Former Judges Release Report Criticising Govt, Media, Police Role In Delhi Riots

The committee, headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice (retired) Madan Lokur, has expressed grave concerns.
Fatima Khan
India
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Former judges Madan Lokur, AP Shah, R.S. Sodhi, Anjana Prakash, and former home secretary GK Pillai have authored the report. 

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Aroop Mishra/ The Quint

)<div class="paragraphs"><p> Former judges Madan Lokur, AP Shah,  R.S. Sodhi, Anjana Prakash, and former home secretary GK Pillai have authored the report.&nbsp;</p></div>

Over two years after the Delhi riots, a scathing indictment of the Delhi police, the Central government, and the Delhi government, has come in the form of a report authored by a committee of former Supreme Court and High Court judges.

The report, titled ‘Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North East Delhi Violence 2020’, states that: “The Central and State Governments have failed to fulfil their solemn obligation to safeguard lives, property and the rule of law. More than two years since the violence, glaring issues of accountability remain unaddressed.”

The committee that has authored the report consists of Justice Madan B. Lokur, former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of the Madras and Delhi High Courts and former Chairman of the Law Commission, Justice R.S. Sodhi, former Judge of the Delhi High Court, Justice Anjana Prakash, former Judge of the Patna High Court, and G.K. Pillai, former Home Secretary, Government of India. Justice Lokur is the chairperson of the committee.

The riots, which affected the northeast areas of Delhi in February 2020, led to the death of 53 people—40 Muslims and 13 Hindus, and many more injured. The violence was followed by a series of arrests, including those of activists charged with the stringent UAPA.

Following are the key takeaways from the committee’s three-part, 171-pages long report:

Failure Of Delhi Police

The report first questions why the Delhi police “failed to take any preventive or punitive measures to tackle the polarized atmosphere building up in the run-up to February 23.” Notably, the report draws a comparison with the communal violence which took place in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri in April 2022, and observes that the Delhi police’s reaction was notably different. “More recent events in Delhi testify to how rapidly security force deployment can take place in the city,” the report states.

“There was speedy and continued deployment of hundreds of police and additional companies of paramilitary forces following an incident of communal violence in Jahangirpuri (North West Delhi) in April 2022. In preparation for a demolition drive in the area, the police mobilized 1500 police personnel virtually overnight (against a request for 400)...When such preparation is possible, it is inexplicable as to why the needed deployment was not ensured in North East Delhi on February 23, 2020 itself. This situation begs a serious reckoning of the Central Government’s failure to respond to the violence commensurate with its resources and capacity.”
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Complicity of Delhi Police

Further, the report alleges that besides failing to prevent violence in many cases, the Delhi police also showed "complicity of varying degrees in the violence" in other instances.

Citing from various media reports, the committee report states examples such as:

“On February 24, multiple instances of apparent police complicity were reported: police were seen with mobs attacking the anti-CAA protest site in Chand Bagh; firing tear gas at the tent housing the anti-CAA protesters in Kardampuri; encouraging mobs pelting stones and vandalising a store with a Muslim name in Yamuna Vihar. The police allegedly assaulted Faizan (leading to his death) and four other Muslim men in full public view on 24 February – a prime example of abuse of police power driven by prejudice. There is documented testimony and video footage of police appearing to beat worshipers and the muazzin of Farooqia Masjid in Brijpuri on February 25.”

Criticism of Central Government and MHA

“The very fact that mass violence took place over four days in a district of the nation’s capital city – the seat of both the Government of India and the Government of Delhi – indicates glaring failures of constitutional duties,” the report states.  

The report goes on to elaborate how the Delhi police as well as paramilitary forces both come under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and so it is the ministry which must be held responsible for inadequate police response and deployment.  

“With these crucial roles, the Central Government holds the primary responsibility to protect the lives and property of the people of Delhi. In spite of all the resources at its command, the MHA’s interventions failed to contain the violence in North East Delhi.” 

Media’s ‘Key Role’ in Propagating Hate 

The report also looks at specific news channels and said they played “a key role in propagating hateful narratives.”

“Their audience of daily watching households, as well as their social media presence, ensures that the hateful narratives reach a very wide number.”

The channels mentioned in the report include Republic and Times Now (English), Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV, Republic Bharat (Hindi).

“The analysis reveals that the channels’ reportage of events surrounding the CAA framed the issues as “Hindus versus Muslims” with prejudice and suspicion against the Muslim community. These channels concentrated on vilifying anti-CAA protests, fanning unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, and calling for their forcible shutdown.”  

Political Players and Election Commission’s Response 

The report also calls out BJP for focusing its 2020 Delhi election campaign on the anti-CAA protests, “within a divisive narrative framing the anti-CAA protests as anti-national and violent.”

“Protesters were labelled “traitors” by candidates and party leaders, such as Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, at election rallies and public demonstrations. Calls for violence against the so-called “traitors”, in the form of the “goli maaro” (Shoot the traitors) slogan, were casually repeated, with no censure.”

The report states that while the EC did issue some action in some of the cases, it wasn’t of adequate measure. “The Commission stopped short of ordering registration of FIRs against these political leaders for hate speech. With the Commission failing to initiate criminal prosecution, the malaise of hate speech infusing electoral campaigning is likely to spread further," the report states.

Delhi CM 'Entirely Ineffectual'

The committee also points fingers at the Delhi government, for doing “precious little during this entire time to mediate between the communities, even with the warning signs.”

While the Delhi police comes under the central government, the report states that the Delhi government failed to even “exert the role of civic mediation, and statesmanship, to calm the situation.”

“The government, and its popular Chief Minister, voted in through a landslide victory only a few days before, displayed an entirely ineffectual, seemingly helpless stance rather than doing all it could on the back of its emphatic mandate.” 

Moreover, the report also criticises the Delhi government for failing to discharge its responsibilities pertaining to relief and compensation “in a meaningful way.” “Government agencies failed to extend effective relief during the days of violence. The lack of adequate relief camps and the sudden closure of the Eidgah camp would have left many vulnerable people with no access to shelter,” the report states. 

Use Of UAPA: A 'Perversion Of Law'

The report also questions the use of UAPA on activists and others, and said that the committee “has found no material produced through the current investigation that supports the allegation that the said alleged criminal acts constitute a terrorist act.”

“This ill-conceived and unsubstantiated application of UAPA to the present case is not merely stretching the law, but a perversion of the law and appears targeted," the report says.

Several activists including Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Khalid Saifi and others have been incarcerated for over two years in connection with the Delhi riots.

“Moreover, the material in the chargesheet also does not credibly canvass the proposition that persons advocating the repeal of the CAA, a law that purportedly discriminates against Muslims, intended to strike terror in the Hindu community. On the contrary, as demonstrated through the official data in earlier chapters, an overwhelming number of victims who were killed, physically assaulted, and suffered loss and damage of property were Muslims.”

‘Muslim Agency Stand Noticeably Diminished’

The report states that it was “anti-Muslim hate at the root of the pre-violence build-up carried over into the actual violence.”  
 
“Muslim identity, ranging from individuals, homes, businesses, and places of worship, was targeted," says the report.

“It is our view that engineered hate, enabled by the complicity of state actors, culminated in violence towards cementing a firm sectarian divide. In this attempt to alter social relations, Muslim identity and agency stand noticeably diminished.”

Finally, the report states the investigation into the riots should be entrusted to a body other than the Delhi police, and one which is not under direct control of the MHA.

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