The role of the Delhi Police, during the anti-CAA protests, the Northeast Delhi Riots and the coronavirus-induced lockdown, is enough to send shivers down any law abiding citizen’s spine. The objective of the anti-CAA protests – writ large on posters, street art, social media posts, etc – was to ‘Save the Constitution of India’. There was nothing anti-national about the protests or the protestors (mostly students and Muslim women). It is these students and women, fighting as they were, to preserve the spirit of India’s Constitution and our democratic traditions, who have now been tagged as ‘anti-national’ and ‘gaddar’ – not under the law of the land, but by the whims of those in power.
For any discussion on the ongoing spate of arrests of students and activists accused by the Delhi Police of instigating and participating in the Northeast Delhi riots of January this year, there’s a chronology that needs to be made clear. As the anti-CAA protests raged, first came brutal police action against the protestors – the tear-gassing of peaceful protestors and the beating and manhandling of students and women. Then came the arson, looting and massacre of Muslims in Northeast Delhi – the worst-ever pogrom Delhi has witnessed since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The attack was goaded on by the slogan of ‘Desh ke Gaddaron ko, Goli Maaron Saalon ko’ given in full public view by BJP’s Kapil Mishra and broadcast on TV news channels and social media platforms for days before the rioting actually began.
The aim was retribution. Retribution for having the gall to oppose anything that the government has proposed. The Centre, its law-enforcement wing for the national capital (the Delhi police) and many in the media have sought to pass this retribution off as a “communal riot”. I disagree for I see this retribution as pre-planned and orchestrated massacre of a community ‘to teach them a lesson’ because they ‘dared’ to protest to save the Constitution and their citizenship. The idiom of communal riots, as I see it, is only a convenient ruse for passing the blame on communities rather than hold the delinquent part of the State to account for its evident lapses and complicity.
It is only after recognising these precursors that the current spate of arrests, made under draconian provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, during the lockdown should be analysed. The intent driving these arrests is clearly to strike terror in the hearts of the protestors and their kin – and the Muslim community in general. The rule of law has been thrown to the winds by the Delhi Police who are shamelessly manipulating arrests and FIRs against innocent students and persons while simultaneously patting their own backs by hailing themselves as ‘Dil ki Police’. The same police that is arresting students – including one who is pregnant and has a medical complication that can be fatal to her unborn child – is also turning a blind eye to the crimes committed by the actual instigators and participants of the Northeast Delhi massacre. In many cases, the victims themselves have been booked by the Delhi Police.
The police have refused to take any action to prevent acts of extreme terror, murders, assaults, lootings, or to register FIRs when the complainant belongs to the Muslim community. There have been ample incidents, all a matter of record, where Muslim complainants have been threatened with arrest if they sought to lodge complaints against BJP and police functionaries. A few examples of the acts and omissions by the Delhi Police, obviously at the behest of their political masters, are mentioned below while withholding names of the complainants.
The Delhi police’s case against those arrested for their alleged role in the riots is based on an FIR registered on the complaint of a Sub Inspector of the Crime Branch of Delhi Police. This complaint, in turn, is based on a ghost account given to the said sub-inspector by his ‘secret informer’. According to the secret informer, the protestors “gave provocative speeches at various places and appealed to the Muslim minority community gathering to block roads and other public places during the visit of Mr. Donald Trump, Hon’ble President of the United States of America on Feburary 24-25, 2020, so that the propaganda may be flashed at an international platform that Muslim minority community in India is being tortured. It was informed that in order to achieve these objectives on February 23, 2020 riots occurred in different areas of Delhi (sic).” The FIR doesn’t name the informer. Curiously, while those arrested on the basis of this information have been booked under the UAPA, the allegation made against these students and activists does not even constitute an act of terror under Section 15 of the Act. Further, since the complaint is based on the tip-off from a secret informer, this ghost will never come to testify or join the investigation.
Now examine the police’s attitude towards a few complaints filed by Muslim victims of the riot.
1. Mr ‘A’ filed a complaint naming BJP/RSS functionaries like Jagdish Pradhan (local BJP MLA candidate), Nand Kishore Gujjar (BJP MLA from UP), Satpal, (BJP MP) and the owner of Anil Sweet Shop. The complainant has given an eyewitness account of his house in Shiv Vihar being being looted and bombed as a result of which two floors of his house were blown off. No terror charges have been invoked so far against the named culprits and no arrests have been made in the case.
2. Mr ‘B’ has filed a complaint that he lost both his hands in a bomb explosion. His complaint names the owner of ‘Anil Sweets’ and Mohan Nursing Home, both active BJP workers in the area, as being instrumental in the attack. Here again, no arrests have been made yet and no terror charges have been invoked.
3. Mr ‘C’ filed a complaint that he saw his brother blown off in an explosion. His complaint names Jagdish Pradhan, Nand Kishore Gujjar and others. When Mr. C was taken to the scene of crime by the Crime Branch officers, he was attacked by the accused named in his complaint in the presence of the police. The police did not stop the attack and instead, stood as mute spectators. Again, no arrests have been made till date in the case.
4. Ms. ‘D’ and Ms. ‘E’ have filed a complaint giving eyewitness accounts of the local SHO, ACP, BJP’s Kapil Mishra, Ragini Tiwari and other party workers attacking women and children at an anti-CAA protest site. The complaint mentions that some of the attackers fired guns and hurled crude bombs at the protestors, burnt pictures of Baba Saheb Ambedkar and other national heroes. The complaint also mentions that numerous people were injured in this attack and some protestors were also killed. Even here, the police did not find merit to register an FIR.
There are scores of other similar examples. Can there be a bigger mockery of the criminal jurisprudence system? The gory facts of the Northeast Delhi riots expose a pattern which has been followed earlier in politically-motivated massacres of minorities and other weaker sections like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. By branding such massacres as communal riots, the actual perpetrators of these ghastly crimes go Scott-free. Such branding achieves the objective of diluting the revulsion with which society would normally react towards a premeditated massacre.
The CAA 2019, followed by an announcement for the process of a pan-India National Register for Citizens (NRC) is clearly meant to serve political motives. These peaceful protests were crushed with a heavy hand after falsely charging the protestors of indulging in violence, especially in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam or in Delhi where the police is under administrative control of the Union home ministry.
The anti-CAA protest at Shaheen Bagh in South Delhi, which quickly gathered momentum throughout the country, cannot be branded as communal since the guiding spirit of the protest was Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar and the Indian Constitution. Yet various methods, including a defamatory campaign against the protesting women, were employed to discourage, discredit and finally to intimidate the protestors. Unfortunately, Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi Government, which has been fighting with the Centre for its administrative rights over the NCT, has now surrendered his government’s right to represent the Delhi Police in the riot cases. Thus, the Delhi Police has engaged a battery of senior central law officers, including Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and two Additional Solicitors General. This exposes the vigour with which the Centre is determined to defend its illegal actions.
No doubt there cannot be a crime without a motive. But, unless a neutral and in-depth investigation to unearth the basic conspiracy behind these riots is undertaken, the truth will never come out.
(The Author is an Ambedkarite and a practising lawyer representing many victims, accused students/activists of the recent Delhi carnage. Views expressed are personal.)