The level of central political intervention in Delhi to shape the judicial process in the communal violence cases is being stepped up. The Lieutenant Governor's swift cancellation of the Delhi government's order regarding the panel of prosecution lawyers on behalf of the Delhi Police is one such step. The Delhi government had given cogent grounds for its decision to reject the panel of lawyers suggested by the police. All of them are standing counsel of the central government led by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. What is the need for this when Delhi has enough good lawyers? The Delhi Cabinet said, "Keeping in mind the principles of the criminal justice system and the need to ensure independence between investigation and prosecution, the Delhi Cabinet has directed the Home Department to form an impartial panel of the best possible lawyers in the country for the cases related to the Delhi riots."
The reasoning is unexceptionable. But the Lieutenant Governor through his order has reinstated the panel chosen by the Delhi Police. The manner in which it has been done with not so much as a fig leaf of an explanation for the cancellation is also questionable. The Delhi Police is under the jurisdiction of the Home Ministry. It is obvious enough that if the most trusted judicial officer of the central government, the Solicitor General, is leading the legal strategy for the Delhi Police, the orders to do so have come from the top, namely the Home Minister of India, Amit Shah. The aim is to guarantee a team of lawyers who are committed not necessarily to serve the interests of justice but to defend the tales being spun to conceal the truth.
Both communities suffered in the violence. Any life lost is a tragedy and condemnable. There are armed criminals on both sides. Those guilty must be punished. But let us not lose sight of the fact that the brunt of the violence was borne by one community.
In the omnibus response to many of the petitions, the Delhi Police has provided official statistics as on July 13 of the deaths and damage during the violence. Many of these are given community-wise. There were 53 deaths of which 40 were Muslims and 13 were Hindus. Of the 473 civilians injured, 288 were Muslims and 185 were Hindus. Of shops damaged, 173 belonged to Muslims and 42 to Hindus. 13 mosques and 6 mandirs were damaged. There are 751 FIRs filed. The total arrests are 1,430 as on July 13. Earlier, giving the breakup of those arrested, the Delhi Police PRO stated that 700 Muslims and 630 Hindus had been arrested. He quoted these figures to show that the police was being "even-handed." But a simple question: if the majority of victims are Muslims, how is it that the number of arrests is more from that community? Who will answer these questions? We now have the top law officers of the country pushing the Home Ministry's guided story of the violence.
Here are some examples of this story gleaned from the chargesheets and the responses of the Delhi Police: No, there were no hate speeches made by BJP leaders inciting violence which started off the attacks on the anti-CAA protest sites and the clashes in the north-east. No, the police have found no connection between any speeches made by BJP leaders and the violence so, till now, not even an FIR has been filed. No, there is no police involvement in the violence developing within 24 hours into a one-sided attack on the minority community. No, there is nothing wrong in the Delhi Police's clean chit in court to their colleagues, so what if there are videos showing the police throwing stones and encouraging attacks on the minority community, or beating up Muslim youth and forcibly making them sing the national anthem? After all, 108 policemen were injured. No, there is no bias in the writing of the chargesheets or the arrests made. No, it is not bias to say, as most of the chargesheets do, that the killing of Muslims was "retaliatory" in nature. Nor is it wrong to justify the killing of Muslims in many of the chargesheets in words such as "the Hindus were seething with rage", "stories of attacks and damage to Hindus", "they were annoyed with Muslims because of the riots", "there was a large loss of lives of Hindus and property damage" and so on.
No, there was no conspiracy by the police to allow the killings and violence. Not even when the facts narrated in a particular case of the killing of two brothers, Hashim and Amir, shows that from February 24 to February 26, mobs shouting "Jai Shri Ram" in the area of the Johripur puliya were checking passersby who, if found to be Muslim, were badly beaten up. So what if witnesses, mainly Hindu, have stated that they themselves were stopped to check if they were Muslim and that they repeatedly phoned the police to report what was happening. So what if the police did not respond or even visit the spot? So what if in that very area, from February 25 from 4.30 pm to February 26, 10.30 pm - because of the freedom given to the mob by police inaction - not one or two but nine Muslims were killed and their bodies thrown into the nallah. So what? The top officers of the country have their job cut out for them - they are considered loyal enough to defend the indefensible.
They have also been given the main responsibility to push the concocted counter-story of the great conspiracy of all the anti-national forces - the students of JNU, the students of Jamia, the supporters of the anti-CAA protests - conspiring to engineer riots. With little or no evidence, the Home Ministry has used the draconian UAPA to arrest 14 activists. The sequence of the violence is repeated in most chargesheets in a cut-and-paste job. It starts with the Jamia protests and then spins a most unlikely tale of the Jihadi-Urban Naxal nexus as planning the violence. In one of the cases where an arrested Muslim asked for bail, the police opposed it on grounds that "there is an involvement of foreign nations in anti-CAA protests... handiwork of enemy foreign nations to destabilize the democratic government and peace, an apparent threat to the country as a whole..."
For the BJP and the RSS, democratic protest and solidarity is conspiracy. Common slogans, common aims and common actions to prevent the NPR and NRC can only occur if there is a foreign-funded conspiracy. Only the RSS or the BJP have the right for coordinated countrywide actions such as those they organized for decades in the name of the Ram Mandir. Women including those in Shaheen Bagh who were at the forefront of the historic anti-CAA agitation, have in the eyes of those ruling India, no independent agency, no ability to think and act on their own. The days and months for which the women in the anti-CAA protests sat in the cold, with the constitution in their hands, the national flag as their symbol, totally peaceful, was, in the narration of the Delhi Police, all stage-managed; they were nothing but puppets strung up by these groups of conspirators. Nothing can be further from the truth, nothing can be more insulting to the women who have fought to save India's secular basis for citizenship than to call them puppets. One may have differences with some of the groups who joined the protests and advocated calls of action which were inappropriate, but to brand such actions as anti-national is nothing but politically-motivated to conceal the role of ruling party leaders.
The Delhi Police have in their chargesheets assumed a political role, deeming every protest against the CAA as anti-national, deeming all opposition to the CAA as "misleading the Muslim community". The police does not have the right, the mandate or the jurisdiction to declare that the CAA does not affect the citizenship rights of minority communities. This is a political question. They can say that protestors violated this or that law or restriction, but they have no right to comment on anything else. It should also be remembered that more than ten state governments as also allies of the BJP had opposed the NRC. According to the Delhi Police version, they are all anti-national. If we accept that the police have the right to dictate whether the politics behind a peaceful protest is right or wrong, we might as well declare India a police state.
The demonisation of the anti-CAA protests is to ensure that no one dares to protest again against the CAA, the NRC and the NPR. The clashes and violence in north-east Delhi were a result of a conspiracy, it is true, but the conspiracy was to avenge the defeat of the BJP in the Delhi elections, it was to disrupt and demoralize the most effective mass protest against the NDA2 government and its national reach and ramifications, it was to silence critics and dissenters, it was to hollow out the constitution, it was in the main a most cynical conspiracy to push the politics of communal hatred, division and polarisation. The reversing of the Delhi government's orders is linked to these aims.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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