Rescripting north-east Delhi riots – and the question of justice

The riots in north-east Delhi broke out in February this year.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

Arshad Alam, Amaan Iqbal, Deepak Kumar, Mohammad Hamza and many others were killed in communal riots that convulsed north-east Delhi in late February 2020. Many more were injured, or victims of arson.

The Home Minister stated on March 11 that “over 700 FIRs” had been filed. Yet about 80 days after the riots started, little is known to the public about the status of most cases as the police aggressively and selectively pursue a few FIRs and seek to project a so-called “conspiracy” behind the riots, led by anti-CAA protest organisers.

Significantly, 38 out of 53 recorded killed in the riots were Muslims, as were majority of those otherwise affected. Most anti-CAA protest organisers being targeted by the police under the supposed “conspiracy” are also Muslims. This line of investigation is being followed with suspicious

speed, under twin pressures – COVID-19 lockdown and under threat of the draconian UAPA, added to one of the FIRs (FIR 59/20 of 6.3.20) police are pursuing – both curbing the ability and right of those arbitrarily implicated to access legal help.

This has deliberately diverted attention from well-reported facts – BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s role, the fact that no FIR still exists against him or other leaders, incidents of communal violence by mobs, including Hindu aggressors, and many instances of communal bias of the police, including illegal detentions of Muslims and refusal to lodge ‘missing person’ complaints by Muslims.

This diversion is quite likely being abetted also by the problems and weaknesses in routine FIRs filed in riot-related cases (in a manner reminiscent of Gujarat in 2002). FIRs are crucial instruments through which police have control over what is regarded as truth. Discrepancies in recording of FIR can lead to improper investigation and acquittal of the guilty. About 40 FIRs (related to the north-east Delhi riots) accessed by a Delhi-based civil rights group, Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and in its possession, reveal crucial discrepancies.

One, several Muslim victims have faced problems while trying to lodge FIRs. Two, in few where they have managed to, charges have been diluted and non-bailable sections against Hindu names have been visibly dropped. Three, there is evidence of a single FIR combining multiple incidents. Four, the police have chosen to be the complainant even in those instances where there were independent witnesses. Given the evidence in this small sample of FIRs, the communal bias of police in the north-east Delhi riots is evident in the manner in which the FIRs have been lodged by them.

Through this bizarre, blatant rescripting of the narrative of the riots, the subversion of truth is being presided over by the state. This needs to be called out, and halted. It is imperative, for the sake of justice that all FIRs pertaining to the riots be opened to public scrutiny. Collection of evidence – CCTV footage, phone records, etc., and physical evidence and investigation also need to be made transparent and monitored.

Arrests as intimidation

One obvious consequence of the rescripting of the riots is the criminalisation of anti-CAA demonstrations which had gone on peacefully at different sites for months, protests which were

legitimate, constitutional, and which raised very valid concerns. Further, the rescripting has diverted attention from the state’s failure to prosecute accused in the massive police attack on Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) students in December 2019, which also drew extensive international criticism. The JMI authorities, backed by the courts, sought registration of FIR into police action in January 2020. And yet, no FIR has been filed. Is it a coincidence that many of those arrested recently in the so-called

riots “conspiracy” are associated with JMI? Is it a coincidence that prominent persons, like the Chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission, who question selective arrests of Muslims, are being charged under sedition for a tweet? The intimidatory objective of such arrests and charges is absolutely clear.

In the midst of this noise around the manufacture of a conspiracy, and the attempt to erase the truth of the riots, we must persevere in the ‘struggle of memory against forgetting’ and ensure that state institutions are held accountable to their constitutional and legal responsibility of treating all citizens equally, ensuring fair recording of riot crimes, systematic collection of evidence, fair investigation and prosecution of all guilty.

Nothing more is needed. Nothing less will do.

Radhika Chitkara and Vikas Kumar are secretaries of Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, a Delhi-based civil rights group.

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 9:33:13 AM |

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