Delhi police accused of filing false charges against activists over February riots


Delhi police have been criticised for being partisan and compromised after filing false and politically motivated charges against pro-democracy activists to blame them for the Delhi riots – while not arresting any ruling party figures and police officers for their role in the violence.

The unrest in February, which saw some of the worst religious violence in India for decades, the police have filed more than 80 charge sheets for those allegedly responsible for inciting the riots.

Among those charged are one of India’s most prominent human rights activists; two members of a feminist student collective; a councillor from the progressive political party; three student activists from the Muslim-majority University Jamia Milia Islamia, one of whom is five months pregnant; and a Sikh man who set up a community kitchen for Muslim female activists.

Several have been detained under draconian terrorism laws and denied bail.

Violence over the three days was carried out by both Hindus and Muslims but it was Muslims who were disproportionately affected.

Hindu mobs, armed with guns, metal rods and gas canisters, set fire to Muslim homes, shops and mosques and Muslims were beaten and killed in the street. Thousands of Muslim families lost their homes and more than 40 of the 53 who died in the riots were Muslim.

Accounts given to the Guardian in the aftermath, backed up by CCTV footage, accused officers of not only ignoring the violence carried out by Hindu mobs but in some cases enabling it and even taking part.

Delhi police have presented a different version of events, alleging the riots were a communal conspiracy instigated by Muslims and activists involved in protests against a new citizenship law (CAA) that was seen as prejudicial to Muslims as it gave citizenship to refugees from all religions except Islam.

In the anti-CAA demonstrations, which first broke out in December – more than three months before the riots – millions took peacefully to the streets. It was the largest protest against the BJP government since Narendra Modi was elected prime minister in 2014.

A large number of those charged under terrorism laws are women, a reflection of how female-led many of anti-CAA movements were. This includes Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, members of the female student collective Pinjra Tod, who have been refused bail, and Safoora Zargar, a masters student at Jamia Millia Islamia University, who is pregnant and was granted bail on Tuesday on humanitarian grounds.

“This is a revengeful act by the BJP [BharatiyaJanata party] government to suppress a growing movement of dissenting women across the country,” said Annie Raja, the general secretary of National Federation of Indian Women. “It makes a mockery of our legal system.”

The activist Harsh Mander, among those accused on the charge sheet of inciting hate with a speech he gave on 16 December – two and a half months before the riots began – said it was clear the charges were “politically motivated by Delhi police”.

Delhi police are under the control of Amit Shah, the home minister, who is one of the fiercest advocates of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda, which aims to establish India as a Hindu, rather than secular, country.

“Democracy has never been as threatened in India as it is now, It is terrifying,” said Mander. “This is a clear warming message by the ruling establishment: if you are young, if you are Muslim, if you are a woman, don’t you dare dissent, because we will teach you a grave lesson. They are not embarrassed by how brazen this is and it’s hugely effective.”

Delhi police did not respond to requests for comment.

In contrast, the BJP politician Kapil Mishra, who is accused of sparking the riots on 23 February with calls to a crowd – some armed with guns, sticks, stones and glass bottles – to teach Muslim protesters in north-east Delhi “a lesson” has not been charged, despite dozens of complaints made to the police against him. Five other BJP politicians who had alleged roles in inciting the Delhi riots have also not been named on the charge sheets.

There have also been no arrests for the officers who were caught on viral video footage beating Muslim men in the streets as the riots broke out, demanding they sing the national anthem to prove their patriotism to India. One of the men, Mohammed Faizan, 23, subsequently died from his injuries.

Vrindra Grover, a lawyer representing Faizan’s family, said the lack of action in his case, with no arrest or charging of any police officers responsible, provided an “interesting counterpoint to show how partisan and compromised the police investigation into the Delhi riots is”.

“Instead, we can see the use of criminal law and terrorism laws to silence those who were engaged in democratic, peaceful protest,” added Grover. “It’s an abuse of power and abuse of law.” (Source: The Guardian)