December 20, 2020

Report on Delhi Communal Violence Nails BJP Govt.’s Role


FROM February 23 to 29, 2020, communal violence swept north east district of Delhi shocking the whole country with its savagery. Fifty-four persons lost their lives, several hundred people were injured, hundreds of homes, shops, schools and vehicles and even religious places were set ablaze or destroyed, while thousands fled the area. The CPI(M) which immediately started providing support and help to the affected families, has brought out a report on the horrendous violence, tracing its roots, and exposes the role played by the BJP and its affiliates in creating the conditions for this carnage, and carrying it out, under the protective umbrella provided by Amit Shah and the home ministry that he heads. Below are some salient features of the report.

North-east Delhi, the scene of this violence is a densely populated under-developed area, where the main working population is in the unorganised or the self-employed sector – welders, carpenters, painters, scrap dealers, street vendors, manual workers, construction workers, etc. Civic amenities are highly deficient, families live in crowded tenements, in narrow lanes. Nearly half (43 per cent) of the population in the district is young, between the ages of 20 and 40 years. About 29 per cent of people are Muslim and there are many mixed neighbourhoods. But all communities had lived amicably – till this February.

Delhi was one of the big centres of the anti-CAA protests with 23 dharna sites, apart from Shaheen Bagh, where mostly women sat night and day. Of these eight were in north east Delhi. These protests saw participation by democratic and secular people from all walks of life and all faiths, though the core was formed by Muslim women. This was anathema to the BJP/RSS and drew poisonous vilification from them before, during and after the election campaign. The Delhi Police itself characterised these protest sites as ‘they [the women] refused to vacate, causing a deteriorating effect on communal harmony in the area’, revealing its bias.

In the assembly elections held in January the BJP led by Amit Shah himself carried out an incendiary campaign with overt and provocative communal propaganda, including offensive attacks on the then ongoing anti-CAA protests, the vilification of Muslims and even brazen calls by leaders to ‘shoot the traitors’. The BJP got a drubbing electorally. Of the eight assembly segments in the area, five were won by AAP and three by BJP. But the deadly harvest of the poison seeds it had sown during the elections was reaped in the communal violence that started on February 23.

The report gives a vivid and chilling picture of the violence, based on eye witness accounts, police documents, media reports and videos. CPI(M) volunteers working with a broad-based committee of other secular-minded citizens undertook an extensive survey of affected areas during relief work and gathered heart-rending testimonies of families and how they lived through those days of terror. Members of both communities were interviewed.

It became clear that the plan for unleashing violence on the anti-CAA protest sites and escalating it to attacks on Muslim community members in adjoining colonies was hatched by BJP/RSS. Several leaders of BJP have been identified besides the notorious Kapil Mishra (an ex-MLA) who called for direct action even while standing next to a senior police official. None of the BJP leaders have been charged for their incendiary role in the violence.

According to the police reports to the court, 53 persons lost their lives, of whom 40 were Muslim and 13 Hindu. CPI(M)’s survey has found that there were 54 killings, of whom 41 (76 per cent) were Muslims. According to the police, 581 persons were injured, of whom 108 were police personnel. Of the remaining 473 civilians, 253 were Muslim as deduced from their names. The report, however, points out that this is an underestimation as, during survey work, a large number of injured Muslims were found who were afraid to register their injuries, as the police were randomly picking up Muslim youth to implicate them as rioters. In an error-filled affidavit submitted to courts, Delhi Police claimed that 14 houses of Hindus, 50 houses of Muslims, 42 shops belonging to Hindus, and 173 shops belonging to Muslims were damaged. Three police stations have not given any data while two have not given any community wise breakup. For example, the survey found that just in Shiv Vihar, 177 homes and shops of Muslims were damaged. Delhi Police are brazenly misleading the court with false data. The police report says that 13 mosques and six temples were damaged. However, temple damage data seems questionable as independent media searches and the survey too couldn’t locate a single temple that was damaged, though one additional damaged mosque was located.

What all these cold numbers show is starkly obvious: the violence was largely one-sided, the Muslim community suffered enormously. Delhi Police has concocted a tale according to which Muslims conspired to attack Hindus, and the violence was the culmination of that plan.

The role of the home ministry under Amit Shah was largely responsible for the escalation of the violence. As the Police admitted in a court document, deployment of police was very tardy and deficient (see table below).

                             Police and Central Forces Deployed

                             Feb 22                  450
                             Feb 23                1393
                             Feb 24                1399
                             Feb 25                4291
                             Feb 26                4635
                             Feb 27                4756
                             Feb 28                 4248

Shockingly, curfew was not imposed in the area till the evening of 25 February, and that too only in four areas. Yet home minister, Shah misled Parliament that everything was under control by the evening of February 25. Killings and violence in different areas continued till February 27.

On March 11, barely two weeks after the communal carnage, Amit Shah delivered a lengthy statement on it in Parliament, because law and order – and police – in Delhi are under his jurisdiction. He presented an alternative narrative that dismissed the role of provocative speeches by BJP leaders blamed Opposition parties for fomenting violence and praised the police for controlling the violence and arresting 2,600 people and filing over 700 FIRs.

In a charge sheet filed in September, this narrative was fleshed out as a full-fledged ‘conspiracy’ to cause communal riots tracing its origins to the anti-CAA/NRC protests. In effect, the blame for the violence is sought to be put on the Muslim community, and the secular persons who were supporting the anti-CAA/NRC movement, which was, ironically, defending the Constitution.

As documented in the report, the police has manufactured ‘evidence’ by relying on some 39 anonymous or ‘protected’ witnesses, getting members of the minority community to sign on pre-drafted texts of ‘confessions’, many of them identical, fixing FIRs with standard templates and omitting any inconvenient statements or witnesses, not registering complaints from victims’ families, and other such means, all of which are documented in the report. While anti-Muslim charges are sought to be bolstered with call records of phones and WhatsApp chats, the open-and-shut case of a 125-member gang communicating through a WhatsApp group called ‘Kattar Hindu Ekta’ (Fanatic Hindu Unity) which appears to have murdered at least nine Muslims has been described by the police as ‘reacting’ to Muslim violence, and many members of the group have not even been charged. The report gives several examples of direct police participation in the violence against minority communities, substantiated by eyewitness accounts, videos and photographic evidence. However, all this evidence has been completely ignored. No FIR has been filed against any police person. The police has tried to hide the number of people arrested and presented different figures at different times, but it claims that an equal number of people from both communities have been arrested. This is palpably unjust considering that 76 per cent of those killed belong to the Muslim community.

The report has demanded an independent inquiry into the Delhi communal violence headed by a retired high court judge whose record of impartiality in upholding the Constitution is undisputed. Such an inquiry should include the role of the home ministry and the deliberate delay in deploying adequate security forces to prevent violence. It has also sought immediate prosecution and arrest of BJP leaders and police personnel involved in incitement and participation in violence. It has demanded that full compensation and assistance be given to victims of the violence based on actual injuries and damages suffered.