Over 600 citizens on Thursday criticised the Delhi Police over its “biased investigation” into the large-scale communal violence that broke out in the Capital in February. In a statement, they said that the police were arresting students, artists and journalists on the basis of fabricated and forced confessions and harassing them with “digressive investigations”.
The statement was released by the Culture Workers’ Support Trust and signed by students, artists, and academics from across the country. They also expressed their support for Kabir Kala Manch activists, who have been arrested in the Elgar Parishad case.
The signatories backed the students and activists, saying that their only “crime” was dissenting. “The recent naming of documentary filmmaker Rahul Roy in the supplementary charge sheet as a co-conspirator in the Delhi riots (as reported by the press), the summoning of Saba Dewan for questioning and the harassment being meted out to young art students whose only ‘crime’ seems to have been to paint murals and make posters to question contentious laws, are highly objectionable,” they said.
The signatories added: “It is unacceptable that dissenting artists, academicians, activists, journalists and others are being harassed with digressive investigations, and arrested based on fabricated and forced confessions. This is a clear attempt to create a culture of fear and is a direct attack on the right to critical speech and expression. The continued persecution of culture workers associated with Ambedkarite movements, such as Kabir Kala Manch, also points towards this attempt to quell voices of resistance who speak truth to power through art and activism.”
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The signatories pointed out that the government was shielding people who had provoked the violence with their incendiary speeches, which was an apparent reference to Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Kapil Mishra and Parvesh Verma. “Unleashing a witch-hunt against creative communities, activists, students and relief workers by alleging a “riots conspiracy” reveals the machination of people in positions of power to conceal the true identity of conspirators who, through their incendiary speech acts, triggered the worst communal riots the city of Delhi has seen in decades,” they said.
They accused the Delhi police of using the violence to target dissenting voices. “It is also denying justice to those who have suffered and died during the riots,” they said.
The statement came a day after the Delhi police named 15 people as accused in a chargesheet filed in connection with the violence. All of them have been accused under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Indian Penal Code and Arms Act.
Pinjra Tod members Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, Jamia Millia Islamia students Asif Iqbal Tanha, Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar, United Against Hate co-founder Khalid Saifi and former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan are among those named by the police. Former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid’s name was left out.
The CAA and the violence
Clashes had broken out between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and 26 in North East Delhi, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods. The violence was the worst Delhi saw since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the condition that they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014.