For three days now, violence has gripped parts of in North East Delhi. And for three days by Tuesday afternoon, the response of Delhi Police has been woefully inadequate.
Videos and witnesses have pointed to a complete failure by the Delhi Police to contain the aggressors, a lack of sufficient forces despite clear signs that they would be needed and, in some cases, the active involvement of the police in the violence.
What is going on?
The violence came after threats and stone-pelting on Sunday near sites of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in neighbourhoods with a significant Muslim presence in Delhi’s north east. On Monday, anti-Muslim mobs set out to evict protesters. Seven people died in the resulting clashes including a head constable of the Delhi Police.
The act provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants from three countries, except if they are Muslim.
Yet despite these developments and the heightened security that came as a result of the visit of US President Donald Trump to India’s capital, there were fresh reports of violence on Tuesday morning.
On Monday evening, as details of the intensity of the violence and the casualties emerged, a number of eyewitnesses, politicians and journalists all said that the police action had been inadequate, in some cases non-existent and in others complicit.
One leader of the Aam Aadmi Party said that the Commissioner of Police – who reports not to the Delhi government but to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs led by the Amit Shah of the Bharatiya Janata Party – was not answering requests for additional deployment.
It all began with an ultimatum on Sunday by BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who threatened to take the law into his own hands if the Delhi Police did not clear out protesters who had occupied public spaces in the area. Mishra stood in front of a police officer and said he would not even listen to the police if nothing had happened within three days. He proceeded to lead a pro-government rally close to a protest site.
Regardless of who began the violence since reporting on this remains unclear, it is apparent that Mishra’s threats were not just known to the police, they took place right in front of an officer. So there could be no excuse for the lack of preparedness for the tensions that followed.
The Indian Express reported that on the very same night of Mishra’s threats, stones were thrown at Muslim houses and their residents targeted. By Monday morning, things were even more tense. Yet the police were present in very small numbers, as noted by Reuters’ Devjyot Ghoshal.
Reporters at the spot said even where the police were present, they did not act. Scroll.in’s Vijayta Lalwani said that the authorities intervened only after a pro-government mob had been allowed to set fire to a shop.
“At 5.10 pm, a mob of young men saw a garment shop and a pan shop across the street from the temple,” said another report in the Indian Express. “Over 20 police personnel watched as young men, some teenagers, broke down banners, shutters, and looted the pan shop.”
A reporter for the Hindu also pointed out the belated actions of the police.
Even more disturbingly, the police seemed to participate in the violence. Reuters’ Ghoshal posted a video in which police personnel instructed an anti-Muslim mob on when to thrown stones, with one official joining in.
In contrast to the situation at the site of the protests against the CAA, where police were frequently using tear gas in an attempt to disperse crowds, the anti-Muslim mob sites had a more “festive” mood, with food being distributed to the police, The Wire reported.
“When we came into the area commandeered by the Hindutva group, the most notable thing was the aura of festivity,” the Wire report said. “A large group of people was shouting slogans, including the now notorious ‘goli maaro saalon ko’, while groups of people distributed biscuits. A man was carrying around a large tray filled with plates of upma, which he was giving the policemen standing by, a significant number of whom were happily partaking of the food.”
By Monday evening, the Delhi Police had put out a few statements acknowledging the casualties and injuries, and calling on people to maintain peace. Yet by night, the Gokulpuri tyre market – which has a significant Muslim presence – and a mosque nearby was set on fire, even though it is right next to the area’s police station.
Despite all of these developments and widespread reporting on the inadequate presence of the Delhi Police, the same situation seemed to play out even on Tuesday morning.