New Delhi: Even as the entire country is under lockdown and people are inside their homes to stop the spread of novel coronavirus, the Delhi Police seems to be taking advantage of the situation to question, carry out raids and arrest people in connection with the violence in North-East Delhi and protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR) and the proposed National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC).
At least 10 persons, if sources are to be believed, have been arrested so far in connection with the communal violence conspiracy case and anti-citizenship law protest across the national capital. They include Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar — both research scholars of Jamia Millia Islamia and members of the Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC), activist Khalid Saifi, Ex-Congress Counsellor Ishrat Jahan, among others. The JCC was created by students and alumni of Jamia after cops launched a crackdown on the campus in December last year in the wake of violence during anti-CAA protests.
More so, this is happening at a time when prisons across the country are being decongested by releasing inmates on parole in view of the threat posed by deadly COVID-19.
Several others — around 50 — have been served notices to appear before investigators for questioning by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. Those who have been served notices are students of Jamia Millia Islamia, activists of Congress-backed National Student Union of India (NSUI) and Left parties-affiliated students groups and Pinjra Tod — a group of women students of the Delhi University.
Several FIRs had been filed in connection with the protests across the city and the subsequent communal violence. But the police so far have not released any break-up of the total arrests made and the charges against the accused.
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The husband of Zargar, a student of M.Phil (Sociology) at Jamia Millia Islamia, had to run from pillar to post to find out charges slapped against his wife. It was also not known for a long time on April 11 as to which district police picked her up. Later, it emerged that she was taken into custody by the North-East district police for her alleged involvement in Jafrabad sit-in protest and blocking the road.
“The police have arrested the Media Coordinator of the Jamia Coordination Committee Safoora Zargar. She is accused of organising anti-CAA protests in Jaffrabad in Delhi’s North-East district,” said Delhi Police Joint CP Alok Kumar.
Investigators Newsclick spoke to said the probe was still going on and, therefore, it was difficult at this stage to list out specific charges against the accused. “It will be possible only the investigations are over,” they added.
The notices that have been issued by the Special Cell for co-operation in the investigation are in relation with the riots in North-East Delhi. The cases related to the riots and violence during the anti-CAA protests are being probed by the Special Cell and two special investigation teams (SITs) of the Crime Branch.
It may be recalled that after BJP leader Kapil Mishra made a provocative speech on February 23, clashes had broken out between groups opposing and supporting the CAA, NPR and the NRC on the same day, which later turned into full-blown violence across North-East Delhi that continued till February 27. At least 53 people lost their lives and hundreds suffered injuries.
Originally belonging to Kashmir, Zargar was an anti-CAA activist who was also the general secretary of the Jamia unit of the NSUI before it was dissolved in May 2018. She was instrumental in arranging guest speakers during the CAA protests at Jamia Millia.
After the 27-year-old, who is also expecting a baby, was arrested by the North-East district police in connection with the riots, she was re-arrested by the Special Cell on April 13 under charges of conspiracy.
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Haider is from Chhatra Rashtriya Janata Dal, affiliated with the Rashtriya Janata Dal. He also participated in TV debates on CAA protests and raised questions on actions of the police against the students inside the university library on December 15.
Meeran, who originally belongs to Bihar but stays at Abul Fazal Enclave in Okhla’s Jamia Nagar, was actually served a notice by Inspector Pramod Chauhan on March 31 to appear for interrogation in connection with an FIR (number 59/2020) registered by the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police on March 6. He was later arrested.
TIMING OF ARRESTS
The timing of the arrests, however, has raised eyebrows, with many believing that the crackdown amid the lockdown is a strategy by the cops to curb voices of dissent.
Describing the arrests as “arbitrary” and “abuse of power”, rights activists and political leaders, along with Jamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Associations, have condemned the police action — which according to them — is aimed at muzzling the voices of those critical of government policies.
“This is a time when the nation needs to be focussed on the health and hunger crisis across our land; when our priorities need to be to stay united to fight this virus. At a time when citizens in lockdown are unable to fully exercise their democratic rights, it is the moral duty of governments to guard against any abuse of power by the state,” read a statement issued on April 13 by ‘Hum Bharat Ke Log’(we the people of India) — an umbrella body of 26 rights activists and political leaders.
They accused the police of “weaving fictitious narratives” about the Delhi violence and “abusing the COVID-19 lockdown to silence and arrest those who oppose government policies, hoping that this abuse of state power will go unreported”.
“What is particularly worrying in this entire context is that Shrimati Safoora Zargar is pregnant and in this condition she requires proper care and medical supervision. This kind of action during the lockdown due to the coronavirus is a violation of their constitutional rights,” read their statement.
The JCC, which has now gone silent fearing arrests of other activists, had earlier said in a statement, “The country is facing a massive health crisis; however, the state machinery is busy harassing and framing student activists in false cases to suppress voices of dissent. In the past few days since the lockdown, our friend Meeran was diligently working to provide ration to the needy. It is shameful that even in circumstances like these, Muslim voices are being targeted and witch-hunted by the state.”
THE POLICE THEORY
Filed under sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the FIR with regard to the conspiracy of the communal violence in North-East Delhi was filed based on a complaint of one Sub-Inspector Arvind Kumar of the Crime Branch. It has been registered against two persons — Umar Khalid, former JNU student and activist, and Danish, a resident of Bhajanpura.
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The case registered by the Crime Branch was transferred for investigation by the Special Cell, which has made it more stringent by adding severe sections of the IPC such as 120B read with 124A (sedition), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 353 (assault to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 212 (harbouring offender), 395 (dacoity), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of Rs 50), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage to amount of Rs 100), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc.), 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 454 (lurking house-trespass), 109 (abetment), 114 (abettor present when offence is committed), 147, 148, 149, 124A, 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language) and 34 (common intention) in addition to 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property (PDPP) Act and 25 and 27 of the Arms Act.
In the original FIR registered by the Crime Branch, the complainant — Sub-Inspector Arvind Kumar — states, “One of my informers has informed me that the riots, which took place in Delhi on February 23, 24 and 25, was a pre-planned conspiracy, which was hatched by JNU student Umar Khalid and his accomplices — who are associated with two different organisations. Umar Khalid — as part of the conspiracy — made inflammatory speeches at two different places appealed people to hit roads and block it in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s proposed visit to India so that a propaganda can be spread internationally that minorities in India are persecuted. As planned, Umar Khalid and his accomplices brought women and children on roads at several places in Delhi to cause riots. As part of the conspiracy, firearms, petrol bomb, acid bottles, stones, catapults and other lethal weapons were collected at several parts of Delhi such as Maujpur, Kardampuri, Jaffrabad, Chand Bagh, Gokalpuri, Shiv Vihar and surrounding areas. One Danish, S/O Khalid, a resident of Bhajanpura, was tasked with mobilise outsiders from two different places to take part in the riots. As part of the conspiracy, the road under Jaffrabad Metro Station was got blocked by women and children so that a tension can be aggravated by causing inconvenience to people and the same can lead to riots. It was made sure that the children of the minority community who study in the schools in these areas reach home early as planned. If this conspiracy is probed, it will be possible to identify those who engineered and executed the riots.”
Notably, the narration in the FIR seems to be in line with the allegation levelled by several members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who were also stressing after the violence that it was orchestrated at the time when Donald Trump was visiting the national capital, alleging that the aim was to show India in poor light.
Meanwhile, a petition to book BJP leader Kapil Mishra for inciting violence in North-East Delhi is sub judice in the Delhi High Court, with the government and the police defending him.