Delhi Police: Some helped rioters, some the victims while others stood by and watched

Amnesty International has indicted Delhi Police for complicity with rioters but Zafarul Islam is more kind and says Delhi police seemed to have been told to give rioters a free hand

Zafarul Islam and colleagues visiting NE Delhi, riot site (Photo courtesy : Urdu Media Monitor)
Zafarul Islam and colleagues visiting NE Delhi, riot site (Photo courtesy : Urdu Media Monitor)

S Khurram Raza

Zafarul Islam Khan demitted office of the chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission in July. Days before his term came to an end, the Commission released the report of a nine-member fact-finding committee, which went into the Delhi riots in February, which claimed 53 lives.The report, says Khan, should under the Act be placed before the Delhi Assembly. But a similar report submitted by the Commission last year was not placed in the Assembly. So, he is keeping his fingers crossed. Khan, who is also the editor of Milli Gazette, says that neither chief minister Arvind Kejriwal nor the minister-in-charge ever interfered in the work of the Commission. But bureaucrats, he adds with a smile, put up objections, obstacles and queries on every file, slowing down the work.Neither Delhi Government nor Delhi Police, he suggests to Syed Khurram Raza in this interview, took the Commission seriously. Excerpts from the interview:

  What was the role of the Commission in the Delhi riots?

  From the very beginning, we kept Delhi Government and Delhi Police informed of the details we were receiving. Members were calling on victims in police station and hospitals. I myself and my colleague in the Commission Kartar Singh Kochar visited the riot affected areas on March 2 and concluded that riots were planned to teach Muslims a lesson.

  What made you reach this conclusion?

  We met the victims, saw the burnt houses and shops. Muslim inhabited houses were burnt but adjacent houses where Hindus lived had been spared. Clearly it was planned. 

  Do you suspect Delhi Police were privyto the plan?

To say that will be unfair. We found three kinds of involvement on the part of policemen. There were some who helped rioters. Others stood by and did nothing,saying they had no order to intervene and a third section which helped riot victims. But we did suspect that some kind of message had been given to give a free hand to rioters during the first three days. That is when most people got killed, houses and shops, two dargahs and 19 mosques were burnt.

Could the Commission collect any hard evidence about the identity of rioters?

People who were present in three schools on the first day of rioting corroborated each other’s version. Two schools, Rajdhani and DPR actually shared a wall. Raj Kumar, driver of a school bus of Rajdhani School and the security guard at DPR, Roop Singh, both told us that several hundred people(they estimated the number to be 500) barged into the school on February 24 around 6.30 pm. They all wore helmets, were young and strongly built. They stayed in the two schools for the next 24 hours and went away after the arrival of police force the next evening.

  They were young,strongly built and armed,we were told. They had also come prepared with big catapults which they used to fire petrol bombs on houses across the road.Some of them used heavy ropes to quickly descend from the roof into the compound of the adjacent school. They had also come prepared with pick-up trucks and would go out in batches to execute their looting and burning mission.

There is a third school at a distance, Arun School, where CCTV cameras had captured some of the rioters. We went back to Rajdhani and DPR with the images and the driver and the guard managed to identify some of them.These are three witnesses and all the three happen to be non-Muslims.Owners of two of the three schools areHindus. But the third Muslim owner Faisal Farooq of Rajdhani School was arrested for rioting and is in jail. To my mind, he is completely innocent.

  The Commission wrote to the Revenue Minister of Delhi requesting him to form a committee to investigate the conspiracy. But the Commission received no response, which forced us to constitute a fact-finding committee on March 9. The lockdown affected the work of the committee and it received no cooperation from Delhi Police.

What triggered rioting?

Kapil Mishra’s statement or speech was just a trigger and a signal but the riot was planned to put a stop to the anti-CAA protests. In Delhi itself protests were going on at 15-16 places and protests were picking up steam across the country. Even police action at Jamia and stray incidents of firing at Shaheen Bagh had failed to put an end to the protests. So, primarily the plan was to signal that if protests did not stop, houses, shops and mosques would be burnt down. I personally could find no other motivation.

Some activists of an organisation called Pinjra Tod have also been arrested for rioting by Delhi Police. What were your findings?

There were several small groups which were involved in the anti-CAA protests. Pinjra Tod, we gathered, is a group of young women who agitate for women’s rights,longer curfew hours in girls’ hostels etc. and is left-leaning. I personally feel these girls made a mistake by blocking roads. All other anti-CAA protests occupied a part or sides of the roads. Even at Shaheen Bagh, one side of the road was kept free for movement of traffic. Police blocked it to provoke people against the protesters. But these girls, virtually all of them not residents of the locality, in their exuberance decided to block the road. I think it should not have been done.

How do you see the role of the police? They are widely perceived to have been very selective in making arrests…

The Commission had issued notices by name to Delhi Police and to Kapil Mishra himself. But they did not respond. There are eight to ten notices sent to the police. In one of the notices,the Commission had sent photographs of people involved in lynching but did not receive any response from Delhi Police. So, I have no basis to comment.

How do you see the present situation?

It is obviously tense and some what dismal. The future of the economy looks bleak. Politically, it is difficult to criticise the Government. Cases are slapped arbitrarily and selectively. When people like Harsh Mander and Prashant Bhushan are targeted, what can ordinary citizens expect? Politics of hate may win but India, democracy and the people will lose.

Do you also feel that India is becoming a Hindu Pakistan?

Though the Prophet himself never asked anyone to kill, but in Pakistan they kill in his name. Similar situation is developing here also, though instances of mob lynchings have tapered off in comparison to 2015,2016, 2017.

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