In April 2020, when 59-year-old Jaibir Singh Tomar was summoned in a case of rioting, he called up his brother, who was posted with the Delhi Traffic Police at the time. “My brother said that I was being called because of the riot cases, that they would interrogate me and let me go,” recalled Tomar, who is accused of murder, rioting and other serious offences during the communal violence that ravaged North East Delhi in February 2020.

When he went to the Dwarka police station, Tomar tried telling the investigating officer that his brother was in the Delhi Police. “The investigating officer had even worked as my brother’s senior,” he said. “So I tried to tell him but he did not listen.”

The officer only found out the connection after he was arrested. “He got annoyed and said [my brother] should have called him up earlier and that he had come too late,” Tomar recounted.

Still, life in Mandoli jail was made easier. He was allowed more visitors during the “mulaqat” or meetings with people outside, for instance. “Only one person is allowed but because of my brother three people were sent,” said Tomar. “First my wife, then my son-in-law and then he [his brother]. I needed clothes. My brother was in the Delhi Police so he was able to send me clothes through the staff there.”

Tomar got out of jail nine months later. He is one of 16 men linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh who were arrested in April 2020 for rioting and the murder of Parvez Alam, a resident of North East Delhi’s Subhash Mohalla. They were all released on bail between December 2020 and February 2021. At least three of them now nurse ambitions of getting a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket in the North East Delhi municipal elections scheduled for April, as reported this week.

Fifty-three people were killed and hundreds more injured in the rioting that broke out in Delhi after protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act triggered a violent backlash against Muslim protestors. At least 38 of those killed were Muslim. About 750 first information reports have been filed on the violence, although many more complaints remain unacknowledged by the Delhi Police. Only one person has been convicted in the riot cases so far.

Over the last two years, the court has pulled up the Delhi Police for lapses in investigation, ordered the registration of first information reports and also imposed fines on the police. The police, however, have repeatedly challenged court orders instead of abiding by them.

What explains the police dragging their feet in cases related to the 2020 communal violence?

Parvez Alam, in his mid 50s when he died, was a social worker who organised health camps and drives for the poor.

The Parvez Alam murder case throws up one possible answer: at least four of the 16 men who were arrested in the case had relatives in the police, found.

Muslim complainants allege these police connections did more than ease the RSS men’s time in prison – they helped stall arrests, investigations and even the filing of first information reports. They claim this delay has created an environment that emboldened the accused to threaten them. Despite court orders guaranteeing protection, the victims allege that the police have gone missing.

According to Mehmood Pracha, a lawyer who represents several Muslim victims of the violence, the idea was to create an atmosphere of fear so that witnesses and complainants did not depose in court.

“If this continues, we will be forced to go to the Delhi High Court for a transfer of the investigation and an investigation against the police themselves for collusion with the accused persons,” said Pracha.

Blood ties

Brothers Naresh and Uttam Tyagi are also among those with connections in the police. Naresh Tyagi said that, some years ago, a relative had been station house officer at the Bhajanpura police station – a number of the complaints against the Tyagis have been filed here. He added that they had a brother-in-law in the police, who was previously with the crime branch, and they discovered that a senior official in the Mandoli jail was also related to them.

“You get some relief because of these connections – people do not trouble you,” Naresh Tyagi said. For instance, their workload in prison was much lighter: “I was not asked to wash bathrooms, clean latrines.”

This was not Naresh Tyagi’s first time in prison. After being convicted in a murder case in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district, he was in jail for six months before being let out on bail.

Naresh Tyagi, who has been accused of shooting Nasir Ali and Syed Zulfikar in the face, was convicted of murder even before he went to jail in the Delhi riot cases. Picture credit: Aishwarya S Iyer

Forty-two-year-old Sushil Chaudhary, also among the 16 accused, has a brother-in-law who has worked in various departments of the Delhi Police, including the crime branch, for over 30 years. At present he is posted with the VVIP security wing of the Delhi Police.

“A few days after I was put in jail, this person came to me and said someone had put in a word for me,” said Chaudhary, who owns a packaging business and had hoped to be let out of prison early. That did not happen, but he admitted he had an easier stint in prison because of his brother-in-law.

Director General of Prisons Sandeep Goel told that all inmates were guaranteed certain facilities; it did not depend on bribes or connections. “We have systems in place for legitimate facilities in jails for the inmates,” he said. “For example, telephone facility to contact the family, physical mulaqat [meeting] with a family member or friend are provided to all inmates as per a set of rules. No inmate is required to bribe any staff to get these facilities.”

Uttam Tyagi's name is on several BJP posters in the lanes of North East Delhi. Picture credit: Aishwarya S Iyer

‘Defence of the accused’

The complaint on the murder of Parvez Alam led to an FIR and arrests. But other complaints featuring Chaudhary, Tomar and the Tyagi brothers have barely moved through the justice system.

Take the case of 36-year-old Nasir Ali, a resident of North East Delhi’s Subhash Mohalla, who lost his left eye in a mob attack on February 24, 2020. Ali filed a complaint at the Bhajanpura police station, naming the three Tyagi brothers and Chaudhary, among others. For nearly two years, Ali has done the rounds of courts in order to get an FIR registered on his complaint. Despite two court orders on his side, the matter has not moved.

On October 21, 2020, a trial court ordered the Delhi Police to file an FIR in the case within 24 hours of receiving the order. Instead, the station house officer of the Bhajanpura police station filed a review petition at the Karkardooma sessions court in Delhi, asking that the order be withdrawn.

The police made two main arguments against filing the FIR. They claimed there was already an FIR that would cover Ali’s allegations and that at least three of the accused had an alibi.

“Naresh Tyagi and Uttam Tyagi were not present in Delhi at the relevant time, as they had gone to their native place for attending family function; whereas, Sushil was present in his office on duty,” the petition said.

Rejecting the review petition on July 13, 2021, Justice Vinod Yadav of the Karkardooma sessions court said that the police had tried to create a “defence for the accused persons named in [Ali’s] complaint”.

It would have been one thing if the accused named in the complaint had felt aggrieved by the court order to register an FIR and filed a review petition against it, Yadav observed. But they had not done so. Instead, the police had taken it upon themselves to file such a petition, even though they had “no reason, occasion or justification to feel aggrieved,” Yadav said.

Calling the police investigation “farcical and callous”, he imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on the Bhajanpura station house officer and his supervising officers for failing in their duties.

The police have still not filed an FIR against the accused. In a petition filed against Yadav’s order in the Delhi High Court, the police claim to be directly aggrieved. Yadav’s order and the fine, they argue in the petition, had dented their reputation.

“This is why we feel that they know people in the police. Why else would the police not listen to the courts and defend them?” Ali asked.

The court also had some pithy observations to make on the police’s reluctance to register an FIR based on a complaint by 58-year-old Mohammad Saleem. In February 2020, a mob attacked his home in Subhash Mohalla with petrol bombs, stones and bullets. Accused in a riot case himself, Saleem had filed a written complaint at the Jafrabad police station on March 1, 2020, naming Tomar, the Tyagi brothers and others. A month later, Saleem was named as the accused in four more FIRs on the riots.

As the police refused to file an FIR on his complaint, Saleem went to court. The police told the metropolitan magistrate’s court at Karkardooma that Saleem’s complaint was false, filed only to save himself from investigation. On November 23, 2020, magistrate Fahad Uddin rejected the police claims and ordered that an FIR be filed. The magistrate hauled up the police for maligning Saleem’s complaint “without even registering an FIR and conducting an independent and impartial investigation into the complaints”.

Sushil Chaudhary is one of the 16 accused who went to jail in April 2020. Picture credit: Aishwarya S Iyer

Instead of complying with the order, the police moved the sessions court at Karkardooma. This time, the police claimed they could not file a separate FIR on Saleem’s complaint as it was already clubbed with various incidents mentioned in another FIR. Once again, the court ordered that a separate FIR be filed and called out the police for its shifting arguments. “This stand is ludicrous as it is preposterous,” remarked additional sessions court judge Amitabh Rawat.

Rawat also called out the police for focusing on the identities of the accused and the complainant rather than investigating the alleged offences.

The police finally registered an FIR in September 2021, 18 months and two court orders after Saleem had filed his original complaint.

But Saleem, who works as a daily wager in Old Delhi, said the investigation had still not taken off and the accused continued to threaten him.

Sanjay Kumar Sain, deputy commissioner of police, North East Delhi, rejected all claims of collusion between the police and the accused.“Investigation of riot cases is being conducted in highly professional and fair manner on merits of the cases,” he said. “Such type of talks are baseless and far from truth.”

No protection for victims

In several orders, the court has directed the Delhi Police to extend protection to complainants if necessary. Despite these orders, several riot victims say they live with daily threats from the accused, and the local police offer no help.

Nasir Ali had called a police official at the Bhajanpura police station in July 2020. The BJP member of Parliament Manoj Tiwari had visited Hindu families in the riot-affected area and tempers were running high again. “The situation was so tense, I reached out to a local police officer,” Ali said. “I told him I was afraid I would be attacked again, but he said he was also there and nothing of the sort would happen. He cut the line abruptly.”

A year later, Ali moved court for security, alleging he was facing constant threats from the accused. Ali said police officials visited his home on July 11, 2021, while the court was still hearing his plea for protection.

“Five of them came home,” he claimed. “As soon as they entered, one of them took a photo with me. I kept asking them why they were taking the photo but did not get a straight answer. They wanted to show the court that they were with me.” No officers have visited his home or offered him protection since that day, he alleged, even though the court ordered police protection for him on July 31, 2021.

Another resident of Subhash Mohalla, 34-year-old Syed Zulfiqar, who was shot in the face, also named the Tyagis in his complaint at the Bhajanpura police station. After he was allegedly threatened by Naresh Tyagi, he applied for police protection and got a court order granting it. “Since the protection order, the police have not visited me one day or made one call,” he said.

Sain told that he was not aware of the police failing to provide protection when asked. “No such case has come to my notice where the victim has approached police for his safety and he was denied,” he said. “However, everyone has [the] right to approach [the] court and we are duty bound to follow court orders.”

Ordeal at the police station

For three Muslim women who live in Subhash Mohalla, the court order of police protection is an irony – they accuse the police themselves of assault and molestation. The alleged incident took place on August 8, 2020, when they visited the Bhajanpura police station.

Tensions had been running high in Subhash Mohalla after August 5, 2020, when the foundation stone for the Ram Temple at Ayodhya was laid. The Hindu residents of the locality decided to celebrate. But the celebrations soon turned ugly, their Muslim neighbours said.

“They hoisted saffron flags, abused us, asked us to leave the area, raised Jai Sri Ram slogans, and other things,” said a 45-year-old woman who lives in the locality. She added that the police visited the area on August 6, spoke to both sides, removed the flags and said the situation was under control, but did not register a written complaint.

On August 8, 2020, a group of Muslim women from the locality went to the Bhajanpura police station. They wanted an FIR registered on their complaint.

The women reached the police station at 8 pm that evening. The 45-year-old went in with her two daughters, the younger of whom was 17 at the time. “The rest of the women were outside because Covid guidelines had to be followed,” she said. They waited for three hours, with no response to their complaint. Finally, around 11 pm, they tried to call their lawyer’s office to get them to talk to the police.

“The police officer took our phone, cut the call and asked us to leave. That is when he raised his hand and slapped me hard on my face. He slapped me twice, very hard,” said the 45-year-old woman, touching the area behind her left ear. “I still feel pain here.”

Mohammad Saleem is too afraid of the police to ask for protection. Picture credit: Aishwarya S Iyer

It was the treatment of her younger daughter that frightened her most. “This police official was taking her to the dark side of the station where there were stairs,” she said. “If I was not there, if [her other daughter] was not there, I do not know what they would have done with her.” She alleged that several policemen had also tried to touch her daughter inappropriately.

The 45-year-old woman filed a writ petition in the Delhi high court on August 18, 2020, asking for disciplinary action against the police officials. The police submitted a status report to the court on September 12, 2020. The report, viewed by, denied all charges. The police claimed the 45-year-old had “shouted and threatened the staff of the police station with filing frivolous/bogus complaints against them”. It added that she had threatened to “either file a fake rape case or severely injure her head to get a case registered”. She also tried to intimidate officials by threatening to start a protest outside the police station, the report alleged.

In an order dated December 14, 2020, the court said it “cannot look into the allegations and counter allegations as it requires evidence”. It did, however, direct the Bhajanpura station house officer to increase police patrolling near the home of the complainant. She is also a witness in another case – the killing of Maruf Ali, a resident of Subhash Mohalla, during the February 2020 violence.

Till the August incident, the complainant said, the police would visit her house every fortnight or so to make sure she was safe as the threats had continued. They also installed a CCTV camera in her house. After her complaint against the police, they have stopped visiting altogether, she claimed.

“I have also stopped calling or reaching out to the police like I used to. I am petrified after what happened inside the police station,” she said. “What an odd situation for us. The court is asking the same police officials who assaulted us to give us protection. How will we ever feel safe?”

This story is the second in a two-part series on the aftermath of the Delhi riots, two years on.

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