Delhi riots violence began through ‘blatantly divisive and communal speech’ by BJP leaders: Delhi Minorities Commission report

TCN News

The report prepared by Delhi Minorities Commission’s (DMC) fact-finding Committee, headed by Advocate M R Shamshad of the Supreme Court was released on Thursday, revealing the origin, spread and aftermath of the Delhi riots.

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In its foreword, Chairman of the Committee, Shamshad, states that violence had begun on February 23 and “continued unabated for the next few days,” as an aftereffect “directed to teach a lesson to a certain community which dared to protest against a discriminatory law.”

The nine-members in its fact-finding committee included Haseena Hashia, Tehmina Arora, Gurminder Singh Matharu, Saleem Baig, Aditi Dutta, Tanvir Kazi, Abu Bakr Sabbaq and Devika Prasad. The members charged in the report that although the violence reportedly killed 53 people there has been “continuing bias against Muslims in the registration of FIRs and investigation of cases,” with “attempts made ever since to shield the planners, instigators, leaders and perpetrators of that violence and turn the victims into culprits.”

The report has highlighted that although 53 remains the official figure of deaths in the violence, several hundred were hospitalized and an unknown number of missing persons have been reported. The violence that broke out on February 23 was “targeted and systematic” against Muslims in localities of Shiv Vihar, Khajuri Khas, Chand Bagh, Gokulpuri, Maujpur, Karawal Nagar, Jafrabad, Mustafabad, Ashok Nagar, Bhagirah Vihar, Bhajanpura, and Kardam Puri. These incidents included an “organized” and “planned looting and arson of Muslim residences, shops, businesses, vehicles and other properties.” Significantly, the report notes that rioting occurred in those of Delhi which “have the highest concentration of Purvanchalis, Muslims, and migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar” living in “unorganized colonies,” and “often without basic civic amenities.”

As against the mainstream media narrative, build up for violence had begun from anti-CAA protests in January and it gathered momentum during campaigning by political parties in the run-up to the elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, scheduled for February 8. This instigation of violence against Muslims happened in the form of “openly communal statements” by “politicians of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with reference to people protesting against the CAA,” and was often covered in the midst of “pro-CAA” rallies which had risen in a counter to the anti-CAA protests. Somasekhara Reddy, a member of the Legislative Assembly of Karnataka’s BJP was the first to “caution Muslims against participating in anti-CAA protests” as early as in January when the anti-CAA protests had received a nationwide uproar starting from Shaheen Bagh women protest site. Reddy, in his speech, had warned of Muslims of “serious repercussions” if they didn’t stop protesting against CAA. Others like Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Verma, Tejasvi Surya, Ajay Bisht and Kapil Mishra followed suit in “blatantly divisive and dangerous terms,” notes the report.

Discussing the government action against such communally charged speeches by political leaders of BJP, the report mentions that while the Election Commission initiated some steps to acknowledge and penalize the “harmful content of the speeches,” the initial decisive actions of the “Delhi High Court did not materialize into the initiation of prosecution against the BJP leaders for inciting violence through their speeches.”

Concerning media coverage and legal action, the report notes that “due to the non-cooperation of Delhi Police, the fact-finding committee could not present a more comprehensive and incisive report,” even though the incidents, reports and testimonies have been detailed in a “fairly comprehensive and even-handed” manner. Where media should represent facts, “a web of deceit is being woven by certain quarters in a section of media,” instead of encouraging victims to come forward and seek justice, describes the DMC report.

The report then provides a detailed account of the circumstances before and during the rioting through a large number of testimonies, and those received through primary and secondary sources by the fact-finding committee. The report states the pattern of violence was “gender-based” and “religious identity based” where women victims have recounted how the mob used “vulgar language” and threatened them saying that if they wanted “Azadi” (freedom) then they were ready to give them Azadi, using the word as a metaphor for sexual assault.

Further, Muslims places of worship and reverence – including masjids, qabrstan (graveyard), dargah and madrassas have been reported to be fully damaged while the Imams badly injured. A total of 17 such places have been torched through petrol bombs, vandalized and looted by “perpetrators who had their faces covered,” according to eye witness accounts. The perpetrators were chanting “Jai Shri Ram,” “Har Har Modi,” and “Aaj tumhe azadi denge (today, we will give you freedom)”, states the report. The rioters were armed with metal rods, petrol bombs, knives, swords, hammers and cylinders. The fact finding committee has also accused Delhi Police of “not registering many complaints of Muslim victims,” mentioning the most shocking example of the Mohan Nursing Home shooting. Such complicity on the side of the police, the report says, has led to “no investigation on several such grave issues and incidents.”

The report maintains that police inaction has been widely reported by victims who have been reported to say that on complaints by Muslims about the rioting mob, the helpline desks would not respond and the Police personnel at the spot would simply say they could do nothing to prevent it as they “did not have order from higher-ups to prevent the rioters.” In fact, there is an instance when a mob attacked Muslims on the streets while chanting “Jai Shri Ram” and police told the mob, “You do what they want.” Incidents, where police were mute spectators to the violence, have been noted as well.

The report also outlines that while Hindu neighbours of Muslims “remained untouched”, Muslim tenant shops owned by Muslims were looted and burnt down. Where they were shops owned by non-Muslims but rented to Muslims, the mob took out all the articles from the shops, looted stuff and burnt the remaining. “In response to the targeted attacks,” the report notes that Muslim youth pelted stones on the mobs in some areas as an act of defence,” which in fact, is only one incident, of Muslims involved in stone-pelting.

The DMC also said that while probing the Delhi riots, it had written to the Delhi Police thrice but received no response or support into the investigation. The first time, it had requested for a list of detainees since February 23, a police station-wise copies of FIRs and complaints that were not converted into FIRs. The Commission received no response and sent another letter raising concerns over arrests by Delhi Police that were being done arbitrarily. Again there was no reply DCP of North East “denied the allegations, giving no details, and stated that arrests were being done according to procedure and investigation was being conducted fairly and impartially.” The report discloses that until the final day of submission of the report there was no response from the Delhi Police regarding the queries.

While arbitrary detentions and arrests of Muslim activists and scholars continued until Sharjeel Usmani in the latest, the report marks that finally in June, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a statement by United Nations experts on human rights calling on India to immediately release human rights defenders. The official statement demands that students who have been arrested for protesting against changes to the nation’s citizenship laws must be immediately released.

In a later section, the report has detailed compensation options of the Delhi Government for riot victims where it noted the number of filed applications for compensation and the verification of the actual damaged site. The results showed that while in some cases only meagre amounts of interim payment were paid to the claimants, in some cases applications for compensation as well as the verification of actual site of damage has also taken place, but even the interim compensation has not been paid.

Further, in addition to detailed accounts of violence, the DMC report has suggested ways to achieve justice as well as help rehabilitation of the victims of the violence. While studying the issue of compensation given to the victims by the Government of Delhi and has come up with a number of recommendations to be implemented by the Central and state governments and by the Delhi Minorities Commission. One of the most important recommendations is for the government “to set up a high-powered probe headed by a sitting or retired judge of the High Court,” for which DMC would be writing to both the Central and state governments in support of these recommendations.