New Delhi: Violence erupted in parts of North East Delhi on February 23 this year soon after BJP leader Kapil Mishra made a short speech calling for forcefully removing anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters at Jafrabad, a “Report of the Fact-Finding Committee on the North-East Delhi Riots of February 2020” has noted.
The Committee, constituted by the Delhi Minorities Commission, has also observed how, over the next three days, mobs fanned out across the district targeting Muslims as they raised slogans ranging from “Jai Shri Ram” to “Har Har Modi”, “Modi ji, kaat do in mullon ko (Modi, cut these Muslims into pieces)” and “Aaj tumhe azadi denge (today, we will give you freedom)”.
In all, 53 people were killed in the violence while hundreds were injured and property worth hundreds of crores was destroyed.
The report by the nine-member committee – chaired by Supreme Court advocate M.R. Shamshad, and comprising Haseena Hashia, Tehmina Arora, Gurminder Singh Matharu, Saleem Baig, Aditi Dutta, Tanvir Kazi, Abu Bakr Sabbaq and Devika Prasad – charged that even after the violence there continued to be bias against the Muslims in registration of FIRs and investigation of cases.
‘Narrative changed from pogrom to violence on both sides’
The report provides a detailed account of the circumstances leading to the violence and the riots through a large number of testimonies.
Providing a gist of the findings of the Committee, Shamshad wrote in his “foreword”, how “the victims of arson, loot, physical injuries etc. would stand better served with fast justice and even faster disbursement of monetary relief to the victims.”
He charged that “police has not registered many complaints of Muslim victims, including the most glaring example of the Mohan Nursing Home shooting and hence no investigation has taken place on it and other such grave issues and incidents.”
Also, he lamented that “in most cases, charge-sheets have been filed by police first against Muslim accused and the entire narrative has been changed to one of violence on both sides rather than a pogrom that was in fact carried out.”
‘Violence a retaliatory plan of pro-CAA protesters to crush anti-CAA protests’
Terming the anti-CAA protests “legitimate and peaceful,” he added that “seemingly, to crush the protests, with support of the Administration and Police, a retaliatory plan of pro-CAA protesters was worked out to trigger violence at a large scale which led to loss of lives and damage to hundreds of properties, owned mainly by the Muslim religious minority.”
Shamshad also observed in his remarks that “non-registration of FIRs or delayed action on complaints naming the accused of riots, loot, arson and murder has led to no investigation in many crucial cases.” He pointed out how “despite the High Court’s observations” no cases have been registered into cases like the shooting from Mohan Nursing Home and the inflammatory statements made by Mishra.
‘Investigations purposefully misdirected’
The Committee head also charged that “investigations have purposefully been misdirected to change the narrative of the cause of the violence that erupted in the North East district of Delhi.”
He wrote that while instances of incitement of violence by politicians of national standing were “completely bypassed”, on the other hand well-respected persons like Dr M.A. Anwar of Al-Hind clinic of Mustafabad have been castigated in the charge-sheet. “This reflects the partisan bias and shoddy methodology adopted in the investigation process,” Shamshad alleged.
‘No action against Mishra despite incendiary speech’
The fact-finding report states that “violence started in different pockets almost immediately after the short speech of Shri Kapil Mishra on 23 February, 2020 at Maujpur in which he openly called for forcefully removing the protestors at Jafrabad in North East Delhi.”
It added that Mishra, clearly said that he and his supporters will take matters into their own hands, when he said, “but after that we will not listen to the police if roads are not cleared after three days…”
The Committee said the “the open admission of `not listening’ to the police and extra-legal tactics should have been seen by the authorities present as inciting violence.” But with the police not apprehending or arresting Mishra, despite DCP Ved Prakash Surya standing right next to him, the Committee said “this indicates that they failed to take the first and most immediate preventive step needed to avoid violence from arising and (to) protect life and property.”
‘Violence was systematic’
The report said the violence that followed was “organised” and had a “systematic pattern”.
It observed that mobs of 100-1000 people fanned out chanting slogans and “selectively attacked Muslim individuals, houses, shops, vehicles, mosques and other property.” In many of the attacks, it said, outsiders were involved apart from local residents.
Further rather than being spontaneous, the report said “the perpetrators positioned themselves strategically in the residential areas” which along with the testimonies revealed that the violence was planned and targeted.
“In some instances, victims were asked to show their ID cards and then targeted on the basis of their faith,” it added.
‘Muslim youth pelted stones to defend community, family’
The report said it was “in response to the targeted attacks” that Muslim youth pelted stones on the mobs in some places to defend their community and family members. “Barring one incident, there have not been reports of Muslims being armed with weapons other than stones,” it noted.
It also added that “in many areas of North East Delhi, properties owned by Muslims were destroyed while those owned by Hindus, even though standing adjacent to the targeted properties, remained unscathed.” So was the case with the shops. Similarly properties of Hindu owners rented to Muslims were not damaged while the belongings of the tenants were looted or burnt outside the premises.
The report also said mobs specifically vandalised Muslim places of worship as well as religious symbols, like copies of the Quran. On the other hand it said religious places of worship of non-Muslims in Muslim-majority areas were largely left untouched, and in some cases were protected by the local Muslim residents.
‘Police complicity in violence’
The Committee said police officials either remained mute spectators or even participated in the violence. It said multiple testimonies recounted police inaction even as violence unfolded before them or of police not arriving despite being called repeatedly. “Testimonies also recall how the police were patrolling the area, but when asked for help, they refused saying they had no orders to act.” This, it said, suggested a “pattern of deliberate inaction over several days.”
The report said “a few accounts state how the police and paramilitary officials even escorted the mobs safely out of the area once the attack was over.” It added that some residents had also named senior police officials as “leading, participating and encouraging targeted violence against Muslims.”
‘Direct involvement of police in violence’
“In some testimonies, clear allegations of engaging in direct violence, including physical assault and abuse, have been made against police officers,” the report said, citing one incident in which “five Muslim boys were surrounded by 6-7 police officers and brutally beaten up while being asked to chant ‘Jana gana mana’.” While one of these boys died some days later, the report said the FIR did not name any accused.
The report also said prohibitory orders were either not enforced, or were only in name with no public notification and that “police also did not exercise powers to disperse unlawful assemblies or take measures to apprehend, arrest and detain those perpetrating violence.”
Police also obstructing process of justice
Even after the violence, the report said the victims complained how FIRs have either been delayed or have not been acted upon. Further, “in some cases police refused to register an FIR unless the complainant omitted names of the accused,” the report said, adding that “the failure to register FIRs promptly and accurately will adversely affect the prosecution of these offences.”
The report has also highlighted how the police was now being accused by people of “implicating victims”. “In some cases victims themselves have been arrested, especially where they filed complaints against named individuals,” it said, adding that there have also been instances where victims have been asked to ‘compromise’ with the accused persons named by them in their complaints.
Crucial details missing from charge-sheets
The police have also been accused of not presenting the chargesheets properly. The report said “crucial aspects of the entire chain of events are missing from most of the charge-sheets that have been filed till date” and which were accessed by the Committee.
It added that “almost all the North East Delhi violence-related cases that police are investigating are based on the premise that riots were planned by anti-CAA protesters to coincide with the US President Donald Trump’s visit to India in the third week of February. However, the reported noted that “the first reference to the forthcoming Trump visit was published in India on 13 January while the alleged meeting of the “conspirators” is claimed by police to have been held on 8 January, 2020.”
On the other hand, it added that “the speech of Kapil Mishra made on 23 February 2020 as well as other speeches and statements inciting violence against anti-CAA protesters have been ignored.”
The report has also stated that Delhi Police’s refusal to disclose the names of the persons arrested or detained as stated in its status report submitted to the Delhi high court in the Brinda Karat v. Government of Delhi case of June 17, 2020 contravened and violated Section 41c of Criminal Procedure Code which provides for display of these details on the notice board of every district Police Control Room.
No proper compensation to victims
The fact-finding report has also stated that except in the death and injury cases, the government’s disbursal of compensation was “delayed and disproportionate to the claims”. In several instances, it said the verification process of damage has not been completed even four months after the violence. And in others, either no interim compensation has been paid or only meagre amounts have been disbursed as “interim compensation”.
Also, it said, there was a huge disparity in compensation being paid in cases of death of public servants and ordinary citizens.
Finally, in its recommendations, the Committee has urged the Delhi Minorities Commission to file a petition seeking constitution of a five-member independent committee to investigate the riots. It has stated that the panel should be chaired by a sitting or retired high court judge and comprise a District and Sessions Court judge, a senior advocate, a retired police officer of the rank of Deputy Inspector General or above and a civil society member of repute as members.
The Committee, it said, should among other things ensure that there is proper and prompt action for non-registration of FIRs in all cases where complaints were not converted into FIRs; ensure that statements of victims were recorded under Section 164 of CrPC; ensure protection to witnesses and victims, review charge-sheets filed by the police; and establish the extent of complicity or abdication of duty by the police during the violence.