As Delhi Police, which comes under the Narendra Modi government’s Home Ministry, filed chargesheets in the northeast Delhi riots case this week in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, one is reminded of the Prime Minister’s remark from last year.
Addressing an election rally in Jharkhand in the run-up to the 2019 assembly election, PM Modi said that those setting fire to public property during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act/National Register of Citizens protests could be identified by their clothes.
He did not elaborate or explain further. He did not have to.
This was in the backdrop of the India-wide protests led by women and students against the CAA/NRC, even as students from institutions such as Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia were bearing the brunt of police violence. Instead of assuaging the apprehensions of the protesters alarmed with the new law, Modi chose an electoral platform to further isolate and target them.
And when the chargesheets in the Delhi riots were filed, it seemed as if no Muslims were killed. For Delhi Police, perhaps, the Muslim corpses, burnt houses, damaged religious structures, and all those displaced by the violence and now living in shelters do not exist.
Markaz, Deoband, Pinjra Tod – the usual suspects
The Modi government has had a rocky relationship with students and activists since it came to power in 2014. Not buying into BJP propaganda and standing up against injustice brought students in the state’s crosshairs. The coinage of ‘Tukde Tukde gang’ and liberal use thereof by the several BJP members give a glimpse into how this administration feels about dissenting students.
In the chargesheet filed Tuesday, the Delhi Police claimed that there was a “deep-rooted conspiracy to cause riots in northeast Delhi” by the members of the student activist group Pinjra Tod and others.
The police also claimed the groups were a part of a “larger conspiracy” and found to be “connected with the India Against Hate group and Umar Khalid”.
Since all of them are students, and were protesting against CAA, what raised the hackles of the investigators is anybody’s guess. The police claimed to have accessed a WhatsApp chat of one of the accused, showing they were “preparing for causing the riots”. In the chat mentioned by the police, women were asked to keep hot oil, red chilli powder, acid bottles handy in case of a riot.
In the fourth chargesheet filed since Tuesday, the police claimed that Faisal Farooque, who is the owner of Rajdhani Public Senior Secondary School in Shiv Vihar, “had links with prominent members of the Popular Front of India (PFI), Pinjra Tod activist group, Jamia Coordination Committee, Hazrat Nizamuddin Markaz and some other ‘fundamental Muslim clerics’, including those based in Deoband.”
Both Nizamuddin Markaz and Darul Uloom Deoband are legitimate outfits — how can being in touch with either or both be construed as a crime or criminal conspiracy?
This in itself speaks volumes about the intent and the deep-rooted bias of the investigative agencies. Describing the seminary as ‘fundamentalist’, when it has consistently spoken against extremism, shows the lack of knowledge on the part of the investigators.
But facts don’t matter anymore.
What matters is optics.
The NGO, Call for Justice, met Home Minister Amit Shah last week, and presented a fact-finding report. A leading forensic pathologist, who has assisted the CBI in the Gujarat riots and the Ishrat Jahan encounter and a public prosecutor for the National Investigation Agency (NIA) were among the six-member group that met Shah.
According to their report, the “Tukde-Tukde Gang”, and “radical groups such as Pinjra Tod, Jamia Coordination Committee, Popular Front of India (PFI), and the local politicians from AAP” were responsible for the violence.
While there have been many fact-finding reports on the violence, this was the first team that was fortunate enough to get an audience with the home minister.
No one killed Muslims
As Northeast Delhi got engulfed in violence, it was quickly dubbed a ‘riot instigated by anti-CAA protestors’.
News reports and eyewitnesses provided horrendous accounts of violence being perpetuated against the Muslims, sometimes with the alleged connivance of the police. But allegations of the incident being an anti-Muslim riot were swiftly brushed aside.
When do we see the chargesheet naming the accused involved in violence against Muslims? Four chargesheets later, why do we not see the name of BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who held a pro-CAA rally just before the violence erupted? Why do we still have no one looking into BJP MP and MoS Finance Anurag Thakur’s “goli maaron” invocations?
What is apparent is a consistent witch-hunt against anti-CAA protesters. Several students, who took part in anti-CAA protests earlier this year, including a pregnant Safoora Zargar, have been arrested and booked under the draconian UAPA. What connects all of them is their vehement protest against a biased law.
The role of Delhi Police in all of this has also come under the court’s scanner. During a hearing on the custody of Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha, a lower court in Delhi observed: “The investigation seems to be targeted only towards one end. Upon enquiry from Inspector Lokesh and Anil, they have failed to point out what investigation has been carried out so far regarding the involvement of the rival faction.”
For the court to make such an observation is alarming. Either the observations don’t matter much, or the investigators feel insulated against any fallout. Neither of which is good for the rule of law.
Muslims are bearing the brunt of this investigation, where all that is needed to target them are a few conspiracy theories and WhatsApp forwards. Throw in the names of some Islamic institutions and add a dash of ‘radical’ and ‘fundamentalist’ — your communal potpourri, reeking of bigotry, is served.
Views are personal.
This article has been updated. Delhi Police has released new chargesheets.