NEW DELHI — The Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) released on Thursday a fact-finding report on Delhi riots of February 2020. A 10-member fact-finding committee had been constituted by the DMC in March to look into the violence that took place in different areas of North East Delhi between February 23 and 27, 2020.
The Committee made efforts to invite victims of violence to come forward with information, documented individual victim testimonies at various sites of North East Delhi and conducted physical surveys of the damage to religious sites. The Committee also repeatedly sought information from the Delhi Police but did not get any response.
Following are the key findings of the report:
Repeated incitement to violence
Throughout the Delhi assembly elections from December-February, there were a number of speeches by BJP leaders inciting people to violence against anti-CAA protesters. The details of these speeches have been recorded at length in the report.
Violence broke out in different pockets in North East Delhi almost immediately after the short instigating speech of Kapil Mishra on February 23, 2020 at Maujpur in which he openly called for forcefully removing the protestors at Jafrabad in North East Delhi. These threats to the protesters and people, was given in the presence of Deputy Commissioner of Police Ved Prakash Surya.
Planned, organised and targeted violence
Armed mobs took to different areas of North East Delhi, attacked individuals, looted and burned property and businesses. The mobs where chanting and using slogans like, ‘Jai Shri Ram’, and even “Har Har Modi”, “Modiji, kaat do in Mullo ko”, “Aaj tumhe aazadi denge”, while they selectively attacked Muslim individuals, houses, shops, vehicles, mosques and other property. Testimonies recounted that the mob contained large number of outsiders but also included locals they could recognise. The mobs were armed with lathis, iron rods, tear gas shells, cylinders and firearms.
In several areas of North East Delhi, properties owned by Muslims were looted, burned, and completely destroyed. The attack was targeted to the extent that in instances, where the owners were Hindus but the property had been rented to Muslims, the building was not damaged but the moveable property was looted or burnt outside the premises.
Testimonies of the victims reveal that the violence was not spontaneous like a riot. It was planned, organised and targeted.
https://clarionindia.net/portal/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/farooqia-new.pngA general view of the inside of burn-out Farooqia mosque, attacked on February 24 and 25 at Brijpuri area of North-east Delhi. — AFP
Targeting of religious places
The report documents 11 mosques, five madrasas, one shrine and one graveyard that were attacked and damaged in the violence. Mobs specifically vandalised and burned Muslim places of worship, namely mosques and madrasas as well as religious symbols like copies of the Quran. Non-Muslim places of worship in Muslim majority areas remained untouched.
Large number of Muslims have been displaced from the area. Due to the national lockdown, Muslims were also displaced from the relief camps.
Role of police
Multiple testimonies collected by this Committee recount reports of police inaction even as violence unfolded before them, or of police not arriving despite being called many times. Testimonies also suggest how the police were patrolling the area, but when asked for help, they refused saying they had no orders to act. Police also did not exercise powers to disperse unlawful assemblies, or take measures to apprehend, arrest and detain those perpetrating the violence.
Multiple testimonies of victims of violence have reported that FIRs have either been delayed or have not been acted upon. Further, in spite of the serious nature of complaints, the police did not act upon the FIRs filed. In some cases, police refused to register an FIR unless the complainant omitted names of the accused.
Testimonies also suggest that police were complicit and abetted the attacks. Even where police officials did attempt to act in order to disperse the crowd, victims state that the police stopped their colleagues as they attempted to disperse the crowd. (“do not stop them”). In some, they merely stood as onlookers while the mobs engaged in violence. In others, they explicitly gave a go-ahead to the perpetrators to continue with their rampage (“do what you want”). A few accounts state how the police and paramilitary officials even escorted the perpetrators safely out of the area, once the attack was over.
In some testimonies, clear allegations of engaging in direct violence, including physical assault and abuse, have been made against police officials.
In some cases, victims themselves have been arrested, especially where they filed or attempted to file complaints against named individuals. Muslim complainants are reluctant to visit police stations to pursue their complaints due to fear of being falsely implicated in cases.
Impact on women
Testimonies suggest that Muslim women were attacked based on their religious identity; their hijabs and burqas were pulled off. Narratives of women suggest that the police and violent mobs attacked protest sites; women were beaten up by male police officers and attacked by mobs. Women have also recounted instances of acid attack and threats of sexual violence by the mobs.
The police used the chants of “Azaadi” to sexually harass women and attack them, including, at least one incident of a police officer flashing his genitals in front of women protesters. The nature of verbal abuses was also sexual and communal in nature. It is clear that the police did not come forward to help, and as stated, in several instances, resorted to violence towards women.
The Fact-Finding Committee examined about 250 compensation applications taken from the documents available on the Delhi Government website. In addition, 450 Application forms given to the Committee were also analyzed. Where verification of the damaged site is complete, either a meagre interim payment has been made or in some cases, even that has not been done. There are cases where the verification process has not been completed yet.
Immediately after the violence, many victims had left Delhi. Due to this, many applications for compensation were not filed contemporaneously and neither were the FIRs lodged.
The Committee also found that there is a disparity in the amount being paid: Public officers who died in the violence have been paid Rs 1 Crore whereas the civilians/citizens who lost their lives have been paid only Rs 10 lakhs.
Despite the fact that law and order in Delhi comes within the control of the Central Government, the Committee found that there was no scheme or assistance by the Central Government to help the victims either by one time compensation or by extending any support in their rehabilitation process.
The report has recommended forming of a five-member independent Committee chaired by a retired High Court judge with a mandate to:
(i) Ensure the proper and prompt registration of FIRs in all cases where complaints have not yet been converted into FIRs;
(ii) Ensure the recording of victims’ statements under Section 164 of CrPC;
(iii) Ensure witness and victim protection in accordance with the Delhi Witness Protection Scheme;
(iv) Review charge-sheets filed by the police in light of left-out facts, to be submitted to the relevant court;
(v) Establish the full extent of the complicity and abdication of duty by the Delhi Police in allowing the violence to take place, including command responsibility, as well as culpability for engaging in direct acts of violence – including sexual violence – through a written report supported by photographs, videos and other evidence as possible, to be submitted to the court;
(vi) Ensure that compensation is paid to all victims in a fair and time-bound manner;
(vii) Review the Delhi government’s Assistance Scheme for victims to access whether the compensation amounts under each category are proportionate to the quantum of harm, injury, and loss suffered and provide new formulations, if any, in a written report.
The report has also recommended that the Delhi Minorities Commission should:
- Appoint a team of 2-3 experts to assist the Claims Commissioner, on behalf of the aggrieved persons who may need assistance.
- Establish a team of 5-10 experienced trial court advocates, competent in the practice of the criminal law, in collaboration with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority, to render legal services to the victims; ensure a gender balance in the team, and make sure special measures are taken to assist women and child victims, including for filing complaints of sexual violence against private persons and/or public officials. Assure women victims of effective legal representation, to pursue cases of sexual violence in accordance with their right to engage an advocate of their choice, to assist the prosecution.
- Seek a legal opinion from a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge to assist the High Court in its determination on the direct and proximate nexus of the speeches and slogans raised by senior political leaders which led to breakout of violence.
For the Government of Delhi the report has recommended that they must:
- Take special measures to ensure that no person who has exhibited a bias against any group is appointed as the Public Prosecutor in these cases.
- Take all measures to ensure that Public Prosecutors act in a fair and impartial manner and in the interest of justice.
- Use this report’s findings as the basis to determine and bear the cost of damages caused to religious places of worship.