NEW DELHI — In its most extensive affidavit on the Delhi riots thus far, the Delhi Police has sought to link the communal violence in February this year to the mostly peaceful protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.
In the process, the Delhi Police has sought to absolve itself of its role in escalating and enacting some of the violence by omitting key events like its brutal, and well documented, crackdown on students of the prestigious Jamia Millia Islamia University in December 2019.
The police have also gone easy on legislators and representatives of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), particularly BJP leaders Kapil Mishra and Minister of State Anurag Thakur, who gave inflammatory speeches shortly before the violence broke out.
In its affidavit to the Delhi High Court, the Delhi Police has claimed that “so far, no involvement of any police officials has been found in the matter,” despite video footage and a HuffPost India investigation establishing the role of the police in the infamous “National Anthem lynching” that shows a group of policemen brutally assaulting a group of Muslim men, and then forcing them to sing the national anthem. One of them subsequently died of his injuries when the police denied him medical attention.
The affidavit claims the police used “minimal possible force” and employed “persistent negotiating efforts” on 13 December, the day they lathi-charged students and lobbed tear gas shells into the Jamia Millia Islamia campus. In the case of the police’s well-documented assault on the Jamia campus on 15 December – which included video footage of the police tear gassing students in a library — there is no mention of the crackdown in the affidavit.
The affidavit raises fresh questions over the Delhi Police’s intent and ability to conduct an impartial investigation into the riots in which extensive video footage indicates that its own troopers stand implicated.
The Delhi Police’s affidavit makes clear that 40 of the 53 people killed in the February riots were Muslim, and more Muslim than Hindu homes and shops were destroyed, yet blames the violence on individuals who drove the protests against the CAA, many of them Muslim.
Those protesting the CAA, the police claims, were trying “to execute a secessionist movement in the country by propagating an armed rebellion,” yet offers no evidence to back this hyperbolic claim.
The police affidavit was submitted to the Delhi High Court on 13 July in response to a writ petition by film-maker Rahul Roy, activist Harsh Mander and Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), urging the Delhi High Court to investigate the role of Mishra and other BJP leaders in instigating the riots, to identify and dismiss policemen involved in the riots, and to allow officers from outside Delhi to conduct an unbiased investigation.
The first part of the Delhi Police’s affidavit describes the events of 13 and 15 December, the two days of protests in and around Jamia that descended into violence.
On 13 December, when student protesters were denied permission to carry out a march from their campus to the Parliament, they tried jumping the police barricades. The police say it was the students who threw the first stones, while the students say the police started beating them with their batons and lobbing tear gas shells, even inside the campus, for almost two hours.
A telling moment captured on video that runs contrary to the Delhi Police’s claim of using “minimal possible force,” is when a group of policemen have cornered a handful of students and are raining blows with their batons. This only ends when a campus security guard makes the policemen leave, even gently pushing one of them away from the student he is beating.
There were also media reports of the violence inside the campus disrupting the viva examination that was underway in the engineering department of the University.
The number of injured students varied in media reports. The Telegraph reported that 70 injured students went to the M.A. Ansari Health Centre, 32 went to the Holy Family Hospital and two were admitted, and one went to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for surgery.
Only some of the protestors were students in an anti-CAA demonstration that descended into chaos near Jamia on 15 December, says the affidavit. Most were local residents or people who had come to join protests.
`The police say this mob, armed with stones, tube lights, petrol bombs, and all sorts of weapons, burnt public and private vehicles, targeted properties, and indulged in “hooliganism, vandalism and violence.”
“The use of the aforesaid force was minimalistic considering the gravity of the situation,” says the affidavit.
A telling moment captured on video is when four unarmed women students confronted four baton-wielding policemen who were trying to grab the male student with them. There does not appear to be any violence unfolding in the immediate vicinity at that moment. When one policeman eventually managed to grab the male student from the back, the others surrounded him, swore at him, beat him with their batons until the women students fended them off.
The “miscreants” retreated inside the University, and there were “heavy stones, glass bottles and tube-light pelting” as well as “petrol bombs” being chucked from inside the campus, making it necessary for the police to enter the campus, the affidavit says.
The Delhi Police’s now infamous rampage in the 100-year-old educational institution, which left students bloodied, wounded and unconscious, is summed up in a few short sentences in the affidavit: “With a view to contain the violence and protect any aggravation in the situation, the police was constrained to enter the university campus. The police personnel could successfully contain the violent activity by temporarily apprehending 52 persons under Section 65 of the Delhi Police Act.”
On 16 December, one day after the violence, Imran Chaudhary, a PhD candidate, who was hiding in the library when it was attacked, told HuffPost India how terrified students had pushed cabinets against its door, but they broke it down. A video that captured the aftermath showed rows of upturned tables and chairs and broken glass. Chaudhary and his fellow students were marched out of the campus with their arms raised above their heads.
“Every two minutes, we could hear a shot of the tear gas being fired. They broke down the door to the library and they shot tear gas inside,” he said.
In the affidavit, the Delhi Police says that one police officer, Shri Devesh C. Srivastava, speaking over a mic, used “soft language” like “baccho” to appeal for peace, but he was attacked with stones and tubelights.
Doctors said that students were hit in their abdomen and genitals.
Another telling video posted that day showed a bathroom where all the mirrors were smashed, and an unconscious student was lying face down on the floor, while another one was slumped and bleeding against a sink.
Jamia Millia Islamia Chief Proctor Waseem Ahmed Khan at the time said the Delhi Police had forced its way into the University, without any permission, and Jamia Vice Chancellor Najma Akhtar had demanded a high level inquiry
The affidavit says that “local leaders and politicians were instigating the protesters and were raising extremely provocative slogans” at Jamia, but it does not elaborate on what they said or mention whether there is an audio or video of these allegedly dangerous utterances.
The speech given by child right’s activist and petitioner Harsh Mander, who is accused in this affidavit for “instigating protesters” and asking them to take to the streets, can be heard here.
Mander, a vocal critic of the Modi government, begins his speech by saying this fight is for the country, the Constitution and love.
The 65-year-old activist then says that people should take to the street to battle the CAA because there was nothing a weak Opposition could do and the Supreme Court he added had not stepped up for secularism and equality over the past year.
During these protests, which HuffPost India routinely reported, there were calls for street protests to force a repeal of the CAA, not to start a riot or overthrow the government.
As the the number of protest sites grew around Delhi, and spread to cities across the India, there were several venues where Muslim women of all ages were on the frontlines. This extraordinary development, the first in India’s history, made headlines in other countries as well.
The Delhi Police, in this affidavit, characterises these protests as nothing but illegal traffic snarls and the women as “human shields” who were used by the masterminds behind the Delhi riots.
Since the Delhi Police is repeating this narrative of linking the anti-CAA protests to the riots in the chargesheets it is filing, Mander’s name has cropped up in the case files of riot-related crimes.
On 16 December, one day after the Delhi Police stormed the Jamia library, Mander ended his speech by saying, “They will be violent, they will provoke us to be violent, but we will never choose violence.”
He said, “ Constitution.” The crowd of students at Jamia said, “Zindabad.”