begs to be asked is, who were these ‘men in uniform’ who were accompanying rioters and shooting to kill? Where they Delhi Police personnel or goons masquerading as policemen? An important point that needs to be brought out is that the attack on Farooqia Masjid took place on February 25 and Central paramilitary forces were deployed only on February 26 after which national security advisor Ajit Doval visited riot some affected areas.

Also important to note is that on February 26, when riots were still raging in North-East Delhi, it was reported that the Army had raised objections to Delhi Police personnel in riot affected areas wearing ‘army pattern’ combat uniforms. The Army reportedly requested the Defence Ministry and Home Ministry to Issue guidelines that combat dress cannot be worn while handling law and order situations in urban areas. The Indian Express reported,

“As the country is under glare of the national and international media, the Army does not want the idea to be projected that it is being deployed for internal security.”

An India Today story, dated February 25, also reported the Army’s apparent discomfort with Delhi Police personnel wearing combat uniforms in riot affected areas.

The army said, “Wearing combat uniform by the CAPFs and the police forces may be misinterpreted as the Army being deployed for internal security duties and elections. This may have an adverse impact on our image as a vibrant democratic nation and would be detrimental to our national interests. Accordingly, the Indian Army, from time to time, has brought to the notice of the MoD in order to approach the MHA about the increasing trend of the CAPFs and the state police forces wearing combat uniforms similar to the Army pattern”.

When asked about the role of men in uniform in the violence and whether it was being investigated, deputy commissioner of police M.S. Randhawa, who was the designated PRO for Delhi Police till last month,  referred to FIR 64/20 registered by the Dayalpur Police Station which basically pertains to rioting and obstructing a public servant in the line of duty. He further added,

‘The case is still under investigation. The complaints received after registration of the present case are being attached and enquired. Further it is stated that police cases are being investigated, impartially, transparently and in professional manner. All the culprits against whom any evidence exists will be dealt as per law’.

Lawyers see pattern as police term complaint an ‘afterthought’

On March 15, a complaint was filed by Shakeel Ahmed – and received as Diary Number 62 by the Dayalpur Police Station – in which he alleged that the SHO of Dayalpur PS came to his house on February 24 and took away his brother’s licensed pistol and cartridges without giving any receipt. He claims his house and shops were looted the same day by people whom he knew and could identify. He says the police refused to register a case against them and told him that the rioters enjoyed the patronage of powerful people like Kapil Mishra, Jagdeesh Pradhan and the RSS. When he persisted with his complaint, he alleges, his brother was wrongly named in a rioting case and arrested.

Here are excerpts from his complaint:

“On 24th February, around 10 in the morning, our neighbour Rakesh Sharma came home along with the SHO of Dayalpur Police Station and other policemen. The SHO told us that the situation in the city is tense because of which everyone who has a licensed weapon has been ordered to submit their weapons. We got tea made for everyone. In the meantime Gulfam got his licensed pistol and pack of cartridges and gave it to the SHO. The SHO told us that when the situation improves we can come to the police station and collect our pistol. Then they all got up and left without giving us any receipt. He said that he will send the receipt to our place later.

“On the same day around 2pm, we heard slogans of ‘Jagdeesh Pradhan zindabad’, ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘desh ke ghaddaron ko goli maaro saalon ko’. I went out of my shop and saw policemen with Rakesh Sharma, Anil Chauhan, Deepak, Vishnu and their friends with wooden sticks, swords, tridents, bottles of petrol bombs, plastic bags and bombs in their hands. On seeing them all shopkeepers started closing down their shops. I also closed my shop, locked the door and ran upstairs to my house. After sometime the mob started entering the bylanes. If they found a Muslim they would attack him with swords, tridents and wooden sticks. Many people were injured during this attack. Then I saw Anil Chouhan raise the shutter of my shop and started looting it. Me and my family begged them to leave not raid our shop but their started hurling abuses at us. They said, ‘Katue’, we wont allow even a single one of you to live here anymore. Then Rakesh Sharma fired in our direction. We all got scared and hid inside our house again. Those people took everything from our shop, including 25-30 thousand rupees from the cash counter.

“The next day when my father and brother had gone to the mosque to offer afternoon prayers, Anurag, Satya Pal’s son Sachin, SHeepa, Amar Singh and his son Lala, the owner of Vishnu Properties, Deepak, Anil Chauhan’s son Debu, Rakesh Sharma and their friends forcefully entered my house. They were carrying guns, pistols, swords and sticks. They placed a revolver on my head and said, ‘saale, tu bahot Jagdeesh Pradhan ji ke election mein mukhaalfat kar raha tha, aaj tera kaam tamaam kar denge’ (You were making a lot of noise and opposing Jagdeesh Pradhan in the Delhi assembly elections. We will finish you off today). Then my mother and sister-in-law came out and started begging them to spare me. Debu and Lala raised their guns and pointed them at all the women folk. Their friends then climbed up the stairs and went inside our home. They looted all our ancestral jewellery that belonged to my mother and us four brothers. The picked up a bag and stuffed everything including cash worth 4 lakh rupees and silver anklets etc. Before leaving they said that if you file a complaint they would set our house on fire and burn everyone alive.

“Next day my father and I went and met the SHO and told him that we have been destroyed. We told him that we had suffered losses to the tune of 65 lakh rupees because of Anurag, Satya Pal’s son Sachin, Sheepa, Amar Singh and his son Lala, owner of Vishnu Properties, Deepak, Anil Chaouhan’s son Debu, Rakesh Sharma, who forcefully entered our home and looted us. We told the SHO that we wanted to file a complaint against them. The SHO said, ‘be grateful that you are alive, you can always earn money again. He also told us that those who attacked our home enjoyed the patronage of Satpal Sansad, Jagdeesh Pradhan, Nand Kishore Gujjar, Mohan Singh Bisht, Kapil Mishra and the RSS. He told us that if we filed a complaint we would get killed. We told the SHO that if we weren’t able to recover everything that we lost then we would anyway be dead. When we pleaded a lot, the SHO said that he would speak to Jagdish Pradhan. When my father didn’t agree to this, the SHO got very angry and threatened to name us in false cases. Despite this, my father continued to go to the police station everyday with me and kept pleading that our things be returned to us. About a week later the SHO said, ‘An FIR had been registered against  your son, no one can save you now’. Instead of helping us get our money and our things back, a policeman by the name of Anuj started asking us for 2 lakh rupees. He said that we should immediately pay him 2 lakh rupees if we want to save our lives. On March 12, they arrested my brother in a fake case,  carried out third degree torture on him and demanded money.”

Despite the complaint being received on March 15, no FIR has been registered till date. Asked about this, DCP Randhawa dismissed the complaint and said that it was baseless and malicious:

…Complaint received vide diary No. 62 belongs to Shakeel Ahmad…has also been enquired in depth and all the contents were found to be false frivolous and baseless. The complaint has been filed after lapse of 23 days of the incident mentioned in the complaint which reflects that it is after thought and has been filed to pressurize the police. Complainant could have informed the police through various means available. Police has installed Riot victim help lines, help centres and help desks but complainant had made the complaint only after arrest of his brother Gulfam by Crime Branch On 10.03.20 in FIR No. 101/20 u/s 147/148/149/109/114/ 186/354/427/435/34 IPC & 3 DPDP Act PS Khajuri Khas. The complaint has been filed thereafter to on concocted, baseless facts, to malign the image of police. Police has acted impartially, transparently and in professional manner’.

Lawyers say the police’s response stands in violation of Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code which clearly states the police is bound by law to register an FIR on receiving information about the commission of a cognizable offence.

Importantly, in Lalita Kumari, the Supreme Court had ruled that ‘information’ in Section 154 is not qualified by the requirement that it be ‘reasonable’ or ‘credible’. Therefore, the reasonableness or credibility of the information is not a condition precedent for registration of a case under Section 154. The DCP’s comment that Shakeel Ahmed’s complaint has been filed on “concocted, baseless facts, to malign the image of police” is thus in violation of basic rules that are meant to guide the police’s conduct in any criminal investigation.

Pracha, who is representing Shakeel Ahmed, claims that the police have been deliberately ignoring complaints by Muslim complainants, especially the ones where rioters have been identified and named. He says most of these complaints were received by the police help desk set up, under media pressure, at the riot relief camp at the Mustafabad Idgah. ‘The police’s claim falls flat because this is not the only complaint that says that the police was threatening the complainant and threatening to implicate them in false cases if they named RSS and BJP people in their complaints. We have come across dozens of cases where riot victims have been threatened and their written complaints were not received. 95% of these complaints were finally received in March’.

Further, while DCP Randhawa argues that Shakeel Ahmad’s move to file a complaint 23 days after the alleged incident reflects the fact that this was an afterthought and filed to pressurize the police, Ahmad’s complaint clearly states that he and his father repeatedly went to the Daylalpur Police Station but were turned away by the SHO.

Advocate Mishika Singh, who had set up a legal cell in Mustafabad to help survivors file complaints in the aftermath of the riots, claims the police has been harassing riot survivors who try to get their complaints registered.

“People have been going to the police since the day the riots ended,” she says. “Recently, some of the people we are working with went to a police station to have their complaints registered. They were told to leave their complaints outside in a cardboard box. Sometimes, when the complaint was in English, because we had helped them draft it, the police said, ‘Oh, we can’t understand what is written so have it written in Hindi.’ When they wrote in Hindi, the police said, ‘The writing is not clear.’ Or they refused to give a receipt.”

She adds: “Till date, no complaint has been converted into an individual FIR. So, for a specific incident, they have not recorded individual details. They have taken an area and filed omnibus FIRs and all the complaints have been tagged on to these omnibus FIRs.”

Pracha however sees a larger conspiracy against Muslim complainants. “It is absolutely impossible to get cases registered. The moment you say you are a Muslim and that you want to make a complaint against the RSS or the BJP or the Delhi Police officers, you are either turned away, threatened or named in a false case,” he alleges.

Seemi Pasha is an independent multimedia journalist based in Delhi. She can be reached at @seemi_pasha on Twitter.