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Delhi Minorities Commission holds BJP and police responsible for anti-Muslim riots

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Fellow Muslims mourn Muddasir Khan, who died in the Delhi riots 

A report published by the Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) has blamed state-level politicians of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for instigating and masterminding a communal riot in North-East Delhi in the third week of February this year. The police were accused of dereliction of duty as well as connivance with the rioters.

The 134-page report, entitled Report of the DMC Fact Finding Committee on North East Delhi Riot of February 2020 was based on a plethora of on ground testimonies and media reports. It was released on Thursday. The riots saw 55 deaths, two-thirds of which being Muslim. It has named Kapil Mishra, a former Delhi MLA and a local level leader of the BJP, for instigating the riot.

“Violence started in different pockets almost immediately after the short speech of Shri Kapil Mishra on 23 February 2020 at Maujpur in which he openly called for forcefully removing the protestors at Jafrabad in North East Delhi. He clearly said that he and his supporters will take matters into their own hands, alluding to extralegal vigilante tactics, in saying: ‘But after that we will not listen to the Police if roads are not cleared after three days...’. The open admission of “not listening” to the police and extralegal tactics should have been seen by the authorities present as inciting violence,” the report noted.

The report blamed top officials of the police for having “failed” to take appropriate action at that time.

“Deputy Commissioner of Police North East district, Shri Ved Prakash Surya, was standing right next to Shri Kapil Mishra when he said: “after that we will not listen to the police…”. At this point, the police failed to apprehend and arrest Kapil Mishra and all those gathered to hear and cheered his speech. This indicates that they failed to take the first and most immediate preventive step needed to avoid violence from arising and protect life and property,” the report noted. 

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“Testimonies also recall how the police were patrolling the area, but when asked for help, they refused saying they had no orders to act. This suggests that the failure to prevent violence was not due to individual or sporadic breaches, but was a pattern of deliberate inaction over several days.”

“The Delhi Police failed to exercise its prohibitory powers, under the Delhi Police Act, 1978 which enable the Commissioner of Police to promulgate orders prohibiting the carrying of weapons and arms, and the assembly of persons as necessary for the preservation of public order.”

“Prohibitory orders were either not enforced, or were only in name with no public notification. Police also did not exercise powers to disperse unlawful assemblies, or take measures to apprehend, arrest and detain those perpetrating violence,” the report stated, adding that the police “abetted” the violence in a few cases.

“In some testimonies, clear allegations of engaging in direct violence, including physical assault and abuse, have been made against police officers. In one incident, five Muslim boys were surrounded by 6-7 police officers and brutally beaten up while being asked to chant ‘Jana gana mana.’ One of them died some days later. The FIR registered does not name any accused.”

In addition, victims of violence had reported that FIRs had either been delayed or had not been acted upon. Or, in some cases, victims themselves had been arrested, especially where they filed complaints against named individuals.

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In the process, principles of international law as contained in “the UN Basic Principles on Use of Force that demand preventive action, including containment measures and police cordoning while the crowd is still at the nascent stage,” were violated.

Among other BJP leaders named in the DMC report, quoting media reports, are “former BJP MLA Jagdish Pradhan, BJP Councilor, Kanhaiya Lal and Hindutva Leader, Ragini Tiwari, who has on multiple occasions campaigned for BJP leaders.”

Following Mishra’s speech, different mobs quickly fanned out to the various areas, “openly carrying various weapons and arms like petrol bottles/bombs, iron rods, gas cylinders, stones and even firearms.” 

Despite the display of weapons and firearms, “sufficient actions were not taken by the district administration or police to protect life and property,” the report noted. Fourteen of the 55 killed were Hindus, two persons’ identity could not be concluded from the list of names published by DMC.

The violence followed a systematic pattern.“Different mobs numbering anywhere between 100-1000 people, chanting common slogans like ‘Jai Shri Ram’, and even “Har Har Modi”, “Modiji, kaat do in Mullon ko [Modi, cut these Muslims into pieces]”, “Aajtumhe Azadi denge [Today, we will give you freedom]”, selectively attacked Muslim individuals, houses, shops, vehicles, mosques and other property.” 

The riot had no spontaneity but was a completely organized one.

“The victims have repeatedly stated that though they could recognize some of the perpetrators as belonging to their residential locality, they also saw that outsiders were present. The perpetrators positioned themselves strategically in the residential areas. This points to no “spontaneity” as in the case of a riot. The testimonies reveal that the violence was planned and targeted.” 

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Moreover, Muslim women were insulted and “their hijabs and burqas were pulled off.” The compensation process was “delayed and disproportionate.” 

The 2020 riot was the first major riot in Delhi since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. During the 2020 anti-Muslim riots, Delhi was under the Aam Admi Party (AAP) but the police were controlled by the central government headed by the BJP.

The report was prepared by a committee headed by M.R. Shamshad, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India. Other members were DMC Chairman Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, Kartar Singh Kochhar and Anastasia Gill. They were assisted by legal experts and volunteers.

The committee made a series of recommendations to the State and the Central government for speedy delivery of justice.