A year after riots in Khajuri Khas, fear stalks victims who filed police complaints; cases remain in limbo
Several people in the locality alleged that the police initially refused to file cases and now its personnel pick up whoever they want from the streets to try and intimidate them
Mohd. Mumtaz fears for his life. In the carnage which ripped through north-east Delhi a year ago between February 23 and 27, Mumtaz’s restaurant at Sherpur Chowk in Khajuri Khas was burnt down by a violent Hindu mob allegedly led the Karawal Nagar MLA Mohan Singh Bisht.
Many people in Khajuri Khas have been threatened to withdraw their cases and several have done that.
“I rarely get out of my house in Gali No. 5 in Khajuri Khas. Everyone in the family knows where I am all the time. I have been threatened several times to withdraw the cases against Bisht and 15 others. After I refused, I have been warned that my life is in danger. Several of us have put our lives on the line for justice,” said 27-year-old Mumtaz.
His house was burnt down and vandalised in the riots. NGOs Human Welfare Foundation and Society for Bright Future helped renovate his house.
On February 23, Mumtaz’s chicken shop, Sanjaar Chicken Corner, was set on fire by rioters. He has videos of Bisht, just 200 metres from his restaurant, allegedly instigating a mob at 10 pm to find and kill Muslims. His was the first such shop on that street which was burnt down. “They also looted Rs 90,000, which was in the cash counter,” added Mumtaz. He barely escaped with his workers as the rioters closed in. He still hasn’t got any compensation and he was told informally that he would not get any as long as there were names on the FIR he had filed.
Soon after the violence last year, the owner of the building where Mumtaz’s restaurant was located began his own hotel Pradhan Chicken corner.
In the riots, 53 people were killed, 581 injured, 1,818 people arrested, several vehicles set on fire and buildings vandalised and set on fire. In the aftermath of the orchestrated violence, 755 FIRs were lodged. Of these, police investigation is pending in 407. Chargesheets have been filed in 348 cases.
Gali No. 4 and Gali No. 5 in Khajuri Khas were two of the severely affected streets in the riots where at least 40 homes and buildings rented or owned by Muslims were vandalised and set on fire. Mumtaz’s is just one of them. There were at least 30 cases filed of which more than 25 have been withdrawn. Most of their cases are being argued by lawyer Mehmood Pracha.
The Karkardooma court had asked the police to submit a report on this complaint in November, but it has not been submitted yet. The case is scheduled to be heard by the end of this week.
Several people in the locality have alleged that the police initially refused to file cases and now the police pick up who ever they want from the streets, ‘so there is a fear among several Muslims’. Subtle methods are used to obstruct justice. All the cases were filed in the aftermath of the violence, but the “police still call us to ask about the people we named in the cases”, they say.
They complain of intimidation and threat from local Hindu leaders. “They want us to go to the police station repeatedly to name the perpetrators, but we give them details on the phone. Who knows what will happen if we go to the police station,” said one of the residents of Gali No. 4.
Mumtaz’s FIR has named at least 24 local leaders. Khajuri Khas resident Mohd. Hadees’s FIR has listed seven local BJP leaders, Shamz Tabrez’s FIR has named 11 BJP workers and Mohd. Musahid’s FIR has more than 12 names of BJP leaders. None of them get out of their homes and even if they do, they ensure several people know their whereabouts.
The silence on the chargesheets which have named BJP MLAs and leaders has raised concerns among the residents who faced the brunt of the attack. “The local police constantly call us in the guise of asking us for more details. How many times do we have to repeat the same information,” asked Musahid.
They claimed that there are instructions issued by the Delhi Police for senior officers to go easy on Hindus suspected of violence.
Most complainants assert that they have repeatedly run into refusal by the police to investigate complaints against Hindu rioters. “None of our cases will proceed as long as BJP government is in power. Even Aam Aadmi Party MLAs have not visited us once,” rued a resident in his forties. He did not want to be identified.
Most of the residents have named local resident Mehboob Alam, who is also Mumtaz’s uncle, as the reason for having withdrawn their cases. Other than those whose cases are still open, none of them wanted to go on record. Alam was implicated in a false case and locked up in Mandoli jail for more than two weeks. He is a committee member of the local Fatima Masjid.
“As soon as he came out, he asked all of us to withdraw our cases. He came with BJP leaders to several of our homes. It frightened all of us,” said another resident of Gali No. 5.
The local police had served notices to two youngsters below the age of 25, Niyaz and Nafeez, stating that they had set their own homes on fire. They have got anticipatory bail till February 25. Both their FIRs have named two local Hindutva organisation workers Mittan and Johny.
Alam had come with Bisht’s associate Karam Pal to Mumtaz’s house with the offer that he would be compensated if he withdrew the case before December 5, 2020, which was when his case came up for hearing first. “Karam Pal came with Alam and they told me that I had to compromise before the case came up. They offered to pay for the damages to my shop and house,” revealed Mumtaz. He refused to withdraw his case. Mumtaz said he used to be close to Bisht and they had they office in one of Mumtaz’s buildings.
Alam, however, said that in both these streets Hindus and Muslims are living amicably. “Hindu and Muslims keep going to each other’s homes and that is not a crime. Several Hindus come to my house. I cannot say anything more than that. Come to the mosque and then we will speak,” maintained Alam.
The day National Herald went to Khajuri Khas, Alam did not answer calls and was not available at the mosque.
It has become evident that individual courage alone will not allow fair trials. Many victims and witnesses remain too afraid to tell their stories in public. They fear that speaking out will put their lives in danger.