New Delhi: Already under criticism for its alleged role in the riots that broke out in North-East Delhi on February 23, the Delhi Police’s probe into the violence has been called “biased” and “communal” by human rights’ groups and civil society organisations. Arrests have been ongoing in the midst of a lockdown due to COVID-19.
The protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Population Register (NPR) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Shaheen Bagh, Jamia Millia Islamia, Seelampur, Khureji, Inderlok and Hauz Rani — according to the Delhi Police — led to the communal violence in North-East Delhi where 55 people were killed and over 300 suffered injuries.
Arrested on April 24, Shifa-Ur-Rahman aka Shifa Khan was remanded to 10-day police custody by the Patiala House Court in New Delhi. “The accused is found involved in providing help in setting up anti-CAA/NPR/NRC protests at various sites in Delhi, giving hatred speeches at various protest sites i.e. Jamia, Shaheen Bagh, Seelampur, Khureji, Inderlok and Hauz Rani in front of huge gathering of public in order to instigate them against the Government of India and other communities which led to recent riots,” said the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, which is probing the conspiracy behind the riots, to Sanjiv Jain, a commercial District Judge, during the hearing.
Aside from organising protests at the various sites, the investigators said that huge funds were pumped in to procure weapons and explosives to cause the riots. They claim to have access to “huge” financial data from those who have been arrested so far.
Many of those at the forefront of the protests against the controversial CAA, NPR and NRC have been arrested and booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), in addition to severe sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Arms Act and Prevention of Damage of Public Property Act (PDPPA).
They include activist Khalid Saifi, former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan, suspended Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Tahir Hussain, student activist Gulfishan, Jamia Coordination Committee’s Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar and now Shifa-Ur-Rahman who is president of the Alumni Association of Jamia Millia Islamia (AAJMI).
The police added that at least two organisations and several other suspects are on their radar and that they would be apprehended as well.
They all have been arrested under FIR No. 59/2020, which alleges that the communal violence in North-East Delhi was “preplanned” and a result of a “deep rooted” conspiracy. Women and children were allegedly made to block roads. The conspiracy was allegedly hatched by former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid and his associates — all linked to two groups.
The FIR further alleges that Umar made provocative speeches at various places. It said he also appealed to members of the Muslim community to block roads and other public places during the visit of US President Donald Trump to the national capital on February 24 and February 25, allegedly aiming to create propaganda on international platforms that Muslims in India were being ‘tortured’.
The FIR goes on to allege that weapons and explosives procured and stored at various places, including Maujpur, Jaffrabad, Chand Bagh, Gokalpuri and Shiv Vihar — all neighbourhoods in North-East Delhi. Women and children were allegedly sent to block the road under Jaffrabad Metro Station on February 23 to create tension and riots in the area.
The FIR was registered on March 6, under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) read with 124A (sedition), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 353 (assault on public servant), 186 (obstructing public servant), 212 (harbouring offender), 395 (dacoity), 427 (mischief), 435 (mischief by destroying), 436 (mischief by firing), 452 (house-trespass), 454 (lurking), 109 (abetment), 114 (presence of abettor), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting with weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 124A, 153A (promoting enmity) and 34 (act by common intention) of the IPC, sections 3 and 4 of the PDPPA, sections 25 and 27 of Arms Act and under sections 13, 16, 17 and 18 of the UAPA. It was filed by the Crime Branch and is being probed by the Special Cell.
The police has also lodged close to 750 FIRs in connection with the communal violence in different police stations in North-East Delhi and Shahdara districts.
Under 40 FIRs, which have been accessed by NewsClick, the investigators have taken around 130 people into custody. Except one, all of them are members of a particular community. Seventeen of those booked are out on bail.
Lawyers, Activists Cry Foul
Several rights groups, civil society organisations and lawyers have described the police action “unilateral”, “arbitrary”, “biased” and “discriminatory”. During the violence in Delhi between February 23 and February 27, the police had been accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods. The violence was the worst that Delhi witnesses since the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
At least four well-known lawyers have written to the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court on April 11, highlighting issues relating to summoning, detention and arrest of persons by the police. They added that this was happening during the national lockdown in connection with the FIRs related to the communal violence in North-East Delhi.
“In our limited experience with arrests in the riot-related FIRs (preceding the lockdown), several cases had little, if any, material trying the arrestee to the commission of offences alleged in the FIR, particularly to the commission of serious offences such as murder, attempt to murder and arson. The sole basis of the arrests would be, at best, the mere presence of the arrestee at the spot as disclosed in the video footage (which ignored the fact that the arrestees were residents of the neighbourhoods where the riots broke out) and uncorroborated witness statements. In most cases, no police custody was sought at the time of first production, indicating that the arrestees were not required for investigation.
“Moreover, the police had no reasonable basis to presume the arrestee would abscond or tamper with evidence. It is on these grounds that in certain cases, bail was granted to persons arrested in the riot-related FIRs prior to the lockdown,” wrote advocates Nikita Khaitan, Maneka Khanna, Tara Narula and Sowjhanya Shankaran.
The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH), a Muslim organisation that has also petitioned the High Court against the police, accused the cops of being “biased”, “discriminatory” and “communal”.
“The role of police officer as a law enforcement officer is to serve mankind, safeguard lives and property, protect the innocent and weak against violence and disorder, maintain peace and ensure the constitutional rights of all irrespective of caste and creed. But unfortunately, the police have shown inhuman behaviour against the minority community, mostly the victims of riots. Especially in the Delhi case, the method of arrest does not suit the laid down guidelines,” the JUH told a bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Talwant Singh, who have instructed the city police to abide by guidelines laid down by Supreme Court in D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal in 1997 to conduct arrests.
‘False Propaganda Won’t Deter Us’, Says Delhi Police
The Delhi Police took to Twitter on April 20 to issue a statement: “While investigating Jamia and NE riot cases, the Delhi Police has done its job sincerely and impartially. All the arrests made have been based on analysis of scientific and forensic evidence, including video footage, technical and other footprints.
Delhi Police is committed to upholding the rule of law and bringing the conspirators, abettors and culprits of NE riots to book and secure justice to the innocent victims. It will not be deterred by the false propaganda and rumours floated by some vested elements who try to twist facts to their convenience. We continue to work tirelessly and relentlessly towards our motto — Shanti, Seva and Nyaya. Jai Hind,” said the statement.