Three statements by the same witness recorded by Delhi Police and a judicial magistrate at different points in time show glaring differences, according to the chargesheet filed by police related to the murder of Head Constable Ratan Lal. The policeman died of injuries on February 24 in the communal violence that broke out in North East Delhi. The violence left 53 dead and hundreds injured.
The chargesheet in the matter was filed on June 8 and claims that the three witness testimonies attached point to “continuous misinformation” being spread about the amended Citizenship Act and proposed National Register of Citizens, which had inspired thousands of protestors to take to the streets in the preceding months. The chargesheets also said that the organisers of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act had chosen the date and time of the violence keeping in mind US President Donald Trump’s visit to India in February “to gain maximum impact”.
However, three statements made by a witness named Najam Ul Hasan at various times paint a rather complicated picture, as Scroll.in found when it examined the chargesheet and found glaring discrepancies in it.
Hasan is a 45-year-old resident of Chand Bagh and runs a store in Old Seelampur in North East Delhi selling ladies garments.
He first recorded a statement with the police on May 14 under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows a police officer to examine any person who may be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of a case. This was followed by another statement recorded on May 21 in court in the presence of a magistrate. After that, on May 23 he recorded a supplementary statement in the presence of police, making a number of clarifications and also dismissing some of the claims he had made in court.
The details of Hasan’s first statement given directly to the police differ significantly from what he narrated in court in front of a magistrate. Strikingly, the most glaring discrepancy appears in the claims Hasan made to the court about the supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra.
On February 23, Mishra amassed a crowd and gave an ultimatum to the police to clear the roads of anti-CAA protestors holding a sit-in protest at Jafrabad. In the presence of a senior police officer, he demanded that the police evict the protestors and threatened violence in case they failed to do so. His speech raised tensions in the area and precipitated skirmishes that afternoon.
In Hasan’s first statement to the police, he makes no allegations about Kapil Mishra’s supporters.
In his second statement, in court, Hasan claimed he heard that Mishra’s men had set fire to the tent at a protest site in Chand Bagh on February 24.
“Pandal mein Kapil Mishra ke kuch logon ne aag laga di,” he stated. “Maine yah dekha nahi par log aisa shor macha rahe the.” Kapil Mishra’s men had set fire to the tent. I did not see this but people were shouting.
However, he changed his positions on this in the third statement, a supplementary one recorded only in front of the police. He stated that a “rumour was spread” about Mishra’s supporters, which created tensions in North East Delhi.
Scroll.in contacted Hasan but a recorded message said that both his contact numbers were “temporarily out of service”.
According to lawyers to whom Scroll.in spoke, the significant difference between Hasan’s statements to the police, with no magistrate present, and in court raise questions about whether there was pressure on the witness to say certain things.
“The inconsistencies are glaring,” said MV Swaroop, a lawyer in Chennai.
Swaroop described the supplementary statement – recorded directly with the police, after the witness had already given a statement to the court – as a farce. “It is just a list of inconsistencies in his 164 statement [in court] that the police seem to be getting him to retract,” he said.
“The mention of Kapil Mishra is a clear pointer that there were other incidents deliberately hidden in the 161 version [his first statement] – further suggesting that the 161 statement was prepared by the police.”
Scroll.in sent e-mail queries to the Delhi Police about these discrepancies. They have not yet responded.
Delhi Police in several chargesheets have claimed that the violence was part of a well-planned conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. They claim that the riots were sparked by the protests against the amended Citizenship Act. The amended law introduced a religious test for Indian citizenship for the first time, an element that critics said was discriminatory towards Muslims.
In an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court on July 13, the Delhi Police disclosed that it has registered 751 cases relating to the violence and filed chargesheets in 200 of them.
In the affidavit, the police went a step further and claimed that the people protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act had secessionist motives and were using “the façade of civil disobedience” to destabilise the Indian government.
But for all its sweeping claims, what evidence does the police have to show?
While they are yet to file a chargesheet in the main conspiracy case, Scroll.in had reported on how three pivotal chargesheets fail to mention Kapil Mishra and his ultimatum to the police threatening violence on February 23. Moreover, these chargesheets were filled with identical disclosure statements from the accused and failed to establish a conspiracy. These statements too had not been recorded in front of a magistrate.
What the police recorded
In his statement to the police on May 14, Hasan starts off by saying that a few residents of Chand Bagh and other neighbouring areas had met in January at the home of a person named Eijaz, the inner case diary in the chargesheet shows.
Advocate DS Bindra was also a part of the meeting and said that a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens should start at the Main Wazirabad Road, Hasan states. A community kitchen and a medical camp would be set up.
After the meeting, the protest started in January at the service lane on Main Wazirabad Road with the help of Bindra and several others, the statement says. Hasan became a volunteer at the site. He handled the stage and distributed food.
Hasan states that inflammatory speeches against the government were made regularly at the protest. The organisers would call men and women from other places to deliver inflammatory speeches at the protest, he states. The organisers would talk about doing anything to take the protest forward and bring it to national and international attention.
Several people from outside the area and students from Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia would come to the protest to give speeches. “...Jinme se main Advocate Mehmood Pracha, Advocate Bhanu Pratap, Yogendra Yadav aadi ko janta hoon,” Hasan states. Among them were Advocate Mehmood Pracha, Advocate Bhanu Pratap and activist Yogendra Yadav.
Hasan states that seven to eight days before the riots on February 24, protest organisers and volunteers from Seelampur, Khureji, Kardampuri, Brijpuri had held a meeting along with the organisers of the Chand Bagh protest site.
“Jisme adhiktar protest ke aayojako ka yeh kehna tha ki is tarah shanti purvak pradarshan se kaam nahi chalega, hume Delhi ke mukhya raston ko jam karna hoga aur sarkar ka dhyan aakarshit karne ke liye yadi hinsa bhi karni pade toh karenge,” he states. Most of the organisers said that the peaceful protests were not working and that we had to block the main roads of Delhi. If we have to resort to violence to get the attention of the government then we will do it.
The organisers of the Seelampur protest were against violence, Hasan states.
On February 23, when the Bhim Army, a Dalit rights organisation, declared a Bharat Bandh, one of the organisers of the protest Salman Siddiqui also announced that a march would be conducted from Chand Bagh to Rajghat. “...Kyunki aayojak jaante the ki police bhid ko rokegi toh danga ho jayega aur unka maqsad siddh ho jayega,” Hasan states. Because the organisers knew that if the police stop the crowds then it would lead to riots, fulfilling their motive.
The organisers had called several students from Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia to join but the march was stopped because they did not receive permission from the police, he states.
On the orders of the organisers, the protestors effected a chakka jam – a road blockade – on Main Wazirabad Road because of which passersby had to face a lot of inconvenience, Hasan said.
Some residents of Chand Bagh had objected to the chakka jam. The organisers then decided that on February 24, protestors would bring batons, sticks, bricks, stones from their homes to clash with the police, according to his statement. Hasan and some other volunteers had objected to this decision but the organisers had threatened them and told them to quiet down, the statement reads.
On February 24, Hasan got to the protest site at 11 am. “Raste mein log galliyon mein se apne haathon mein dande, rod, talwar aadi lekar protest mein ja rahe the,” it states. On the streets, people were carrying sticks, rods and swords with them to the protest.
That day, the protest site was very crowded. There were several policemen as well. “Jinse mukable ke liye protest mein tent mein dandon, rod, patharon aadi ko chuppakar rakha hua tha. Jo kisi bahut bade kshariyantra va hinsa ke hone ka sanket tha,” the statement reads. Sticks, rods, stones, etc., were hidden in the tent to face the police. This was an indicator of violence and a big conspiracy.
The statement added that some people were making inflammatory speeches. People were being asked to spread out in different directions. Some were appealing for peace and were turning to the police officers on duty to ensure safety. The organisers had asked the protestors to block the Main Wazirabad Road at any cost.
“...Jab police adhikariyoon ne bhid ko samjhaane va rokne ki koshish ki to bhid mein aage ki taraf burkhe mein maujood mahilaon ne police karmiyon par pathraav shuru kar diya tatha alag alag dishaon mein phaile logon ne achanak se police karmiyon par ith, patharon, lathi, rod, aadi se jaanleva hamla kar diya.” When the police tried to stop the crowds and calm them, the veil-clad women in the front started to throw stones at them. Suddenly, people in other directions started to attack police with bricks, stones, lathis, rods, etc.
Hasan left the protest site as the crowd became more aggressive. He claims that the riots on February 24 at Chand Bagh was a well-planned conspiracy by the organisers.
What the court recorded
On May 21, Hasan recorded his statement before a magistrate at Karkardooma Court in North East Delhi, according to the chargesheet.
Hasan starts by stating that a meeting was held in the basement of a person named Aiyaz before the protests had started.
At the meeting, it was “DH Bindra” who said that a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens should begin. He would start a community kitchen and a medical camp, and said that the entire Sikh community supported them, according to Hasan’s statement.
“Yadi aap nahi uthoge toh vahi haal hoga jo 1984 mein humara hua tha,” “DH Bindra” said according to Hasan’s statement. If you do not wake up now then you will suffer the same fate as we did in 1984, (when Delhi’s Sikhs faced a pogrom after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards).
In his police statement, Hasan identifies the person who organised the meeting in his home as Eijaz, not Aiyaz as he did here. The lawyer was said to have been DS Bindra, not DH Bindra.
Hasan states that after the tent was erected, the inflammatory speeches started
“Advocate Bhanu Pratap, Advocate DH Bindra, Yogendra Yadav” and students of Jamia, JNU and Delhi University attended the protest and gave speeches. “Jo sarkar va NRC ke khilaf bola karte the ki Musalman tum ghabrao,” he states. They would speak against the government and the NRC, and say that Muslims should be afraid.
In this statement, Hasan does not state that he was a volunteer at the protest side, as he did in the police statement.
In court, Hasan then states that there was a secret meeting 15 days before on January 23 at midnight where two representatives from protests in “Yamuna paar”, the other side of the Yamuna, were invited.
The timeline of this meeting is in stark contrast to the one mentioned in the police statement.
Lawyers said that this was a strong indication that the first statement was prepared by the police. “If you compare the 161 statement with the 164 statement [made before the magistrate], it is clear that the 161 statement has been prepared by the police,” Swaroop said.
“They ensure that they mention the same names in each leg of the conspiracy, and paint a clear picture of a one-sided instigation of the riot,” he said. “However, the 164 statement reads like the witness’ imperfect recollection of the 161 statement.”
In Hasan’s court statement, he says that it was decided at the meeting to support the Bhim Army’s Bharat Bandh call. But the representatives from Seelampur objected. They said that blocking the road would not amount to anything, and would inconvenience the women sitting in protest.
The Wazirabad Road was blocked the next day, Hasan states. Some Chand Bagh residents were against the blockade. On February 24, Hasan went to the protest site at 11 am. Large crowds had gathered and several men and women had been injured.
“...Mere puchne par unhone bataya ki SHO PS Bhajanpura ne yahan aakar lathicharge kiya hai,” Hasan states. I was told that the station house office of Bhajanpura police station had charged at the crowds with batons.
“Isme Ladies aur Gents ko kaafi chot aayi thi,” he said. Several men and women were injured. Word about this incident had spread and crowds swelled in to Chand Bagh from Mustafabad.
This incident finds no mention in his police statement.
Protest organisers Saleem Munna and Athar were on stage while members of the public were armed with sticks, rods, stones and swords. Two constables were sent to the tent, but the crowds surrounded them. They were let go later.
Hasan tried to go home because people had started throwing stones at the police.
As chaos ensued in the area, Hasan claimed that he heard that Kapil Mishra’s men had set the tent on fire.
“Pandal mein Kapil Mishra ke kuch logon ne aag laga di. Maine yah dekha nahi par log aisa shor macha rahe the,” he states.
Hasan does not mention this in his police statement either.
At the end of the statement, Hasan said that there were several women at the protest. He said that he managed to get home.
The supplementary statement
After delivering his statement in court, Hasan made a supplementary statement to the police under Section 161 on May 23, the inner case diary in the chargesheet shows. In this statement, Hasan claims that he was unable to say everything in court that had been recorded in his police statement and that some aspects were not recorded clearly in court.
Strikingly, in this statement, Hasan dismisses some of the claims he made to the magistrate in court.
Firstly, in this statement, Hasan says that the person identified as “DH Bindra” in court was actually DS Bindra.
He then goes on to clarify that the outsiders who came to the protest showed sympathy for the Muslim community and made statements to instigate them like, “Musalman tum mat ghabrao, hum tumhare saath hain,” (Muslims do not be afraid, we are with you). But instead, the court recorded, “Musalman tum ghabrao.” Muslims, be afraid.
He goes on to retract his claims about a lathi charge by the station house officer of Bhajanpura. He states that this rumour was purposely spread to anger the crowds and escalate the situation.
“Jabki aisa kuch bhi nahi hua tha,” he states. Nothing of the sort happened. “Protest ke aayojak protest mein hinsa karvane ke apni purv yojana ko kisi bhi prakar se anjaam dena chahte the.” The organisers of the protest wanted violence and that was the result of their plan.
At the end of his court statement, Hasan stated that he did not see Kapil Mishra’s men burning the tent but heard about it from others at the site.
In the supplementary statement, Hasan changed his position on this. He states that “a rumour was spread” about the fire allegedly set by Kapil Mishra’s supporters.
“Dinank 24/02/2020 ko Chand Bagh protest ki hinsa ke baad yeh afwah phelayi gayi thi ki Kapil Mishra ke logon ne protest ke pandal mein aag laga di hai jiske baad sthiti atyadhik visphotak ho gayi thi aur poore uttar purvi zile dilli mein bahut bade sthar par sampradayik dange ho gaye the,” the statement reads.
On February 24, after the violence at the Chand Bagh protest site, a rumour was spread that Kapil Mishra’s men had set fire to the tent after which the situation escalated and communal riots took place in North East Delhi.