A student. A food seller. A creative producer. A scientist. All they have in common is that they took part in the Citizenship Act protests last winter. Months later, the Delhi Police called them in for questioning in its controversial riots case, which blames the communal violence that took place in India’s capital in February on a conspiracy by Citizenship Act protestors to overthrow the Narendra Modi government. Over 70 protestors have been interrogated in the case. Below is an account by one of them.
His day job is that of a communications professional, but the young man had been active on Delhi’s protest circle for a while. He has a sizable social media following, thanks to his activism. On December 15, when Delhi Police barged inside the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia University after protests outside against the Citizenship Amendment Act led to clashes, a young student, who was beaten up by the police, called him seeking help. Then someone else called too. “They asked me to put out a call on my Facebook asking people to march to ITO [where the Delhi Police headquarters is located] to oppose police brutality,” he recalled.
He did so – and his post got shared around. “By the night, a lot of people had assembled there,” he said.
Over the next few weeks, as protests scaled up in India’s capital, he became the go-to person for many protestors if they faced any trouble with the police, he said. “I know a lot of lawyers, I have a lot of friends who are journalists, so people would reach out to me and I would connect both parties,” he said.
In the first week of January, he was added to the Delhi Protest Support Group, a WhatsApp group that had been created on December 28 by film makers and activists Saba Dewan and Rahul Roy to help the protesters, many of whom had little experience in organising or dealing with the police.
The group, the Delhi Police has claimed, was central to the “conspiracy” that led to communal violence in the city in February. To make their case, the police in the chargesheet have elaborately cited the transcripts of the conversations on the WhatsApp group which reveal some differences of opinion within the members.
‘They wanted me to implicate Rahul Roy’
In particular, the police have narrowed down on exchanges on the DPSG group on February 22, when women protestors started blocking the main road in North East Delhi’s Jafrabad. Some members of the group objected to the development, accusing activists of the feminist group Pinjra Tod of instigating them and putting them in harm’s way. Blocking roads in the area, these members insisted, was a bad idea as it could lead to violence given the charged atmosphere that prevailed in the area. A member of Pinjra Tod pushed back on the group, saying the women were acting on their own accord. Roy, for his part, suggested that differences should be sorted out in person and not on social media.
The police have used these transcripts to allege that Roy and other veteran activists on the DPSG group deliberately ignored the warnings raised by some members, as they were part of a secret plot to engineer violence in Delhi to overthrow the government. In fact, Delhi Police’s riots conspiracy case hinges on the claim that the Jafrabad roadblock was the culmination of an elaborate conspiracy dating back to December to create communal strife in the capital. Two members of the Pinjra Tod group have been arrested and charged in the case.
As the chargesheet shows, the police have utilised the differences of opinion among the DPSG members, many of whom have been interrogated in the case, to extract statements in support of its conspiracy thesis.
For instance, the communication professional, too, had expressed his discomfort with the Jafrabad roadblock. When he was called in for questioning by the Special Cell, they repeatedly brought up those differences of opinion, he said. “They wanted me to give a statement on the chats,” he said. “What Delhi police wanted from me was to name Rahul [Roy].”
“The police made me memorise a statement…what I had to say and all,” he continued. “Their argument was that since Rahul Roy was the one who created the group, he was the main conspirator. So, the line that they had written down for me was ‘yeh sab Rahul Roy ne karwaya tha’ – all of it was orchestrated by Rahul Roy.”
The interrogation, he said, was nerve-wracking. “While the police didn’t misbehave, or torture me, it was a time of great stress because I knew if the police wanted me to implicate me, they could have done in a thousand ways,” he said. They told me, ‘Spill the truth or we will charge you under UAPA too.’” The UAPA is the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, India’s draconian anti-terror law, which has been invoked against the accused in the riots conspiracy case.
Scroll.in has emailed questions to Delhi Police about these allegations but they are yet to respond.
‘Their only fault is they don’t support the ruling party’
The communications professional said he finally gave a statement in front of a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code. “I just verbalised the chats,” he said, by which he meant he simply summarised the differences of opinion aired on the group. Scroll.in has reviewed his statement.
Despite the police pressure, he refrained from implicating Roy. “I know Rahul Roy personally. I know he is innocent,” he said. “I told the judge that Rahul Roy had made the group for support and coordination.”
The communications professional was not the only one whom the police tried to coerce into giving a statement implicating senior activists on the group, citing their messages which expressed disagreement with certain strategies adopted by other protesters.
Another young member of the group was asked why he did not inform the police when the seasoned activists on the group had not stepped in to stop the blockade. “I told them I did not think there was any planning for anything sinister,” he said. “I thought it [blocking the roads] was stupid, it was foolhardy, but not sinister or criminal.”
Regardless, the turn of events in Delhi has left many of those who had cautioned against a roadblock jaded. “It was a spontaneous protest, it had emerged organically,” said the communications professional. “I was into it just to help the people, just to make sure no mishaps happened, but 50 people ended up dying. I saw bodies being recovered from the drain. Uss moment me rooh kaap jaye [My soul was shaken].”
“The riots were obviously planned by the BJP, but the idiocy of certain young activists helped their cause,” he rued. “As far as Rahul [Roy] and all are concerned their only fault is they don’t support the ruling party.”
Read the entire series here.