Delhi riots: Serious human rights abuses by Delhi Police, says Amnesty

Not only did Delhi Police fail to safeguard victims of violence, but actually participated in it: Victim's Lawyer


August 28, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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A biased and politically subverted Delhi Police stood by and watched as North East New Delhi burned for nearly a week in February 2020 (AP Photo)

In a scathing report, Amnesty International accuses Delhi Police of being complicit in the riots that had struck the national capital for days in late February even while US President Donald Trump was in the city. It criticises government for granting total impunity to errant police officials as no investigations have been initiated.

Six months after large parts of north-eastern Delhi had turned into a war zone for over a week, with burning homes and shops, killing of over 50 persons and well over 500 injured, international human rights organisation Amnesty International has come down hard on Delhi Police for its role in the riots. Released earlier today, the report calls out Delhi Police for standing by and watching the riots and failing to prevent the riots by taking strict action against days of hate-speeches and rumour mongering by several right wing activists, notably Kapil Mishra of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Amnesty says that Delhi Police had actively participated in the riots, alongside Hindu extremists while they went about identifying and destroying Muslim-owned properties and killing Muslims in a systematic manner.

In its report, Amnesty says that its field investigation has documented several human rights violations committed by the Delhi Police, including police officers indulging in violence with the rioters; torturing in custody; using excessive force selectively on protesters; dismantling protest sites used by peaceful protesters and being mute bystanders as rioters wreaked havoc.

Unlimited impunity

Amnesty has also criticised the Indian government for granting a seemingly unlimited impunity to the police, even when its actions have been highly objectionable. Amnesty criticises Union home minister Amit Shah, whose ministry controls Delhi Police, for giving a clean chit to the police in a speech in the Lok Sabha on March 11, barely a few days after the riots.

“The Delhi police reports to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and it is shocking that there has been no attempt by the MHA to hold the Delhi police accountable till now. This, despite several of their violations being live-streamed on social media platforms. There have been several news and fact-finding reports published during these six months documenting the violations. This includes a report filed by the Delhi Minority Commission (DMC). But no action has been taken against the police so far. In this investigative briefing, we try to add to the ongoing work done by students, civil society organisations, journalists, lawyers and the DMC to hold the Delhi police accountable,” says Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India.

Amnesty goes on to say that the first step in ensuring justice for victims and survivors of the riots was to end the impunity of the police. ‘‘This state-sponsored impunity sends the message that the law enforcement officials can commit grave human rights violations and evade accountability. That they are a law unto themselves,’’ adds Kumar.

Sneha Mukherjee, a Delhi-based advocate who is representing victims of the riots in Delhi’s courts and who has filed a case asking for prosecution of Delhi Police officials as well as the rioters, says that the police did show total impunity and biased approach. ‘‘We have not directly raised the issue of impunity but we have raised the question of how a very very biased position has been taken by Union of India. That is why one of our main prayers is that an independent investigative agency should be appointed to probe the matter, not even CBI because even the CBI is under the government. The investigative agency has to be totally free of any pressure from the government. The way Delhi Police has acted during the riots as well as during Jamia attack, it has shown that it was targetted violence. The Delhi Police has not only refrained from safeguarding the victims of the violence, but actually participated in the violence,” Mukherjee tells Media India Group.

See no evil, hear no evil

Amnesty also accuses Delhi Police of not taking any action against openly using hate speech and propagating violence and threats against Muslims. On February 23, BJP leader Kapil Mishra issued a call on Twitter to rally against the women-led Jaffrabad protest urging people to “prevent another Shaheen Bagh”. In the evening, he led the rally to Maujpur Chowk which is a kilometre away from the Jaffrabad protest site. While addressing the rally, he gave the Delhi police a live-streamed three-day ultimatum to remove the protesters from Jaffrabad. With the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) (North-East), Ved Prakash Surya, standing next to him, Kapil Mishra said, “They want Delhi to burn which is why they are blocking roads and creating a riot-like situation. There has not been a single stone pelted from our side. DCP sir is standing with us here. I am telling him on your behalf that we will remain peaceful till [Donald] Trump is in India. After that, we will not listen even to you if the roads are not cleared. We request you to remove the [anti-CAA] protests in Jaffrabad and Chandbagh before Trump leaves, otherwise we will have to come out on the streets”.

Amnesty says that instead of taking prompt and punitive action against Mishra and others inciting and threatening violence, the cops targeted the victims of the riots and the civil rights activists who were trying to help them. In the past six months, the Delhi Police have filed more than 750 First Information Reports (FIRs) and at least 200 charge sheets.

In a charge-sheet filed in June, the police made no mention of incendiary speeches by BJP leaders and laid the blame directly on those protesting peacefully against CAA at the time, adding that in a 2,000-word chronology of events – starting from December 13 and continuing till February 25 — the police nowhere mentioned the hate speeches by Kapil Mishra.

‘‘Although FIRs have been registered by the Delhi police it has not been registered on the complaints filed by the riot victims. Only complaints of compensation have been taken and those complaints have been converted into FIRs and even then a lot of complaints have been joined in one FIR which is wrong. So we have questioned the entire process. The charge sheets are all over the place with identical confessions. Even the commas and fullstops are identical. As part of our submission we also did an analysis of the charge sheets that have been filed against people. There are identical confession statements. It has been copy pasted in nearly a dozen confessions of accused persons,” says Mukherjee. 

Seeing the police’s inability to file a case against the right wing leaders, the Delhi High Court stepped in and questioned the police over their inaction against him and the other leaders and ordered that cases be registered against Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma.

In one of the hearings, Justice S Muralidhar, hearing the case, became furious and asked the police: ‘‘Why shouldn’t there be an FIR against these four BJP leaders, including Union Minister, MP and MLA? You showed alacrity in registering FIRs for damages to property and arson. Why aren’t you registering it for these speeches? Don’t you even want to acknowledge the presence of a crime?’’ Muralidhar asked. Unfortunately for the civil rights activists, the judge was transferred soon after, thereby joining the list of other judges who have dared to raise their voice against the inaction of the police and for that matter the current government.

Sneha Mukherjee says that pleadings have been completed in High Court, but the hearings would perhaps begin late September. She says that since then a number of other petitioners, with ‘an alternate narrative’ have impleaded themselves in the case. ‘‘In our petition, we address the elephant in the room and say that this was a pre-planned and organised communal riot targetting a specific minority community. Then there is a separate set of 4-5 others who have joined in this petition and are putting forth the alternative narrative that the entire anti-CAA protest and the Delhi riots were actually planned to bring disrepute to India and to attack the Hindus,’’ Mukherjee tells Media India Group.

Delhi Minorities Commission holds police responsible

It was not just Amnesty International that has found the role of Delhi Police before, during and after the riots highly questionable. The Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC), a government-appointed body promoting the rights of India’s religious minorities, has said that the police failed to protect Muslims campaigning against a new citizenship law.

The report, released in July, said Muslim homes, shops and vehicles were selectively targeted during the rioting that erupted in northeast Delhi in February when protests against the new Cititzenship Amendment Act broke out across the country. In all, 11 mosques, five madrasas or religious schools, a Muslim shrine and a graveyard were attacked and damaged, a team from the commission said.

‘‘Multiple testimonies collected by this Fact-Finding Committee recount reports of police inaction even as violence unfolded before them, or of police not arriving despite being called repeatedly,’’ it said. According to a news report filed by NDTV, a news media channel, on February 29, Delhi Police received more than 13,000 calls for help during the 6-days of period of violence.

Mukherjee also accuses the police of taking sides blatantly even after the riots and continuing to shield the real culprits by slapping false cases against the Muslims. ‘‘Multiple FIRs have been registered on the same incident against the same person. For example, I am representing somebody who has been accused in 16 FIRs all of whom are emanating from the same event. And it has all been done very strategically. Names of young boys have been collected by the police using the subterfuge of issuing duplicate ID and government documents that were destroyed in the riots and these youth have been implicated in multiple cases. If you meet the locals, the situation is all over the place. People are scared even five months after the riots. They are so scared that even in compensation matters they don’t want to go and file a complaint,’’ says Mukherjee.

The brazenly partial attitude of the police and the absence of any kind of sanction or punitive action by the government on errant police officers has only emboldened Delhi Police to take an ever more aggressive stance vis a vis the people it boasts of protecting. Those still in doubt about the way officials of Delhi Police see an ordinary citizen may want to catch a glimpse of a recent viral video where a policeman thrashed a street child simply because he had nowhere else to go. Delhi Police was long known for its brutality, but political patronage from the right wing has encouraged the men in khaki to display their true colours.



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