A little over two weeks after Delhi was rocked by the worst communal violence in decades, killing more than 50 people and leaving India’s national capital on edge, Home Minister Amit Shah finally addressed the issue in Parliament.
Speaking at the end of a discussion on the violence in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, Shah claimed that this could not have happened without a “well-planned conspiracy”. He went on to commend the Delhi Police for taking 36 hours to bring an end to the violence even though the force has been roundly criticised for its failures and even alleged to have been complicit in the attacks.
The violence began on February 23 after clashes between protesters against the Citizenship Act amendments who had occupied a stretch of a key road in North East Delhi and a pro-government mob that had been encouraged to take to the streets by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra. By the time the peace had been established on February 26, there had been large-scale violence, looting and arson – disproprtionately targeted against Muslims. Fifty three people died in the violence and the lives of many more were disrupted.
Far from answering the many questions that have emerged about the three days of violence, however, Shah’s speech only calls for further explanations from the authorities whose responsibility it is to oversee law and order in the capital and, indeed, the country.
Amit Shah claimed that the violence was the result of a “well-planned conspiracy” and said that investigation had revealed the involvement of hundreds of people from Uttar Pradesh. As we have pointed out before, much of the reporting makes it clear that the violence took place right after BJP leader Kapil Mishra gave an ultimatum to the police, threatening to take to the streets if the authorities did not halt the protests.
Mishra gave his speech while standing in front of a senior Delhi police officer. Later reporting has showed that six intelligence inputs about potential violence had been sent in on Sunday, February 24, the day it began. Moreover, Uttar Pradesh is governed by the BJP, and Delhi Police answers directly to Amit Shah.
If this was indeed a well-planned conspiracy, with intelligence alerts warning authorities that violence was about to break out, what explains the violence continuing for nearly three days?
Facial recognition technology?
In his speech, the Home Minister said that the government had identified around 1,100 people involved in the violence through facial recognition technology. He said that this software allows for the matching of faces to databases that contain details like people’s voter IDs and driver licences. There is little clarity on what exactly this technology entails and how it is being used.
What we do know is that facial recognition is often extremely flawed when used to police. One study in the United Kingdom found that the facial recognition technology used by the Metropolitan Police had identified innocent people as suspects four out of five times.
Researchers have also pointed out that software like this tends to reflect the biases of the people and data fed into it. Without a personal data privacy law or clear guidelines for how the authorities are using this technology, facial recognition software is dangerous.
Policing the police?
Amit Shah dismissed all criticism of the Delhi Police in one sweeping statement, insisting that to question the forces would be to demoralise them. He congratulated the forces for taking 36 hours to contain the violence in the capital, gave a feeble explanation for why he was not more active on the scene: US President Donald Trump was in Ahmedabad, which is his Parliamentary constituency, he said, and insisted that he had asked National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to take charge.
Video evidence as well as plenty of reporting makes it clear that the police acted in a partisan manner, whether it was turning a blind eye to the actions of anti-Muslim mobs or actively participating in stone throwing.
In one case there is clear evidence to suggest that it was the actions of Delhi Police that led to the death of a Muslim man who could be in seen in videos being beaten up by police personnel and being forced to sing the national anthem. Scroll.in has also reported on how the police has been ignoring complaints and refusing to carry out investigation in the aftermath of the riots.
With so much evidence of the Delhi Police playing a questionable role in the matter, how can Amit Shah pre-emptively give the force a clean chit? Since the force answers to him, is it not incumbent upon the government to put a a different authority in charge of evaluating what happened?