NE Delhi Violence: Gaps in Police’s Third Conspiracy Charge Sheet
Unlike the first two charge sheets that primarily rely on WhatsApp chats, this one focuses on ground mobilisation.
The third charge sheet under the Delhi riots conspiracy FIR 59 where the anti-terror law, UAPA, has been invoked, was submitted by Delhi Police special cell and taken cognizance of by a Delhi Court on 2 March. For context, this is the third charge sheet under the significant conspiracy FIR probing the communal violence that ravaged parts of northeast Delhi in February last year. The first two were filed last year by the police on 16 September and 22 November, respectively.
In a nutshell, in the 300-pages of the charge sheet, the police are furthering their conspiracy theory by specifically investigating the violence that unfolded on the ground in one area of northeast Delhi, that is in and around the Chand Bagh anti-CAA protest site, and attempting to link it to the 'large-scale conspiracy'.
Unlike the first two charge sheets that primarily rely on WhatsApp chats between noted anti-CAA activists like Khalid Saifi, Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zargar and others, this one only looks at mobilisation on the ground sans focus on any prominent anti-CAA activist.
The police has said that the analysis of this CCTV footage reveal how CCTV cameras were either dislocated or covered with cloth. In some cases they have visual evidence for this, as well. After which a young boy, a juvenile, kept surfacing right before a CCTV camera was disconnected from its power source. The juvenile has been identified by the police, questioned and the local police station apprised of carrying out proceedings against him under the Juvenile Justice Act.
They have alleged that the 'pre-planning' of disabling CCTV cameras in Chandbagh and Mustafabad (new and old) areas, allegedly enabled the mobilisation of rioters to attack not only the police forces but also the majority community, without any provocation.
The police claim that these actions led to one of the first deaths of the February violence of 2020, in 42-year-old Head Constable Ratan Lal. In the aftermath of Lal's death, there were several videos of rioters, from close to the anti-CAA protest site, charging towards the policemen who were trying hard to jump over the divider to save their lives. The mob threw stones and hit the policemen with sticks, the videos reveal. Lal's post-mortem report indicated that he suffered 21 injuries on his body and was attacked with sticks, rods, and bullets. Other than Lal, injuries were inflicted on DCP Amit Sharma and ACP Anuj Kumar as well.
In this article we have tried to identify the key claims the police has made and what we perceive the gaps to be around them.
Claim 1 Vs Gap
This is a significant allegation by Delhi Police in this 'conspiracy' charge sheet, which states that the riots began on Wazirabad road in Chandbagh and not in Jafrabad and Maujpur which have been referred to as the epicenter of the violence till now.
Why are they the epicenter?
The police are making the case that the riots began on 24 February, but they do not consider the stone pelting that took place at Jafrabad and Maujpur between members of both communities less than 24 hours earlier as a matter of concern. This was soon after BJP leader Kapil Mishra gave an ultimatum to remove anti-CAA protesters, who were blocking the Jafrabad road, if the police did not do it. Things got tensed soon after and the first signs of violence were seen in Maujpur and Jafrabad on the same day. There is sufficient video evidence to back this claim.
Not only Mishra, but even self-styled Hindutva leader Ragini Tiwari alias Janki Behen, asked ‘Hindus to come out and die,’ through a Facebook live video near Maujpur on 23 February. Amongst the things she said were, “Enough attacks on Hinduism. We won’t tolerate such attacks anymore. Hindus, come out. Die or kill. Rest shall be seen later. If your blood hasn’t boiled even now, it’s not blood but it is water.”
The police however say that it was after the dislocation and disconnection of CCTV cameras in Chandbagh and Mustafabad, 'large-scale mobilisation of rioters took place which moved towards Wazirabad road and started the riots.'
Shifting the focus away from Maujpur and Jafrabad, by saying the riots started in Chand Bagh, buries once again, all possible links of Mishra or Tiwari’s speech contributing to tensions in northeast Delhi.
What is the police relying on to make such a claim? The answer is CCTV footage.
Claim 2 Vs Gap
The charge sheet primarily consists of PowerPoint presentations, maps and other diagrams, all revolving around CCTV footage. The police have looked at 33 CCTV cameras of predominantly Muslim areas between 12 noon and 12:50 pm on 24 February and concluded that there was mobilisation. That ‘riots began when Muslims’ were funnelled out of the lanes and bylanes, passing through Chand Bagh and descending upon the main Wazirabad road. That they started without being provocated.
On this road, according to police investigation, within 10 minutes of the final camera being dislocated/disconnected, Lal died at 1:00 pm. "In pursuance and furtherance of the common conspiracy, cameras were dislocated and disconnected between 12:00 noon and 12:50 pm," the charge sheet reads.
Now coming to the 43 CCTV cameras of the predominantly non-Muslim areas (not referred to as Hindu areas or Hindu-dominated areas anywhere) of Khajoori Khas, Karawal Nagar, Sonia Vihar and Jyoti Nagar that were analysed against the same time between 12 noon to 1:00 pm. The police concluded that compared to the large-scale mobilisation in other areas, life in these areas was ‘normal, tranquil and undisturbed’ during the same time and there was no gathering or mobilisation.
The concerns regarding this are:
Firstly, the charge sheet continues to ignore what happened in the non-Muslim dominated Maujpur a day earlier on 23 February. The CCTV footage from the day is not a part of the charge sheet or a matter of investigation in this significant conspiracy FIR that aims to disclose the conspiracy behind how 53 people died. To ignore the first instance of violence then is a matter of concern. Only after a careful investigation of what happened on 23 February can the accusation of who provoked who be truly and fairly established.
Secondly, the police have also not included visuals of these ‘tranquil and undisturbed’ areas that are dominated by ‘non-Muslims’ as part of evidence in the charge sheet. What the police is trying to say is unclear. To expect that mobilisation will happen over the same one hour in different areas of northeast Delhi during a riot, is an assumption not backed by sound logic.
UAPA Accused Mohammad Saleem Khan is the only prominent UAPA accused named in the charge sheet as a local organiser of the Chand Bagh protest site. His lawyer Mujeeb Ur Rehman confirmed that only areas where Muslims were wielding lathis are part of the charge sheet, "But there is context attached to this. This was being done to protect their neighbourhood, homes, and families from the rioters. This context is missing. While CCTV footage of the Hindu-dominated areas is not part of the charge sheet. Most of the CCTV footage is only of the Muslim-majority areas because the whole purpose of the investigation is to find out who was involved in anti-CAA protests and demoralise them by engaging them in a long legal battle. Their intention is to demoralise them and ensure no such protests ever come up again."
Claim 3 Vs Gap
Based on their investigation till now, the police have concluded, "That the riots were premeditated and pre-planned by the key conspirators and masterminds whose names and identities have already been submitted before this court."
After going through the charge sheets filed in the case, the concern is that the evidence submitted by the police to the court provides no solid link or evidence between these alleged masterminds of the riots, with the disabling of CCTV cameras and mobilisation of people on the ground, yet.
With three charge sheets filed, only in trial will the veracity of this evidence be decided upon.
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