A WhatsApp group with 125 members was used to closely coordinate anti-Muslim violence in North East Delhi in February, according to several chargesheets filed by the Delhi Police in court.
Not only did members boast of murdering Muslims, an examination of the message transcripts by Scroll.in shows that controversial Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra was mentioned prominently in the group, with members rallying to his support.
Murders at culvert
North East Delhi erupted in communal violence in February, soon after Mishra threatened to unleash mobs with the aim of clearing streets of protesters who were demonstrating against the Citizenship Act amendments, which many see as religiously discriminatory. The worst violence in four decades in the capital led to at least 53 dead and hundreds more injured.
More than 700 criminal cases were registered following the violence. Over the last month, Delhi Police has filed chargesheets in some of these cases, with questions being raised about its approach in many of them. Mishra has not been named as accused in any of the chargesheets reported on so far by the media.
According to one chargesheet examined by Scroll.in, at least nine Muslim men were murdered at the Johripur puliya (culvert) in the Gokalpuri area between February 24-26. Among the bodies identified were brothers Hashim Ali and Aamir Khan.
The chargesheet was filed in connection with first information report number 37/2020 registered at Gokulpuri police station on February 27.
It records the statement of eyewitnesses, one of whom was identified as Narottam Singh, who on February 26 left his house at 9.30 pm to search for his missing motorcycle. The witness states that he saw the deceased brothers being stopped by the mobs while they were riding on their motorcycle. “The mob after establishing their Muslim identity killed both the persons with stones, cudgel, sticks, swords and iron rods and thrown them in the nala,” the chargesheet states.
Social media riot
Strikingly, the chargesheet links the murders to a WhatsApp group named “Kattar Hindut Ekta” consisting of 125 members formed on February 25 at 12.49 am.
By March 8, a total of 47 members had exited the group, as per the chargesheet.
The police claim to have seized the mobile phones of 12 members of this group. The chargesheet states that the conversations in this chat group would be seen as voluntary confessions.
“The extra judicial confessions are further fortified by eyewitness accounts which fully establishes the culpability of the accused persons,” the chargesheet states. “The circumstantial evidences so collected during the investigation form a chain of events. It is to further emphasise that these extra judicial confession were not extracted by police officer but are fully voluntary.”
The chargesheet identifies 11 accused men, of which nine have been arrested: Lokesh Solanki, 19, Pankaj Sharma 31, Sumit Chaudhary, 23, Ankit Chaudhary, 23, Prince, 22, Jatin Sharma, 19, Himanshu Thakur, 19, Vikas Panchal, 20, and Rishab Chaudhary, 20. These nine young men have been charged for murder, rioting with a deadly weapon and criminal conspiracy.
Other chargesheets reported on by the Indian Express and the Quint also connect this WhatsApp group to the February violence, citing members bragging about killing Muslims and dumping the bodies in a sewer as well as forcing victims to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. The Quint also pointed out that many of the numbers on the chat have not been identified or named in the chargesheets, despite being active participants in the group, with one person even asking others for bullets.
‘Listen to this video of Kapil Mishra’
The group discussions prominently feature BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who had delivered a three-day ultimatum to the Delhi Police on February 23, with deputy commissioner of police Ved Prakash Surya standing by his side near the Jaffrabad metro station. Mishra had threatened to take the law into his own hands if the Delhi Police did not clear out the anti-Citizenship Act protesters who had occupied public spaces in North East Delhi.
Violence has begun the very same night of Mishra’s threats.
On February 25 at 9.13 pm, one member sent a message with a defence of Mishra: “I notice that many wise people are writing to say Kapil Mishra is guilty. How is he guilty? All he said was that if the road blockade isn’t lifted, CAA supporters will also come out onto the streets. This is completely constitutional.”
Mishra’s widely circulated video of delivering a three-day ultimatum to the police to clear the protests was explained thus in this message: “He was actually standing next to the police and requesting people to move.”
On February 26, a member exhorts the group to share a video of Kapil Mishra: “Listen to this video of Kapil Mishra. Understand it. Then work hard to send it to every corner of India. Because this is correct and 100% in the national interest. This is the least we can do, friend.”
The same message is repeated on February 27 and March 1 by different users.
On February 27, a user sent a lengthy message – another defence of Mishra. In its rhetorical style, the message lists out a litany of complaints. “‘Make a Shaheen Bagh everywhere’ – that didn’t cause riots. ‘Hindus, your grave will be dug’ – that didn’t cause riots,” the message argues. “But as soon as Kapil Mishra said, we won’t allow more Shaheen Baghs to be made everywhere and the road needs to be cleared in three days since I love my country, that immediately started riots and everyone went mad and started calling Kapil Mishra a riot instigator.”
On March 1, a user responded with yet another defence of Kapil Mishra. Accusing “15% Muslims” of dominating “80% Hindus” during the Delhi violence, the user argues that Mishra was made a “bali ka bakra” or scapegoat. He ends his message with a declaration of support: “#I-STAND-WITH-KAPIL-MISHRA”.
Apart from the BJP’s Kapil Mishra, the Bajrang Dal – a part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s wider group of allied organisations – is referenced in the group. On February 26: “In case of any problems, first call 100 [the police], then other Hindus as well as this [WhatsApp] group and pass on information to the RSS/Bajrang Dal people you know.”
Just a few hours later at 11:01 pm another user sends out an SOS: “Please if anyone knows someone from the Bajrang Dal, call them.”