Delhi Riots : prominent citizens seek President Kovind’s intervention to ensure justice

New Delhi: In a strong-worded letter sent to President of India, Ram Nath Kovind on Friday, over 75 prominent Indians including retired top bureaucrats, top cops, diplomats and academics sought his intervention to ensure justice in the February North East Delhi communal violence. The letter highlighted Delhi Police complicity in the violence and the bias in the ongoing investigation of the violence which took 53 lives and left over 200 injured. It sought a commission of inquiry into the manner of investigation of communal incidents by a high court judge.

A day earlier, Delhi Minorities Commission also severely indicted the Delhi Police for the communal flare up in its fact finding report. The letter also quoted the Minority Panel’s report which says “It is equally concerning that a 10 member fact-finding committee constituted by the Delhi Minorities Commission to look into the riots, has suggested that the failure to prevent violence by Delhi police “was not due to individual or sporadic breaches, but was a pattern of deliberate inaction over several days.”

To ensure that justice is done and those who instigated and caused the violence are prosecuted, it is critical that the investigation be free and fair, the letter stated.

The long-letter graphically illustrated all the facts and evidence to nail the police complicity and bias in the violence.

It was signed by A. Selvaraj, IRS (Retd.), Former Chief Commissioner, Tamil Nadu; . Abhijit Sengupta, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture; Aditi Mehta, IAS (Retd.), Former Additional Chief Secretary, Rajasthan; Alok Perti, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, GoI;. Amitabha Pande, IAS (Retd.); Anjali Bhardwaj, Social activist ; Ardhendu Sen, IAS (Retd.), Former Chief Secretary, West Bengal; Arif Ghauri, IRS (Retd.); Deb Mukharji, IFS (Retd); Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner; Jawhar Sircar, Ex CEO, Prasar Bharati; Prof Jayati Ghosh; Professor Prabhat Patanik: Julio Ribeiro, IPS (Retd.); K. John Koshy, IAS (Retd.); . K. Saleem Ali, IPS (Retd.), Former Special Director, CBI; K. Sujatha Rao, IAS (Retd.); journalist P Sainath; P.G.J. Nampoothiri, IPS (Retd.) and others.

The letter highlights:

1-Police complicity in violence:

2- Assault by Police caught on video and death of Faizan- During the violence in North East Delhi, a disturbing video emerged from near the Maujpur metro station showing uniformed policemen assaulting injured youth lying on the road. The video shows the police forcing the young men to sing the national anthem and repeatedly beating them with lathis and picking up and hitting a young man’s head against the road. The police can also be heard taunting the men about the ‘Azaadi’ slogan, which was oft-used at the protests and sit-ins against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

One of the men, 23 year-old Faizan succumbed to his injuries a few days later. After the assault he was illegally detained by the Police for over 36 hours and as per media reports based on official documents and eyewitness accounts, which has not been refuted by the Police, he was denied medical attention. While the act itself was atrocious, what is even more shocking is that the Delhi Police does not appear to be assigning any urgency to identifying the policemen involved and ensuring that they are brought to book. The First Information Report registered by the Bhajanpura Police station makes no mention of the clearly documented video footage of the police assaulting Faizan and the Delhi police has not named any policemen as accused in the case. For any professional law enforcement agency, evidence of involvement of their own personnel in violence should have received the highest priority of the top brass.

Evidence of Police involvement in stone pelting, violence, breaking CCTVs Several accounts and videos have emerged of police allegedly being complicit in the violence, directing mobs pelting stones or looking the other way when mobs were indulging in violence in front of them. Most concerningly, there is a video from the Khureji protest site of the Police breaking CCTV cameras at a petrol station raising serious concerns about its conduct. The links to these videos and accounts are given below. To our knowledge, no enquiry or investigation has been set up by the Delhi Police to probe the role of the policemen, despite these videos being publicly available and also being highlighted by the media. “

1- No action on complaints against police officials: A piece carried by the publication, Caravan, documents the fate of complaints alleging involvement of senior police officials in the violence. The report states, “At least one deputy commissioner, two additional commissioners and two station house officers of the Delhi Police participated in criminal intimidation, unprovoked firing, arson and looting during the violence that swept northeast Delhi in late February, according to complaints filed by eyewitnesses”. Despite the passage of more than 4 months, no FIR has been registered. In fact the Delhi Police appears to have not even acted against the DCP who mutely stood next to a BJP leader who was instigating violence against the protestors warning them that if they did not vacate the area, he would do it himself.”

2-Custodial torture: There are several statements of victims and eye-witness accounts of police assaulting and torturing persons in their custody. Khalid Saifi was picked up by the Police from Khureji on February 26 and in a video of the arrest he can be seen walking with no injuries. Yet a few days later when he was produced before the magistrate, a video showed that both his legs were fractured and in casts, indicating that he might have been tortured in police custody. 24 year old Shahrukh who has been charged with sections of rioting and murder, and who lost complete vision in one eye and 90% in the other during the north-east Delhi riots in February, told The Hindu newspaper that he was punched in the stomach while in Police custody. His family alleged that Rs. 10,000 was extracted from them for not beating Shahrukh during questioning. He was later made to sign a confession statement naming Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal of Pinjra Tod who are both under arrest, even though he says he doesn’t know either of them and he is not aware of the contents of the statement on which he signed as he couldn’t read it due to the injuries to his eyes.

3-No action on complaints against BJP leaders: The Caravan had carried a detailed piece highlighting several complaints against BJP leaders— Kapil Mishra, Satya Pal Singh, Jagdish Pradhan, Nand Kishore Gujjar and Mohan Singh Bisht— accusing them of participating in or orchestrating the violence. However, as per information in the public domain and also based on a perusal of the rejoinder of the Delhi police to the piece in The Caravan, it appears the Police has not issued FIRs on these complaints. It is extremely concerning that the Delhi Police has refused to put nearly 700 FIRs registered by it in the public domain. In fact, it has not even made a summary of the FIRs available to citizens.

4-Criminalising dissent and protest: The probe by the Delhi Police appears to be pursuing a line of inquiry criminalising the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and portraying them as a conspiracy which resulted in the riots in Delhi.

The blocking of roads or chakka jam has a long history in India as an instrument of protest and has been adopted by various movements and even political parties at different points in time.

Therefore, the criminalisation of this act and presenting it as part of a conspiracy by the Delhi Police is completely unwarranted. FIR 59 of 2020 registered by the Crime Branch police station in Delhi on March 6, 2020, documents this ‘conspiracy’ and has been used to carry out a fishing and roving inquiry against young persons including students and social activists who were involved with the protests.

Several stringent sections, including those under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), have been added to this FIR. This appears to be aimed at ensuring that those accused of ‘hatching the conspiracy’ are unable to secure bail.

The chronology presented in the chargesheets also criminalises dissent by claiming that speeches criticising the CAA, NPR, NRC led to instigation of violence in Delhi. The chargesheets identify several such speeches by social activists and local protestors. However, a perusal of the contents of the speeches as presented in the chargesheets shows that while being strongly critical of government policy, in no direct or indirect manner was there any incitement or call to violence.

The notable silence in the chargesheets on the role of BJP leaders who gave inflammatory speeches which were publicly documented including a call to “shoot the traitors” raise serious concern about the impartiality of the probe.

5-Malafides in Police questioning: The malafides in the police investigation is also apparent from the fact that they have been persistently questioning people that they are calling for the investigation about a group called “Hum Bharat ke Log” (We the people of India) which was formed by well known academics, intellectuals and activists to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act, which they considered to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. All information about the members and the activities of this group are available in the media or in the public domain and have been with the Delhi Police as they seized the phones of most of the witnesses they called for interrogation. It is abundantly clear from this information, including the messages exchanged, that the group was not involved in any illegal/criminal activity or any clandestine conspiracy. Yet, the police continue to question people about this group and have even mentioned the names of a few of its members, such as Harsh Mander and Yogendra Yadav, in their chargesheets (though not as accused). Similarly, the police have also been questioning people about a group called the “Delhi Protests Support Group”, which was formed to support the peaceful protests sites by coordinating with cultural artists and public intellectuals who wanted to visit and express solidarity with the cause.

The Police have had the transcript of whatsapp chats of this group from the phones that they have seized. It is evident from these chats that the group was only involved in supporting the peaceful protests and not involved in any conspiracy for any criminal or violent activity.”

The letter concludes that the ongoing probe by the Delhi police does not inspire confidence.

“With serious allegations against several senior police officials, of being complicit in the violence or assisting the mobs or standing mutely and watching the violence, there is bound to be a perception that the agency is shielding its own.”

The retried top civil servants and police officer and academics also highlight that it is most concerning note that the Special Commissioner of Police (Crime) in an order dated July 8 to officials heading the riots probe citing “degree of resentment among the Hindu community” regarding arrests of “some Hindu youth” from riot-hit areas in Northeast Delhi directed that “due care and precaution” must be taken while making arrests.

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