New Delhi: The narrative was changed to “one of violence on both sides rather than a pogrom that was in fact carried out,” the head of a committee constituted to write a report on the Delhi riots—that ripped through northeast Delhi from 23 to 26 February 2020 killing 53 people, the majority of them Muslim—wrote in the foreword to a fact-finding report by the Delhi Minorities Commission. The 134-page report on the riots, available here, said the violence was “planned and targeted”.
“This is a serious issue of changing public perception by attributing the riots to CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019) protestors in general and Muslims in particular. This reflects injustice and partisan bias in the system which is neither good for a democratic system nor for our nation as whole,” M R Shamshad, advocate-on-record at the Supreme Court, who headed the committee, wrote in ‘Report Of The Delhi Minorities Committee Fact-Finding Committee on North-East Delhi Riots of February 2020’.
Here he talks to Article 14 about targeted violence, the role of the police, and how the Delhi and central governments responded. Edited excerpts from an interview:
You have, in the foreword of the report, termed the Delhi riots a pogrom.
In a communal riot, there is violence from both sides and both sides suffer, both in terms of loss of lives and property. Attacks and counter-attacks take place. Here it has been mostly one dimensional. For example, in Shiv Vihar, in a particular lane there are 30 houses, 27 of these belong to Muslims, only 3 to non-Muslims. All the 27 houses that belonged to the Muslims were burnt, looted, attacked, and people had to leave that area. The remaining three houses were left untouched. Munga Nagar has four houses that belonged to Muslims only these four houses were looted and burnt, every other house was left unharmed.
Munga Nagar had very few Muslim shops, yet only they were burnt and looted by mobs shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’. A similar story repeated itself in Shiv Vihar. Only Muslim houses were targeted. There is a market called Chuna-Bhatti in Karawal Nagar; it has only five shops run by Muslims. All five were looted and burnt. In Bhajanpura area, there is a market called Delhi Durbar, it has 40 odd shops; out of those only two shops belong to Muslims. Only these shops were targeted. Of the two shops, one was owned by a Muslim, that was looted and burnt. The second one had a Muslim tenant, it was only looted and not burnt. Significantly, the shops right next to these shops, Krishna Digital Studio and an ATM of Dena Bank, were left untouched. In yet another locality, a cosmetic shop was looted while the next shop owned by a non-Muslim, a jewellery shop remains intact. In Khajuri Khas, galli number 4, of 80 to 90 houses, 44 of them are owned by Muslims. All 44 were burned and looted, the remaining left as they were.
This is the level of targeting that was done by people who came in groups of 50 to 200 people. They carried lathis, trishuls, iron rods and had covered their faces with helmets or masks. All of them were chanting the same ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan. Only Muslims and their property were targeted by these mobs. Their belongings were looted. What they could not take was burnt, whether it was cars, two-wheelers, jewellery and other papers.
When a planned attack is done on a community, the only option is either to die or flee from their homes. This was not a simple communal riot, and what is worse is that neither did the police do anything to prevent the violence and targeting and neither has it taken any action against those responsible for the violence.
The report severely indicts the Delhi Police. In your view, what exactly was their role, response and where exactly did they go wrong?
There is enough evidence, both video and photographic, that proves that some people fired from the Mohan Nursing home in Yamuna Vihar. Yet, no action has been taken even till now. Just as they filed a suo moto FIR [first information report] in the case of Ankit Sharma’s death [an Intelligence Bureau officer who was stabbed multiple times], the police should have done the same in this case. But no such thing was done. In fact, there is a person who lives nearby, he has lodged a complaint naming people in the nursing home incident. He does not know what happened about his complaint.
Another case in point is the incident near Farooqia Masjid located near Brijpuri Pulia. A namazi was attacked on the way to the mosque for his prayers and severely injured. He has named five people in his complaint; we have no knowledge whether his complaint has been converted into an FIR or not and whether any action has been taken on it. A complainant from Shiv Vihar named three neighbours. The police came and arrested him instead of acting on his complaint.
During the violence between 23 to 27 February, a number of people told the committee, either the police did not come forward to help or the police response was very slow, even when they did answer their phones. There are enough and more videos to show the partisan manner in which the police acted. There is the video of the police beating five young muslim men, as they lie writhing in pain on the ground. Similarly, they never came to help victims.
What is it that can be done?
Courts, in the past, tried to find out who was responsible. In the case of the Delhi riots, till now, the courts are yet to order a court-monitored probe or even an SIT [Special Investigation Team]. It's been left to the police to decide what should be investigated and when. Till the time there is a detailed and transparent probe by an independent body, as suggested in the committee report, the true picture will never come out.
What will be the fate of this report, and is it binding on the government to act on it?
We are a fact-finding committee and not a commission of inquiry. In a fact-finding committee, facts are put together and observations and recommendations are made. The facts emerging from the report are very serious. Though it’s up to the government to accept these recommendations, considering the seriousness, the government must consider the recommendations and act on them.
What was the police attitude and response to the committee? Did they cooperate with your fact-finding efforts?
The (Delhi Minorities) Commission wrote for information from the Delhi police. (We the) committee requested them to provide information, but our requests remained unanswered. In such situations, apart from policing, relief, rehabilitation and compensation are the basic duties of the state and central government. The response of both the central and Delhi governments was very disappointing. Nobody came forward to help. The central government did not set up any relief camp or offer any compensation. The Delhi government did not set up any relief camps in affected areas. The interim compensation that the Delhi government gave is too little. Hundreds of victims have not even got interim compensation till now. Most of them are poor. They have been left with nothing.
What has been the response from the government to your report?
There has been no response so far.
The report also highlights the disparity of relief provided to public servants and private citizens.
It’s a very serious issue. We are citizens of a welfare state, where the life of each individual has to be valued as a citizen. When two citizens die under similar circumstances their life cannot and should not be valued differently. A common citizen has been paid a tenth (as compensation compared to a public citizen). This approach needs to change. By reducing such huge disparities, this will enable all citizens to gain some dignity.
Some, including police investigations, lay blame for the riots at the door of anti-CAA protestors, for vitiating the atmosphere, which ultimately led to the riots. Did the committee find any evidence to support these charges?
On the contrary, the genesis of this riot emanates from provocative speeches given by politicians to target anti-CAA protestors. The speeches are of such a nature that can’t be tolerated in a civilised society. Even the Election Commission took cognisance of some of these statements and barred some of the politicians from participating in the election campaign (for the Delhi assembly elections). These statements created insecurity in the minds of the majority community. One politician stated that the protestors will bring back the Mughal raj. Another threatened to remove all mosques located on government land in his Lok Sabha constituency, if the BJP came to power. During the violence only religious places of Muslims, such as mosques, were targeted. There were many incidents during the violence that could be related to the vitriolic speeches delivered by some of these politicians.
(Javed M Ansari is a member of the Article 14 editorial board.)