One of the first incidents in the Northeast Delhi riots to shock the national capital was the death of 42-year-old head constable Ratan Lal. Attacked by a violent mob at the Chand Bagh protest site on Wazirabad road on the afternoon of 24 February, he was rushed to GTB Hospital but was announced dead on arrival.
In the charge sheet filed by Delhi police into the death of Lal, the police has claimed that the attack on the policemen was planned. To back their claim they've said that an assessment of injuries and weapons used by people to assault police officials shows that 'they couldn't have been abruptly arranged' by them in the spur of the moment.
His post-mortem report indicated that Lal suffered 21 injuries on his body and was attacked with sticks, rods and bullets. His cause of death was hemorrhagic shock, which means that his body shut down due to immense blood loss. Six of these 21 were sufficient to cause death in ordinary course of nature independently and collectively, the report said.
In keeping up with our reportage on the aftermath of the northeast Delhi riots, where at least 53 people died and property worth crores was destroyed in February 2020, we bring you the charge sheet details around Lal's death.
What Happened on 23 February, a Day Before Lal's Death?
The protesters decided that they will take out a march on 23 February to show their allegiance with Bhim Army's Chandrashekhar Azaad, who had called for a Bharat Bandh. However, since they did not have permission for the rally from Chand Bagh to Rajghat, the police disallowed it.
This made the protesters angry who in retaliation blocked the Wazirabad road. The police mediated with them the same day and got them to unblock it.
Sensing Trouble: First Attempt to Disperse Crowd
The tension however continued till the next morning.
The police has alleged that the next day, 24 February, Salim Munna (accused number 2) 'was delivering a provocative speech and exhorting Muslim men and women to come out and show their might'.
Sensing the situation getting out of control, ACP Anuj Kumar sent constable Gyan and constable Sunil to call Salim Munna, 'so the crowd build-up could be stopped as the crowd was taking a threatening posture.'
The two, however, were inturn held captive by the crowd and got out of the area with great difficulty, the charge sheet claims.
The Second Attempt, That Turned Bloody
Their attempt to calm the crowd had failed.
An altercation with the police turned violent when around 1:00 pm when the mob turned around and attacked them. The police claims that protesters were prepared with sticks, rods etc and started pelting stones at the policemen, without any provocation.
The charge sheet further alleges that women were kept in front so that police could not take any coercive action except retreat. While retreating they had to cross a 5-feet tall divider.
The charge sheet reads that while some were lucky as they were able to jump the 5 feet high divider, others got stuck and were lynched. It says that the mob was initially being led by women and later the entire mob joined in.
It was in this assault and at this divider, that head constable Ratan Lal was shot. He was rushed to GTB hospital where the doctors declared him brought dead. Several policemen were injured in this attack, including DCP Shahdara Amit Sharma and ACP Gokulpuri Anuj Kumar.
The intervening night of 23 and 24 February is when the police allege that the strategy for 24.02.2020 was decided.
The charge sheet includes the testimony of Toukir, an eyewitness from the area. "On this evening there was a rumour that there was violence in the Jaffrabad protest," he told the police.
The Jaffrabad road was blocked on the night of 22 February and there were instances of stone pelting, sloganeering the next day.
"On hearing about it the matter became more tense. There was a secret meeting that was held after which some people got on stage and said that this is the time to show the strength of our protest. US President Donald Trump was going to be in India for two days, and the world is looking at India. That is why tomorrow bring as many people as you can and also take steps to safeguard yourself. It is possible that we come face-to-face with the police as well."
Speaking abut what happened the next day, Toukir said, "Despite the police telling the protesters that they can not block the road, kids, women and others from the protest site attacked the police with stones, sticks and rods. After that people began to attack the police with petrol bombs and shots were also fired," adding that he saw a local boy attack the police from the roof of a showroom with petrol and acid bombs.
Another eyewitness Najam Ul Hassan told the police that around 11:00 am when he reached the protest site he saw, that 'Salim Munna and Athar got on the stage and were talking. The public had sticks, rods, stones and swords in their hand. When Munna was talking lots of people gathered. The ACP tried to make them understand. The ACP sent two constables to mediate who were then surrounded by the crowd."
A third eyewitness, Salman's statement quoted in the charge sheet, reads, "There was a big crowd on the afternoon of 24 February. They all had stones, sticks and swords. From the crowd, women took off their burkas and attacked the police. Then people used stones and sticks to attack the police. Petrol and acid bombs were being thrown from the terrace and shots were also being fired. Some people were trying to tell the others to not fight. Because the crowd was massive, no one listened."
Evidence Against the Accused
A reading of the charge sheet has shown that the police has heavily relied on CCTV footage, statements by independent and police eyewitnesses and CDR (call detail record) to pin the accused. The police has named seventeen accused in this case and have added that supplementary charge sheets will be filed.
The two main accused in the case are Mohammad Saleem Khan and Saleem alias Munna. Describing their role to be similar in the riots, relying on witness statements and grabs from videos. The police has claimed in their charge sheet that the ACP had tried to directly communicate with Munna on the morning of 24 February, but not only did he refuse to meet him but began to insitgate the crowd against the government 'ultimately leading to the riots.'
Shahnawaz was arrested after an audio clip from his phone shows that he was indulging in violence, whereas another accused, Suvaleen, was nabbed at his village in Uttar Pradesh after the policemen traced a police officer’s phone to his native village where he had gone to for shelter.
Shadab Ahmed has been named as one of the main conspirators of the riots who played a vital role in instigating the protesters. The police charge sheet claims that he deleted all data from 23 and 24 February. His CDR shows him from being at the protest site on the day of the incident. Other than a police witness, other local witnesses have also named him.
For Mohammad Jalaluddin and Arif, accused three and four, other than CDR and police witnesses, the police claims to have a video where Jalaluddin can be seen pelting stones at the police from a terrace and Arif, on the other hand, can be seen with sticks in his hand, changing the position of CCTV cameras. For Mohammad Ayub, Mohammad Yunus, Danish the police has witnesses and CDR. For Ibrahim, Furkan, Imran Ansari and Badrul Hassan, they are relying on CCTV footage, police witness statements and CDR. Nasir, Adil and Mohammad Sadiq have been identified in CCTV footage and have policemen testifying against them.