Delhi Riots of February 2020

While the top Indian political establishment was busy in hosting US President Donald Trump and his entourage on 24 and 25 February 2020 to make sure that they had a pleasant and flawless time, the parts of the Northeast Delhi were burning and taken hostage by the rioters and criminals driven by communal frenzy. There was a complete lawlessness with lackadaisical or no response from the law and order authorities. By the time, the Delhi police supplemented by the paramilitary forces geared up to control the situation in the riot affected area, a lot of damage in the form of human casualties and injuries as well as heavy losses of private and public properties were already caused. From the sequence of events and trend, it appears that the riots were planned beforehand with twin objectives to coincide with the current visit of the American President so as to embarrass the government at the Centre and garner maximum publicity to the ongoing anti-CAA agitation by the particular minority community in India.

How Riots Started and It's Implication?

While the full facts will be known only after the detailed enquiry which might take months together, the sequence of the fateful events and the gory details thereof broadly appear to be as follows. Reportedly, some six hundred or so Muslim women were seen marching through the congested lanes of Jafrabad in the Northeast Delhi towards the Metro station in the area around 10 PM on 22 February 2020. The local police noticed their movement but did not intervene and soon they squatted at the local Metro Station itself protesting against the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA). The women were accompanied by another four hundred or so male protesters for the back up support. According to some police sources, the core group of protesters appeared non-locals and by the following morning (Sunday, the 23rd February) this crowed swelled to around three thousand. There were only few women cops to handle this predominantly female crowd protesters, who had also seized access to the metro station.

Pattern-wise, the sit-in dharna at the stretch of Seelampur–Jaffrabad road in Northeast Delhi was almost on the pattern of Shaheen Bagh in the Southeast Delhi already going on for over two months. Initially, this sit-in protest was camouflaged as solidarity with the stated Bharat Bandh called by another organization, the Bhim Army. This mass assembly was done in violation of the already imposed Section 144 (ban on assembly of people) in the area. According to police, they could not remove the unlawful assembly but they did not permit erection of the dais, tents and public address system at the venue. By midnoon, the position had become tense in the area because while facing inconvenience due to blocked passage and access to the Metro Station, people mostly from the Hindu community complained to the police about this development. Police, however, did not take action to clear the site and did not suspect any violence under impression that the dharna will remain Shaheen Bagh like; although there was some stone-pelting during the day but the police managed to control it.

It is an irony and misfortune that like political parties the media and intellectuals of this country too remain divided in their understanding, opinion and consequent reporting of the public events. While we shall try to evaluate in the later part with greater details but let’s see how the ruling Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Delhi and some news channels have reported the eruption of violence in the first instant. According to these reports, a local Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra called his supporters to gather in large numbers at Maujpur Chowk in the afternoon on 23 February 2020 to give an answer to Jafrabad blockade. He allegedly spoke in a rally against the anti-CAA sit-in dharna in the presence of the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) of the Northeast Delhi and intimidated the police to remove the protesters from Jafrabad and Chand Bagh areas in three days’ time else he would take matter into own hands to resolve the issue.

Allegedly, Mishra also posted a video and tweeted threatening the police, and his incendiary speech and remarks were the main reason for the riots. By around 9 AM on 24 February, rioting had broken out with large scale arson and vandalism. The rioters and goons freely used country-made and semi-automatic pistols against each other and even the police was not spared. The violence thus erupted soon engulfed the areas of Jafrabad, Chand Bagh, Seelampur, Maujpur, Kardampuri, Babarpur, Gokulpuri and Shivpuri of Northeast Delhi. Subsequently, another nearby Ashok Nagar locality in Shahdara was also affected with similar violent incidents including a mosque vandalized. This unrestrained schizophrenic conduct of rioters and consequent violence continued unabated all through the 24th and 25th February and it was only later in the day that adequate police and paramilitary forces could organize themselves and chased away the rioters taking control of the situation with only minor sporadic violence reported in the next two days.

The rioters indulged in a large scale stone-pelting, shooting, stabbing, lynching, arson and vandalism on the roads, lanes, houses and religious places. Houses were put on fire, schools vandalized and burnt, shops and road side gumtis were looted and torched, small business establishments were completely destroyed and vehicle – cars, motor cycles and scooters – were damaged and destroyed by putting them on fire en mass. Apart from illegal fire arms and knives, the antagonistic mobs used sticks, stones, bricks, acid, petrol bombs, catapults and slingshots to attack and harm others. Even the DCP, Shahdara and his team accompanied by three police companies were attacked near a mosque at Chand Bagh area. The DCP and ACP were badly beaten by the rioters, and the head constable Ratan Lal was shot dead in the same area. While the Delhi police has been constantly criticized for their failure to control and stop the loss of the life and property, a police officer explained that the Northeast Delhi with about 80,000 people to every square kilometer is among the densest area in the country and hence difficult to manage in such a volatile situation.

What has changed now in the context of arson and riots, and consequent conundurm on roads and in public is that in the past violent events were reconstructed based on eye-witness accounts, still photographs and TV camera footages but now it comes directly through the incidents live captured on smartphones. Post-riots, efforts have been made by one community and biased media to paint these riots as 'genocide' and this narrative is being sold even to foreign media by some paid journalists. Videos have appeared with graphic details how the Muslim mobs attacked the Delhi Police with unrestrained ferocity with stones, sticks, sharp weapons and even fire arms while the latter exercised maximum restraint perhaps due to presence of a large number of burka-clad (veiled) women in the crowd. The gradually emerging evidences suggest that the Muslims took a greater beating in latter part of the riots mostly on 25th February while Hindus in the Muslim dominated localities badly suffered on 24th and subsequently.

The Chand Bagh area was among the worst hit localities following this communal frenzy, which proved to be equally difficult and challenging to manage all along. After the attack on the police contingent in the morning around 9.30 AM, it took almost seven hours for the additional contingent of the police forces to reach Chand Bagh and secure Wazirabad and the major trunk road (66-feet wide) in the area. Further, it was only after the stepping up of the national security advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and the special police commissioner SN Shrivastava to take control and visit worst affected areas that the confidence of the security forces and people was restored and the situation successfully managed with the rioters retreating to their hide outs. The timing of the start of riots and the way it subsided in two days raises a genuine apprehension if it indeed had anything to do with the major political event of the American President's visit to India with the duel objectives of embarassing the Indian government and garnering maximum attention on anti-CAA agitation.

Chand Bagh as Centre of Communal Frenzy

Chand Bagh was an area where the police contingent comprised of over 200 men headed by the DCP was attacked: Head Constable Ratan Lal was shot dead, DCP Amit Sharma became unconscious due to fatal injuries and ACP received thrashing from the rioters. The unabated daylong arson, vandalism and violence in the area took a heavy toll of human life in the form of death and injuries besides heavy loss of the private and public property. The local AAP corporater Tahir Hussain appears to be the brain behind and main architect of the arson and violence in the area. As it appears that his four-storey house in the area was used as the epicentre for the rioters operating in the area. Many videos have come up on social media showing Hussain actively leading and instructing rioters with stockpile and stacks of bricks, stones, acid and petrol bombs on the roof and other places of his building which has been sealed by the police now.

When allegations of Tahir Hussain’s involvement became public, initially the AAP senior leaders like Sanjay Singh strongly defended him. However, after a host of grave charges were levied against him by the eyewitnesses in the area and FIR was registered against the corporator under Section of 302 of the Indian Penal Code in connection with the murder of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) staffer Ankit Sharma, whose body was recovered from a drain in Chand Bagh on 26 February, he was suspended by the party from his primary membership pending investigation against him. Hussain aggressively claimed his innocence inter alia maintaining that he was not aware of who and when put incriminating objects like stones and petrol bombs in his house but, thereafter, he disappeared and was absconding to evade imminent arrest by the police. However, later he was arrested and remanded to police custody for investigation.

The 26 years old Ankit Sharma was an assistant in the IB who was reported missing on 25 February and later his mutilated body was recovered from a drain in the Chand Bagh area on 26 February. As the available reports suggest, Ankit had gone out to assess the situation on the fateful day after returning from the office and was caught by the violent mob, which beat and stabbed him to death before disposing of his body in the drain. Citing eye-witnesses in the area, his elder brother, however, claims that the violent mob had actually caught Ankit and three others, dragged them inside the house of the corporater Tahir Hussain, apparently there he was brutally tortured and killed before throwing his body in the local drain. Reportedly, two other bodies have also been recovered while one had somehow escaped. The most disturbing part of this tragic loss of life is the findings of the post mortem report of Ankit Sharma, which suggests over 400 hundred stabbings and chopping of the vital organs like eyes, nose and ears reminding the brutality of ISIS terrorists. Another gruesome murder relates to one Dilbar Negi whose limbs were chopped off by the rioters before burning him alive.

The Role of A Local BJP Leader

At least three complaint have been filed against the Delhi BJP leader Kapil Mishra for making incendiary speech and instigating violence, the prominent among them being the one by the activist Teesta Sheetalwad, writer and journalist Anil Dharkar and some others. Some relatives of the people who died in the violence have also accused Mishra of inciting the violence. On his part, Mishra has tweeted that he was not scared of the "massive hate campaign" against him for "speaking truth" and supporting CAA. Also in a counter attack, he tweeted that those who don’t consider Burhan Wani and Afzal Guru terrorists were demanding his arrest. His detractors have quoted the following speech in video clip and another Tweet, which, according to them, led to the current Delhi riots. The text of his relevant speech and tweet is verbatim reproduced here:

“Dilli me aag lagi hai. Inhone raaste band kiye, dange jaisa mahaul bana rahe hain. Hamari taraf se ek bhi patthar nahi chala hai. DCP Saheb hamaare saamne khade hain, main aap sabke behalf se yeh baat kah raha hoon. Trump ke jaane tak to hum shanti se ja rahe hain lekin uske baad kisi ki nahi sunege, agar raaste khali nahi hue to. Trump ke jaane tak,aap Jafrabad aur Chand Bagh khali karva lijiye, aisi aapse vinti kar rahe hain. Iske baad hame road par aana parhega…thik hai? Bharat Mata ki Jai.”

{Delhi is on fire. They (anti-CAA protesters) have blocked roads and creating a riot-like situation, we have not pelted even one stone so far. The DCP sir is standing here and on your behalf (public) I am telling him that we shall remain peaceful till the departure of Donald Trump but if the roads are not cleared by then, we shall not listen to anybody. So we are humbly requesting you that the (roadblock at) Jafrabad and Chand Bagh must be cleared by Trump’s departure. If not, we shall have to come on road…Isn’t it right?...Long Live Bharat Mata.}

“Ye hai Bhajanpura – Chand Bagh road; abhi – abhi yeh sadak bhi band kar di hai Muslim bhid ne. Udhar se Jafrabad band, idhar se Chand Bagh band, yani Dilli ke Jamunapar me rahne wale lagbhag 35 lakh ab kaid me hai. Na koi aa sakta, na ja sakta…bahar jaane ke dono raaston par kabja.”

(This is Bhajanpura-Chand Bagh Road; Right now Muslim mob has blocked this road too. Jafrabad has been blocked from the other side and Chand Bagh from this side. This means about 35 lakhs of Delhites living in Trans-Yamuna areas are held hostage now. Neither anybody can go to that side nor anybody come this side…Both roads going out have been seized.)

In fact, when we talk of incendiary and inflammatory speeches and tweets, perhaps volumes of book could be written from the irresponsible speeches and outburst of many Indian leaders, particularly the detractors and adversaries of Prime Minister Modi. Senior opposition leaders go out to Pakistan and seek support from Pakistani establishment to oust/remove Modi. Only recently, a veteran actor and Congress leader had gone out to Pakistan and exchanged concern with Pakistani President on Kashmir about the (imaginary) lockdown of the state by the Indian government. He did not even object when the Pakistani leader called Kashmir as “India occupied territory”. Opponents may blame Mishra but it won't be difficult for him to defend self even in any court of law. People have right to protest but, for sure, they do not have right to seize trunk roads and public places putting everyone at inconvenience in the national capital. Here I am also quoting a speech of the Congress Supremo Sonia Gandhi and leave it to the wisdom of readers to decide if it is any better than Mishra's.

"Hamari jimmedari banti hai ki hum apne dharon se baaher nikle aur iske khilaf andolan kare. Kisi bhi vyakti, samaj aur desh ki jindagi me kabhi kabhi aisa waqt ata hai ki use ‘is paar ya us paar’ ka faisla lena parhta hai, aaj wahi waqt aa gaya hai. Desh ko bachana hai to hume kathore sangharsh karna hoga. Modi-Shah sarkar ko apni aawaz buland karke bataaiye ki loktantra ki raksha ke liye hum koi bhi kurbani dene ke liye taiyar hain…koi bhi kurbani dene ke liye taiyar hain.”

(This is our responsibility that we come out of our homes and start agitation against this (CAA). A time comes in every person, society and nation’s life when they have to take decision ‘now or never’ and today that time has come. If the nation has to be saved, we shall have to be ready for a strong fight. You shall raise your voice now against Modi-Shah government to tell that to save democracy, we are ready to give any sacrifice…we are ready to give any sacrifice.)

The foresaid call was given by the Congress Acting President targeting the particular Indian community to come out on roads for the protest against the CAA, and similar speeches have been given by many other political leaders in the recent past. Though the Indian Muslims are in no way affected by CAA yet they were called upon by many political leaders and Muslim clergy to come out of their homes and put up a strong fight against the government to save the country as if its existence is actually endangered. Such speeches in December 2019 led to large scale protests and violence in several states by the Indian Muslim community leading to many deaths and destruction of the public and private properties.

The idea of the sit-in dharna in the Northeast Delhi on the pattern of Shaheen Bagh in the Southeast Delhi was undoubtedly a dangerous move because it would have effectively blocked the passage of several lakhs daily commuters between trans-Yamuna areas of Northeast Delhi to main Delhi areas for the business and private purpose. While the ongoing investigations will possibly reveal culprits in due time, fix responsibility and accountability for the security lapses, and so on, there is no doubt that the police has failed to assess the ground situation and gear up in time to effectively handle the deteriorating situation by provide security to the life and property of civilians. Also Delhi is the seat for both the state and central government, but both governments not only remained at loggerheads during the peace time but also during the current crisis. Their constant rivalry and mutual barbs have harmed Delhi in many ways than helping it in anyway.

Who is Responsible for Riots?

Parties and people responsible will be known only after due enquiry for which the Delhi Police has formed two special investigation teams (SITs) headed by DCPs under the supervision of an Additional Commissioner of Police to probe all cases related to the riots in Northeast Delhi with all FIRs transferred to them. However, while recovery of the dead bodies of innocent victims still continues, the dirty game of politics has already begun with the AAP senior leader Sanjay Singh forejudging it with his statement that the violence in Delhi was result of well-planned conspiracy of the BJP. The AAP and Congress have no trust in the Delhi Police and the latter wants investigation to be supervised by the Supreme Court. In fact, the recent experience shows that they do not spare even the Supreme Court when the outcome of any judgment or investigation is not favourable to their interests. But then all this is permissible under the “Freedom of Speech and Expression” in India with no holds barred.

The adage - “The best defense is a good offense” fits well in the current situation. Ever since anti-CAA agitation started in Delhi in December 2019, many Congress and AAP leaders have registered their presence at various trouble spots. While Muslim legislatures and corporaters of AAP have been found giving inflammatory speeches, organizing and actively supporting protests, many prominent Congress leaders too have visited Shaheen Bagh and such other places making common cause with the protesters. The Shaheen Bagh has presented a strange contrast in the recent times. On one hand, they carry copies of the Constitution and national flag occasionally reciting even patriotic songs like “Vande Matram” which they were otherwise known to be allergic with; on the other hand from, on the same venue they deliver fiery speeches like cutting Assam and other Northeastern states from the rest of India and raise slogans like “Cheen ke lege azadi (We will forcibly take freedom)” in Kashmir and other places, kill PM Modi, and so on. Some Congress leaders like Salman Khurshid and Digvijay Singh were also seen joining azadi chorus with these protesters. We attained freedom from the colonial powers in 1947; so it is difficult to fathom what kind of freedom the CAA protesters and leaders of oldest national party are seeking now. 

The Delhi government did not take any action in Shaheen Bagh to vacate unlawful seize of trunk route connecting Southeast Delhi to Noida through Kalindi Kunj causing tremendous inconvenience and discomfiture to lakhs of daily commuters for months together on the pretext that Delhi Police is not under their administration; instead they kept on passing buck on the Home Minister to visit venue to negotiate with protesters an issue (CAA), on which they have no locus standi. In a sedation case of 2016 in JNU, South Delhi, they have given permission to Delhi Police to go ahead with the court case against the accused men only few days back after holding the file for more than a year, and this exposes their superfluous and untenable stand in Shaheen Bagh. Now the anti-CAA protesters’ seize at Jafrabad - Chand Bagh and inaction of administration to clear it would have effectively blocked the access of commuters to the old Yamuna and Signature bridges affecting millions of Delhites. The essence of what the local BJP leader Mishra told Delhi Police was that the latter should take action to clear unlawful seize by anti-CAA protesters in three days else he and his supporters would also come out to protest on roads to save millions people from inconvenience. 

For the obvious reasons, a certain section of Indian English print and electronic media and Western media constantly focus on the lopsided, and so often anti-India reporting even indulging in fake news, and the current riots were no exception. In the instant case too, popular Indian English dailies and US dailies like the Washington Post and New York Times have acted in predicted lines as if goons of the majority community had willfully archestred arson and violence against the minority community (Muslims) and the Wall Street Journal resorted to extreme yellow journalism with fake news. While the investigation agencies and court will finally fix the responsibility for the Delhi riots but even the very suggestion by some of BJP’s involvement in riots is too preposterous and scandalous, when the ruling party was engaged with the visit of the world’s most important and influential leader during the same period. It goes without saying that any chaos, disruption and consequent mishandling would easily tarnish the image of India, its ruling party and leadership; and the organizers of the riots indeed considerably succeeded in their design. 

Role of International Media

In an earlier article, I had referred to a popular saying – “with friends like these, who needs enemies”. So when Indians such as Barkha Dutt and other like-minded foreign journalists of Indian origin indulge in a systematic untruth and fake news campaign, it looks so real to many with many international media groups found more than willing to publish and endorse this yellow journalism. Current reporting of Delhi riots by these media groups of international repute is no exception. The most bizarre and scandalous news item appeared in the New York based Wall Street Journal, which reported that the IB officer Ankit Sharma’s brother had informed the Journal that Ankit was killed by a mob chanting “Jai Shree Ram”, thereby trying to prove the murder of the officer by the Hindu rioters and fundamentalists. This was a white lie published by the Journal while Ankit’s brother has appeared umpteen times before Indian news channels sticking to the narrative how a violent mob captured Ankit near the house of the corporater Tahir Hussain, took him inside the house and later his mutilated body with hundreds of wounds recovered from the Chand Bagh drain on 26 February.

After his brother’s complaint and categorical denial, a case has now been filed against the Wall Street Journal with the Delhi Police and the Maharashtra Police. The reporting by the other US based media groups such as the Washington Post and New York Times is no better so for as the factual reporting is concerned. Indian journalist Barkha Dutt is a regular columnist of the Washington Post and is infamous for her coloured vision and lopsided reporting at home. There she writes against India and Hindus, and back home she mingles and supports those who talk of breaking India. The truth is that the riots started on 24 February in Muslim areas with Chand Bagh as nerve centre and as it spread in more areas of the Northeast Delhi, both Hindus and Muslims clashed and suffered in the organized violence. Chand Bagh is an area where a head constable was shot dead, the DCP concerned received fatal injuries and IB officer Ankit was murdered after brutal torture. But Barkha Dutt does not consider it necessary even to make a passing reference of these barbaric incidents or do some balancing act, instead she prefers a dig on American President and Indian Prime Minister’s lavish non-vegetarian dinner (Modi is a vegetarian and likes simple Gujarati food) and goes on to lopsided reporting with a few examples how innocent Muslims like Shahid Rickshaw driver suffered at the hands of Hindu communalists/rioters.

Of course, there are reasons and background of such journalists for doing this but with their yellow journalism they are earning bad name for their own nation and profession. Reporting by the New York Times, the Guardian, Al Jazeera the Khaleej Times, and so on, too is one-sided and shows their malice and ignorance of Indian realities. Only few days back, an Indian journalist revealed how a US based newspaper group had offered him 1500$ to report on how many died on religion basis during Delhi riots and he refused and scornfully replied: Your President (Donald Trump) rightly calls you as Presstitutes. This journlist is an exception, many others sell their souls for a few dollars and fascination that their articles/reports in the media/newspapers of international repute would bring them name and recognition. While going through reports of the foreign media on Delhi riots,  I found the one by the US Fox News Group far more restraint and down to earth but the US liberals call it a biased reporting.

More Reality Bites

After 1984 anti-Sikh riots leading to massacre of thousands of innocent Sikhs, the current Hindu-Muslim riots are perhaps the next biggest communal carnage in the recent decades. Assessment is still going on but 46 deaths, over two hundred injuries and loss of public and private property worth billions have already been reported so for. The available information suggests, the trouble was started by the rioters of the minority community in the areas of their hold and dominance, and soon similar elements in the majority community also joined this communal frenzy in retaliation spreading it to more areas. Needless to mention, in every such riot only the humanity suffers because the criminals rule the roost and the innocent lives suffer through this chaos and confusion. In these riots too, many innocent people of both communities have died and their properties destroyed; many of them are also rendered destitute having lost their homes and means of livelihood too. The hate and acrimony created between the people of two communities will cast its shadow in their future relationships and lives too for long.

The underlying reason for the conflict is the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act 2019) which has been exploited by the opposition to turn people against the government at the Centre. The very agitation against CAA is totally irrational and uncalled for because, in fact, what to talk of Indian Muslims, it does not affect the citizen status of any of the Indian communities. It is a onetime measure to identify and grant Indian citizenship to the religiously persecuted minority refugees including Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis from three neighboring Islamic countries, which took shelter in the country long back but are deprived of government welfare schemes including education and employment in the country in the absence of citizenship. As many of them lack necessary documentation and other requisites, it became necessary to make this special one-time dispensation. The Indian National Congress is now vehemently opposing the grant of nationality to them by spreading misinformation due to their political policy of appeasement while the same party had favoured it in the past on many occasions.

The current riots show some very disturbing trends akin to the practices followed by ISIS terrorists to create maximum terror and impact on their victims. The way the violent mob attacked and killed/hurt some security personnel without any provocation in Chand Bagh area, while they were trying to control situation and restore order, is rather unprecedented. During this riot, even a single casualty has not been reported on account of the police firings so far; in this background, their hateful crime against the security forces is beyond comprehension. The murder of the IB assistant Ankit Sharma is yet another tragedy in the same locality suggesting the ISIS like hate agenda and barbarism that has been imbibed by some people of Indian origin now. The reported more than 400 stabbing wounds on his body including the mutilation of body and the vital organs like eyes, ear and nose as also the alleged use of acid to inflict maximum injury and pain to the victim before death is indeed very fiendish, barbaric and inhuman.

Creation of another Shaheen Bagh like seize and consequent inconvenience to lakhs of Delhi people has been prevented but at an enormous loss of human lives and property. It is also clear that the Delhi riots were not an impromptu outbreak of violence. The way stacks of stones, acid and petrol bombs have been recovered from some localities and the house of one AAP corporater, it is clear that the preparations for the large scale arson, vandalism and violence was going on for a long period apparently keeping American President's visit too in mind. Also it is not just the CAA, rather the leaders of the AAP and Congress have successfully manipulated the particular community to continue pressure on the Central government not only on the issue of CAA but also by raising dissident voices against abolition of Article 370 in Kashmir, Ram temple – Babri mosque issue, triple talaq, and a host of other issues from Shaheen Bagh and such other venues. Their leaders have regularly visited such venues showing solidarity with the protesters who in the name of peaceful protests have constantly put the common people under tremendous inconvenience and discomfort in Delhi and other places.


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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