There is no bias in the Delhi Police investigation into the February communal violence, police commissioner SN Shrivastava claimed in a letter he wrote to retired veteran Julio Ribeiro on Tuesday. As evidence he cited the number of First Information Reports registered by the police: more than 410 FIRs were based on complaints by Muslims, while 190 FIRs emerged from complaints by Hindus.
Compare this with another statistic offered by the Delhi Police, this time in a press statement on Sunday. Of the 1,153 accused people against whom charges had been filed in court after the police had completed the investigation, 571 were Hindu and 582 were Muslim.
Put the data together. Double the number of riot cases stemmed from complaints by Muslims, presumably against Hindus. But six months later, more Muslims stand charged in court by the police.
In simpler words: the police have been more efficient in investigating riot cases against Muslims.
What could be a better illustration of police bias?
Scroll.in asked Delhi Police to explain why chargesheets against Muslims outnumbered those against Hindus. We did not get a response.
Delhi Police may well claim it simply found stronger evidence against Muslims. But given the way it handled the worst communal violence in four decades in the national capital, a more plausible explanation would be that it was eager to implicate Muslims, and wary of going after Hindus. After all, a senior police official wrote a letter instructing investigating officers to exercise “due care and precaution” while arresting Hindus since there was “resentment among the Hindu community”.
The February riots are a blot on Delhi Police’s record. For four days, frenzied mobs hurled petrol bombs, fired gunshots, swung swords and knives, 10 km from the Prime Minister’s residence, at a time the United States President was visiting, and the police failed to stop them.
Fifty three people were killed in the violence – 38 of whom were Muslim.
It may seem odious to reduce human life to religious identity but remember that these people were killed for their religious identity – and Muslim residents say the police took sides.
Scroll.in’s reporters witnessed first-hand an instance of the police standing by as Muslim establishments were torched, and another instance of Hindu mobs welcoming the police with anti-Muslim slogans. Other reporters saw the police egging on Hindu mobs to throw stones at Muslims, sometimes even picking and throwing stones themselves.
Among the most disturbing videos to surface during the violence was one that showed the police brutally assault five Muslim men, forcing them to sing the national anthem. One of them, 23-year-old Faizan, died after 36 hours in police custody.
Accusations of bias have spilled over into the investigation of the riot cases with Muslim families alleging the police used communally coloured language while dealing with them. A Muslim woman whose husband was arrested told Scroll.in that the police taunted her saying: “Got your azaadi?”
Anti-Muslim bias in India’s police forces is not a new phenomenon. A largely Hindu constabulary is prone to taking sides during communal conflagrations. But the key restraining factor is who wields political power over the police.
In Delhi, it is the Modi government’s home ministry, headed by a man who has never felt the need to hide his loathing for Muslims. In fact, it is home minister Amit Shah’s anti-Muslim politics that laid the ground for the Delhi violence. During the 2019 elections, he threatened to draw up a National Register of Citizens to weed out “termites” – a reference to Muslim migrants – while passing a law to protect the citizenship of migrants belonging to the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and other communities.
The passage of this law, the Citizenship Amendment Act, in Parliament in December 2019 ignited nationwide protests against the Modi government, with Muslim women staging indefinite sit-in demonstrations across India.
In Delhi, the BJP sought to capitalise on the protests to polarise the electorate in the February assembly polls. Its leaders made such rabid, hate-filled speeches against Muslim protestors that the Election Commission was forced to gag them.
Days later, Kapil Mishra, a BJP candidate who lost the election in North East Delhi, threatened to use violence to evict anti-Citizenship Act protestors. He delivered the threats before TV cameras, in the presence of a senior police officer. Within hours, clashes erupted on the streets. By the next day, they had morphed into full-fledged communal violence.
Yet the Delhi Police now claims it has no evidence against BJP leaders, even though transcripts of WhatsApp conversations it has submitted in court show Hindu rioters took inspiration from Kapil Mishra.
Ignoring its own evidence, the Delhi Police has pinned all the blame for the riots on the people protesting against the Citizenship Act. This week, it submitted a 17,000-page chargesheet against 15 people whom it alleges conspired to overthrow the government by stoking communal violence in the garb of peaceful, democratic protests.
While their lawyers are yet to receive copies of this chargesheet, previous chargesheets filed in other cases against some of the accused show the police are resting their accusations primarily on identical disclosure statements. The evidence is not just flimsy, it is not even admissible in court.
Thirteen of the 15 accused in the main conspiracy case are Muslim.
Delhi Police would have us believe that Muslims sparked the violence that consumed mostly Muslim lives. Nothing could be a greater travesty of justice. The only hope is the court would see through the blatantly partisan investigation of a police force reporting to a partisan government.
This story first appeared in ‘Scroll’ on September 18, 2020 here.