New Delhi: A fact-finding committee set up by the Delhi Minorities Commission to look into the 2020 Northeast Delhi riots has accused Delhi Police of being complicit in and abetting the violence.
Police’s failure to register FIRs naming the accused, the panel has said in a report, “raises serious doubts regarding the credibility of the entire investigation process”.
The report, submitted to the commission on 27 June and released to the media Thursday, also notes that the riots began immediately after BJP leader Kapil Mishra made an incendiary speech at the site.
Among other things, it has cited the “strategic positioning” of perpetrators to suggest the violence that hit Delhi in February lacked the “spontaneity” of riots.
The 2020 Delhi riots, which affected the capital’s northeastern parts this year, followed weeks of protests around the country over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which many sections see as anti-Muslim.
It was in this context that Mishra made a provocative speech during a 23 February rally at Northeast Delhi where he appeared to threaten vigilante violence if police failed to clear out anti-CAA protesters from the area. The riots, which left 53 people dead and 250 injured, erupted the next day.
The violence broke out close on the heels of a highly charged political campaign for the Delhi assembly polls that had seen several BJP leaders make controversial speeches.
The fact-finding committee’s report comes as Delhi Police are in the process of filing charge sheets in connection with the riots. On Tuesday, Delhi Police had told the Delhi High Court that there was “no evidence” the speeches by Mishra and two other BJP leaders had incited violence, as the court heard a batch of petitions seeking action against the politicians.
According to the fact-finding team, despite multiple requests for information and clarifications, they received “no substantive response” from Delhi Police.
The Delhi Minorities Commission is a body tasked with overseeing the welfare of minority communities in the national capital.
The 10-member fact-finding team set up by the commission is led by Supreme Court advocate M.R. Shamshad. In its recommendations, the panel has asked the Delhi Minorities Commission to “recommend to the central and Delhi government passing of appropriate legislation relating to communal violence to ensure prevention and protection of minorities from communal violence, and by fixing accountability of police force”.
The team’s report is based on surveys and interactions with the victims and witnesses of the riots.
“Almost all” the charge sheets filed in connection with the Delhi riots, it states, are “based on the premise that riots were planned by anti-CAA protesters”. Speeches “inciting violence against anti-CAA protesters have been ignored,” it states.
According to the panel, following Mishra’s speech, “different groups/mobs quickly fanned out to the local areas, openly carrying various weapons and arms like petrol bottles/bombs, iron rods, gas cylinders, stones and even firearms”.
The perpetrators, it says, “positioned themselves strategically”, which indicates there was “no spontaneity” as in the “case of a riot”.
According to the report, the attacks were selectively targeted at the local Muslim population — in some instances, it claims, victims were asked to show their ID cards and then targeted on the basis of their faith.
It states that the Muslims retaliated with stones to defend members of their community and families. “Barring one incident, there have not been reports of Muslims being armed with weapons other than stones,” it says.
The report features over 50 testimonies of victims, witnesses, and journalists who were present during the riots. Many of the victims’ accounts, as stated in the report, contain stories of police inaction during the violence. While some victims claimed police were silent onlookers, others said they didn’t respond to repeated calls for help
Multiple testimonies cited in the report also claim police either delayed FIRs or didn’t act on them.
“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,” reads the report.
Where police did act, some victims have been quoted as claiming, they were stopped by colleagues.
Among other things, the panel has alleged gaps in the riots charge sheets compiled by police. “Submission of chargesheets without proper investigation into complaints with named accused further creates doubts about the impartiality and objectivity of the investigation as well as the overall narrative being put forward by Delhi Police,” says the report, adding that, in the charge sheets that could be accessed, “crucial aspects of the entire chain of events are missing”.
The team has also noted that the disbursal of compensation to the riot victims appears to be “delayed and disproportionate”.
What the team recommends
Victim testimonies obtained for the report suggest that Northeast Delhi continues to be tense five months down the line. Muslim complainants, the report states, are reluctant to visit police stations for “fear of being falsely implicated in cases”.
Some victims have allegedly been asked to “compromise” on naming the accused persons, and “visited by police without their name tags on”.
The panel has recommended that an independent five-member committee be formed to ensure witness protection, proper registration of FIRs, the distribution of compensation, and to establish the “full extent of the complicity and abdication of duty by Delhi Police in allowing the violence to take place”.
The committee has also advised that teams of experienced lawyers provide adequate legal counsel to victims.
The state and central governments should “take special measures to ensure no person who has exhibited a bias against any group is appointed as the public prosecutor in these cases”, and that prosecutors act in the interest of justice.