Seventy-two civil society members on Friday wrote an open letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, seeking the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the manner of investigation of the February violence in Delhi. The violence that took place between supporters and opponents of the Citizenship Amendment Act led to 53 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
The signatories said that while the Delhi Police have set up three Special Investigation Teams to probe the violence and are also inquiring into the possibility of a conspiracy, there are serious questions about the police’s own role, with allegations that the police did not stop the violence in some places, and were even complicit in some instances.
The signatories described incidents of alleged police brutality and negligence, custodial torture, participation in violence and filing of cases on flimsy grounds.
“Several accounts and videos have emerged of police allegedly being complicit in the violence, directing mobs pelting stones or looking the other way when mobs were indulging in violence in front of them,” the signatories said. “Most concerningly, there is a video from the Khureji protest site of the police breaking CCTV cameras at a petrol station raising serious concerns about its conduct.” They said no inquiry has been set up by the force to investigate its own officers.
The signatories pointed to a report in The Caravan which described police inaction on complaints against their own. “At least one deputy commissioner, two additional commissioners and two station house officers of the Delhi Police participated in criminal intimidation, unprovoked firing, arson and looting during the violence that swept northeast Delhi in late February, according to complaints filed by eyewitnesses,” the report said.
The signatories said that though four months have passed, no first information report has been filed. “In fact the Delhi Police appears to have not even acted against the DCP [deputy commissioner of police] who mutely stood next to a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leader who was instigating violence against the protestors warning them that if they did not vacate the area, he would do it himself,” they said.
A fact-finding committee constituted by the Delhi Minorities Commission said on Thursday that there was “repeated incitement to violence” throughout the Delhi Assembly election campaign from December to February by BJP leaders, and the violence in North East Delhi was “planned, organised and targeted”.
Allegations of custodial torture
The civil society intellectuals said that many victims and eyewitnesses have given accounts of custodial torture. The letter cited the example of Khalid Saifi, who was detained by the police from Khureji on February 26 and in a video of the arrest could be seen walking with no injuries. “Yet a few days later when he was produced before the magistrate, a video shows that both his legs were fractured and in casts, indicating that he might have been tortured in police custody,” they said.
The families of Saifi and Ishrat Jahan, another anti-CAA activist, have alleged that they were tortured in police custody.
‘No action on complaints against BJP leaders’
The signatories also alleged that the police took no action on complaints against leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Kapil Mishra, Satya Pal Singh, Jagdish Pradhan, Nand Kishore Gujjar and Mohan Singh Bisht were some of the leaders against whom complaints of participating in or orchestrating the violence had been filed.
“It is extremely concerning that the Delhi Police has refused to put nearly 700 FIRs registered by it in the public domain,” the letter said. “In fact, it has not even made a summary of the FIRs available to citizens.”
‘Criminalisation of peaceful protests’
The signatories also claimed that the police investigation seems to be pursuing a line of inquiry that criminalises protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, and portraying them as a conspiracy. The signatories pointed out that the protests had been non-violent, and therefore, taking an adversarial stance towards them was not warranted.
The letter said that the police have been calling several protestors for interrogation. The protestors have alleged that they had been intimidated and offered “deals” wherein they could go free if they implicated some activists in the violence, the letter added. The letter said the groups “Hum Bharat ke Log” (We the People of India) and “Delhi Protests Support Group” have been particularly harassed.
The signatories also provided links to various news articles to substantiate the claims and allegations made in the letter.
The signatories said the ongoing investigation by the Delhi Police “does not inspire confidence”. “We therefore call upon the Government of India to institute an inquiry into this investigation under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, by appointing sitting/retired judge(s) of the higher judiciary,” they said. The signatories also demanded that police personnel accused of complicity in the violence should not be involved in the investigation.