Observing that the Delhi Police have not been communal in last year’s riots investigations, Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat, while hearing a bail plea of one accused Arif on 11 November, pulled up advocate Mehmood Pracha for accusing the police of targeting Muslims in the aftermath of the riots.
Claiming that the February 2020 riots had taken place at the instance of “certain political vested interests” to derail the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, Pracha had said, “Only persons belonging to the Muslim community… were arraigned in false criminal cases.”
Reacting to Pracha with “immense disgust repugnance and strong disapproval,” ASJ Bhat said, “The police appears to have done its job with the utmost integrity and certainly not on communal lines.”
However, not only does this free pass to the police stand contrary to statements made by various Delhi courts regarding the probes done by the police, it also ignores the infamous FIR 59 and the claims of a bigger conspiracy that the police say was concocted by anti-CAA activists to 'defame India'.
What Have the Courts Said Before?
"Half-baked charge sheets". "Lackadaisical attitude". "Callous and indolent investigation". "Criminal wastage of time and money of the taxpayer". "Casual, callous and farcical manner".
All these phrases have been used to describe the various cases of the Delhi riots that had resulted in the death of as many as 53 people, out of whom 38 were Muslims and 15 were Hindus.
In fact, Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav, with whom Bhat had only recently switched places, had himself pulled up the Delhi Police on multiple occasions and had even imposed costs on the police for their “callous and farcical” investigation.
Notably, in October this year, ASJ Vinod Yadav was transferred as a Special (CBI) judge in Rouse Avenue.
Defending the police, ASJ Bhat observed,
“Maybe some lapses occurred during the investigation of these cases related to the riots, but even those lapses do not give any slightest indication that the investigation was not fair and impartial or that it was on communal lines.”Judge Virender Bhat, as quoted by The Indian Express.
However, these “lapses” aren’t mere errors or made due to unavoidable circumstances. In some cases, the court has even pointed out vindictiveness, hinting that the incompetencies may be intentional.
Violence and Peace
Over 750 FIRs were registered in the wake of the riots. The police also identified a bigger picture or greater conspiracy and arrested several prominent figures of the Anti-CAA protests under FIR 59, while slapping Sections of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on many of them, including Umar Khalid, Khalid Saifi, Sharjeel Imam, Gulfisha Fatima, among others.
On 26 February last year, the police had reasoned that filing FIRs for hate speech against BJP leaders at this stage won't help in restoring peace and normalcy in Delhi and had also sought more time to investigate.
Here’s a glimpse of the speeches made by some BJP leaders just before the violence:
Kapil Mishra had led a pro-CAA rally in Northeast Delhi on 23 February, 2020 – the day the riots began. Standing next to DCP (North East) Ved Prakash Surya, he proclaimed,
“We are giving a three-day ultimatum to Delhi Police to clear the roads in Jaffrabad and Chand Bagh of protesters. Don't try to reason with us after this, because we won't listen."
During the campaign for Delhi assembly elections, BJP MP Parvesh Varma had said on 28 January:
"Lakhs of people gather there (Shaheen Bagh). People of Delhi will have to think and take a decision. They will enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, kill them. There is time today, Modi ji and Amit Shah won't come to save you tomorrow."
He had later also said, "If my government is formed in Delhi, then give me only one month's time after 11 February. Will not leave any mosques built in my Lok Sabha constituency on government land, will remove them all.”
Lashing out at anti-CAA protestors at a Delhi election rally, Anurag Thakur, who is now the Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting of India, had chanted the following incendiary slogan on 27 January, 2020:
"Desh ke gaddaron ko" to which the crowd responded, "goli maro sa*** ko" (shoot down the traitors).
17,000 Page Charge Sheet: Timeline Busted
After over six months of investigation, the Delhi Police Special Cell prepared a 17,000 page charge sheet around FIR 59. However, several loopholes were found in the final report that also spelt out the police’s "conspiracy" theory.
For instance, the Delhi Police, in an earlier charge sheet, had claimed that the conspiracy to cause violence was hatched in a meeting between Khalid Saifi, Tahir Hussain, and Umar Khalid in Shaheen Bagh on 8 January, 2020.
Moreover, the police alleged that the day for the violence was chosen on the basis of then US President Donald Trump's visit to India, to cause maximum embarrasement.
In response, with no justification or explanation, the Delhi Police, in the 17,000 page charge sheet, casually changed the date of the alleged meeting to 16 to 17 February.
In fact, far from discussing Mishra’s alleged role, the charge sheet terms even the complaint against him as a “false narrative”.
Significantly, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana, while hearing on the custody of Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha, had observed on 27 May last year,
“Perusal of the case diary reveals a disturbing fact. The investigation seems to be targeted only towards one end. Upon enquiry from Inspector Lokesh and Anil, they have failed to point out what investigation has been carried out so far regarding the involvement of the rival faction (pro-CAA or pro-Hindutva members).”
Similarly, in the case where ex-AAP councillor Tahir Hussain's brother and two others were discharged, Judge Vinod Yadav had penned an order that reflected how shoddy the investigation was in his view.
“This Court cannot permit such cases to meander mindlessly in the corridors of the judicial system, sweeping away precious judicial time of this Court when the same is an open and shut case. The casualty in the matter is the pain and agony suffered by complainant/victim, whose case has virtually remained unsolved; callous and indolent investigation; lack of supervision by the superior officers of the investigation and criminal wastage of the time and money of the taxpayer."
Considering the blatant nature of the “lapses” and the multiple blots on the investigation, the 'good character certificate' given to Delhi Police by Justice Bhat, seems to be ill-timed and misplaced as several prisoners wait even for their trial to begin.