In February this year, one of the most chilling episodes of communal violence ever was witnessed in the North-Eastern part of Delhi. Burnt houses, vehicles and shops smouldered while hundreds were injured and over 50 persons were killed in unbridled violence that lasted for over four days. The universal presence of cell phones and media teams meant that many incidents were recorded and were seen worldwide. Delhi Police (which is controlled by the Union Home Ministry) has reportedly lodged 751 FIRs, and termed the whole thing as a conspiracy hatched by urban naxals and jehadists to create ‘a big bang’, embarrass the Modi government, especially since US president Trump was in Delhi on the very day the violence broke out.
However, there are some striking features of this official version that are difficult to accept. Despite the vast material and resources at their disposal, the investigating agencies under Delhi Police have been unable to address and reasonably answer these issues. These holes in the official script may well come to haunt them as the cases go to court for judicial scrutiny.
1. Why was police deployment so delayed and inadequate despite sufficient warnings?
The latest charge-sheet filed by the police, which expends 2698 pages on describing the conspiracy behind the riots, gives the following police deployment in the area (para no.361):
The violence started on 23 February and lasted till 26th, with some sporadic incidents later. It has been well documented that intelligence agencies had warned several times that matters were deteriorating in the area on 23rd. Home Minister himself is on record saying that he was monitoring the situation continuously since 23rd evening. Yet on 24th, there were just 1399 police personnel in the densely populated area covering some 14 police stations. Why was police or central armed police forces’ deployment held back at this crucial time? The police themselves claim that the conspiracy began in December and that dozens of public protests against CAA went on for over two months. Yet, when communal violence erupted in North-East Delhi, the police was short-handed, with no chain of command and silence from the top. Why?
2. If the violence was planned and initiated by urban naxals and jehadists, how come it was Muslims who bore the brunt of attacks?
An affidavit filed by the Delhi Police on 13 July in the Delhi High Court (WP(Crl) 566/2020) gives the only official numbers for the death toll and property damage in the violence. According to this document, 53 persons were killed of which 40 were Muslims and 13 Hindus (including one police head constable who happened to be Hindu).
The property damage is presented in the form of a table giving police station wise damage to temples, mosques, houses, shops and vehicles (2-, 3- and 4-wheelers). In all, 14 police stations are listed but three of them have no incident. The tabulation has some errors of totalling in it, which is bizarre considering the police is submitting the document to the High Court. After correcting for these totalling errors, the data is:
Besides this, 485 two-wheelers, 94 three wheelers and 168 four wheelers were damaged or destroyed. No details of their ownership are given.
The data presented has some glaring lacunae. No breakup between Hindu and Muslim owned houses/shops is given for two police stations – Khajuri Khas and Karawal Nagar – which witnessed considerable violence and have 42% of the damaged houses and 31% of shops damaged between them. These areas had pockets of Muslim population and saw widespread violence and arson, reported live by media. It is more than likely that a large number of Muslim houses and shops were damaged in them.
If even this is set aside, it is clear from the table above that the brunt of property damage was borne by Muslim community – nearly 49% of houses and 53% of shops belonged to Muslims. Strangely, four and a half months after the violence the Police is still asserting that they don’t know who owned 77 of the damaged houses and 152 of the damaged shops!
Even the temple damage data seems questionable. On 9 June, in reply to an RTI query, Delhi Police had said that two temples were damaged and 11 Muslim religious places (8 mosques, 2 madrasas and 1 dargah) had been damaged. In the affidavit, the number of damaged temples has suddenly jumped to 6. On 12 March, Scroll.in had published photographs of 14 mosques and one dargah that were damaged. Yet the number given by police is 13 only.
The police affidavit also states that 473 persons were injured in the violence. A list of names and respective father’s names was attached. Analysis on the basis of names done by The Wire showed that 216 (45%) were Hindu and 257 (55%) were Muslims. The latest conspiracy charge sheet says 581 people were injured but names or religious persuasion are not given.
So, even by the deficient police records, more Muslims died or suffered injuries, more Muslim houses were damaged, more Muslim shops were damaged and more Muslim religious places were damaged. Yet the Delhi Police has constructed a whole fairy tale which says that it was Muslims who had a plan to attack Hindus, and that the violence was the culmination of that plan.
3. Why has no FIR been filed and no investigation done of various BJP leaders who gave highly inflammatory speeches and no conspiracy is seen in widespread Hindu fanatic elements functioning through social media?
The conspiracy charge sheet argues that the whole chain of events begins back in December 2019 after the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed. Taking the same cue, it should be the duty of any impartial investigation to look at other events in Delhi which could have contributed to communal polarisation and conspiracies to foster violence. Delhi Police has not bothered with doing so. There were several instances of various BJP leaders making grossly provocative and inflammatory statements in public during the election campaign for Delhi Assembly elections which were held on 8 February. Some of the most well-known ones are:
- On 28 January, one of Delhi’s BJP MPs, Parvesh Verma, said in a videographed interview that if Shaheen Bagh like dharnas were allowed, Muslims would very soon invade people’s houses and rape their sisters and daughters. Again, this was widely reported and video clips circulated in media and social media.
- On 27 January, during the incendiary campaign for Assembly elections in Delhi, junior minister in the Modi government Anurag Thakur raised highly inflammatory slogans (“shoot the traitors”) equating anti-CAA protesters to traitors. This incident was widely reported with video clips. Later, after widespread objections to such statements during an election campaign, the Election Commission suspended Thakur from campaigning for a few days.
Former BJP MLA Kapil Mishra’s provocative speech at Maujpur on 23 February threatening that if police doesn’t clear the anti-CAA protesters, he and the people would take to the streets and do it. Here are his words (translated from Hindi):
“This is what they wanted. This is why they blocked the roads. That's why a riot-like situation has been created. From our side not a single stone has been pelted. DCP is standing beside us. On behalf of all of you, I am saying that till the time Trump goes back, we are going to go forward peacefully. But after that we will not listen to the Police if roads are not cleared after three days. By the time Trump goes, we request the Police to clear out Jafrabad and Chaandbagh. After that, we will have to come on the roads. Bharat mataki jai! Vandemataram”!
This was followed by an outbreak of stone-pelting that escalated into full blown arson, looting, assaults and killings within hours. On 26 February, Delhi High Court severely reprimanded the Delhi Police for claiming that they had not seen the speech and asked them to consider filing an FIR against Mishra. However, Justice Murlidhar was transferred from Delhi High Court that very evening and the new Bench allowed more leeway to the police.
In the conspiracy charge-sheet filed by the police in September, it is recorded that Kapil Mishra denied making any provocative speech and claimed that he was only talking to DCP Surya only and telling him that if the streets were not cleared he and his supporters would sit on dharna. Despite the video record this version is recorded by the police and nothing has been done about the clear incitement to violence.
Apart from these well-known and well-documented cases, various groups of Hindu fundamentalists had been actively propagating hatred towards Muslims earlier, but with much more gusto during the Delhi election campaign. These and other newly formed groups, especially on Facebook and WhatsApp were reported to have served to mobilise Hindus who wanted to create violence in North-East Delhi. A few of them have been documented in some FIRs/charge-sheets filed by Delhi Police in connection with the violence but usually portrayed as defensive groupings, though their violent intentions are very clear from the records.
However, Delhi Police has persisted in only peddling its flimsy conspiracy theory putting the whole blame on so called urban naxals and jehadi elements.
4. Why is Delhi Police relying on dozens of anonymous witnesses to prove its case of conspiracy?
In the voluminous chargesheet filed on the basis of FIR No.59/220 by the Crime Branch of Delhi Police, every step of the chronology of events is sought to be established by some 39 anonymous or “protected” witnesses. This device is available to the police because the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Section 44 of this law empowers the concerned court hearing the matter to allow the identity of witnesses to be kept undisclosed, and if necessary, hold the proceedings in camera.
While most of these anonymous witnesses have had their statements recorded under section 164 CrPC before a court, some statements have been recorded only by the police under section 161 CrPC, which would not be admissible in court. But the crucial issue is that the testimony of these witnesses may be heard in camera. There is no evidence till now but some defence lawyers have alleged that some of these anonymous witnesses may have been threatened with dire legal consequences if they do not make statements that the police wants. This fear has arisen because earlier, there have been complaints to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by some people that they were beaten up by policemen in police stations and forced to give certain statements.
Most of the anonymised witnesses have a crucial role to play in the building of the case against accused persons by identifying them, placing them in certain places, revealing their financial transactions, revealing their planning process, allegedly procuring acid and bottles for violent use, inciting people for violence, running communication channels like WhatsApp groups, and so on.
Considering that the bulk of the other named witnesses are police personnel themselves, and other testimonies include those of the accused, these anonymised witnesses are the foundation of this conspiracy case.
Is There A Conspiracy Behind This Conspiracy Theory?
On 11 March, barely two weeks after the communal carnage in Delhi, home minister Amit Shah delivered a lengthy statement in Parliament, replying to a debate on the horrific violence that had shocked the Capital – and the world – for its brutality and scale.
But, with breath-taking boldness, Shah defined an alternative narrative which avoided all troubling questions about what led to the carnage, what was its nature, why security forces did not prevent it, and so on. His statement in Parliament defined the whole thing as manufactured by Opposition parties who gave hate speeches, misled the minority community, and he described the violence in symmetrical terms – both communities suffered. He patted the police on the back for controlling the violence and arresting 2600 people and filing over 700 FIRs. Before any investigation was done, the Home Minister laid down its findings. The rest of the investigation was to substantiate and validate this narrative.
Shah dismissed the well documented speeches by BJP leaders that called for shooting traitors or alleging that minority community will invade homes and rape women, and kill everybody. He said that allegations of hate speeches are being probed.
Then he went on to describe what he thought were the real hate speeches. He said that Congress leaders gave hate speeches on 14 December at a rally calling upon people to come out because it is a do or die battle. With this he not only sought to build the version that it was really the Opposition that incited violence but more significantly, he thus blamed the minority community for the violence. Forgotten were the hate speeches of Anurag Thakur (a minister in the Modi Govt.) and Parvesh Verma (a BJP MP from Delhi). Forgotten was the infamous Kapil Mishra speech standing next to a senior police official threatening to take action against anti-CAA protesters – which is widely perceived as the spark that set off the incendiary violence.
In fact, it was Shah himself who set the stage by leading and managing the BJP campaign for Delhi’s Assembly elections, held two weeks before the communal carnage erupted. This campaign saw a relentless barrage of poisonous and divisive speeches including the ones by Thakur and Verma. But that too is forgotten.
Shah asserted that money from abroad poured in, Opposition parties incited minority community, they were misled into opposing CAA, etc. So, the narrative is decisively inverted to portray the whole thing in reverse. What Shah has done is to deftly – and sometimes quite crudely – transform the Delhi carnage into a riot, and then to a riot instigated and carried out by the minority community. And, simultaneously, he and the govt. are shown as diligent, proactive and fair, yet firm in dealing with such rioters.
After setting the framework in this way, Delhi Police went about the task of filling in the details. Two Special Investigation Teams (SITs) were formed headed by DCP Rajesh Deo and DCP Joy Tirkey respectively. Both were known to have sympathies towards the BJP. Deo was in-charge of investigating the Jamia violence on 15 December. He had been removed from Delhi election duty by the Election Commission after being warned for making comments about an investigation with “political connotations” that had “consequences for the holding of free and fair elections”. This was after he told reporters that Kapil Gujjar, the gunman who fired shots in Shaheen Bagh on February 1, belonged to Aam Aadmi Party.
Tirkey was involved in probing the violence that occurred at JNU campus on the night of January 5, when masked persons, widely believed to be affiliated to the RSS student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), entered and vandalised the campus and attacked students, including the JNU Students Union (JNUSU) president Aishe Ghosh. On 10 January, Tirkey named nine persons, including Aishe Ghosh, who had sustained head injuries from the attack, as suspects. Tirkey also listed four Left outfits — SFI, AISF, AISA and DSF — and said seven of the nine suspects belonged to them, but did not mention ABVP, even though the remaining two students belonged to that organisation.
With this leadership, the police probe had only one direction to go.
It has defined the conspiracy as being hatched from when the CAA was passed by Parliament. It has included the violence in Jamia Milia University on 13 December on wards (which included a brutal police attack on the students inside the campus) as part of the evolving conspiracy to create violence.
Then the narrative characterises the dozens of dharnas held in Delhi against the CAA/NRC as part of the plot, ultimately leading to the conspirators organising violence from 23 February onwards. All of this flows directly from the Home Minister’s initial diagnosis made without any investigation!
So, the question that arises is this: has the Delhi Police carried out a fair and impartial probe or has it been guided by the political bosses in framing the violence as a conspiracy only of the urban naxal-jehadi nexus that the present government sees behind everything? Recall that in the Bhima-Koregaon case too, several liberal human rights activists have been arrested and a fantastic tale of conspiracy to create violence, even harm the Prime Minister, has been cooked up, linking everything to the Elgar Parishad. The Delhi violence ‘conspiracy’ is very similar.
In short, truth about the Delhi communal carnage has been buried deep and the Delhi Police has manufactured an alternative narrative that blames the victims and secular activists for it.
Only an independent, impartial investigation by judicial authorities will be able to dig out the truth from the lies and deceptions that have been heaped on it. This is essential to reassure the victims of the carnage, punish those who are guilty (whoever they may be) and also to reaffirm the rule of law in the country.