Fatima Khan

New Delhi: Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan and social activist Harsh Mander, along with several other activists, Wednesday demanded an independent commission be set up to conduct an inquiry into the Delhi Police’s investigation of the February riots in the national capital that left 53 dead and several others injured.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on the arrests of students and activists in connection with the riots, Bhushan said, “An independent commission must be set up which will conduct an inquiry into the Delhi police’s riot investigation. A committee was set up to see Delhi police’s role in the 1984 riots, and the same must happen now.”

He also called the Delhi Police’s investigation a “criminal conspiracy” and demanded a bonafide probe.

“This is a criminal conspiracy by the Delhi police to frame innocent people who were protesting peacefully against an unconstitutional law- the CAA, and to let off those against whom impeachable evidence is present,” he said, adding that he is choosing his words “very carefully”.

Others present at the press conference included Sayeda Hameed, former member of the erstwhile Planning Commission of India, Kavita Krishnan, CPI-ML leader, senior journalist Pamela Phillipose, and Nandita Narain, former president of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA).

The press conference came three days after former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for his alleged role in the Delhi riots.

Several other activists and former students, including Gulfisha Fatima, Sharjeel Imam, Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar, have been arrested under the UAPA in connection with the riots. Zargar was released on bail on 23 June.

What is my crime? asks Khalid

The organisers played a pre-recorded statement of Khalid in which he said the police has been trying to arrest him “for many days now”.

“If you are watching this video, it means I have been arrested,” Khalid can be seen saying in the video.

He also said that only those who opposed the Modi government, specifically the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), are being arrested.

“Delhi police is not arresting rioters who incited violence in the presence of the police, in the presence of TV cameras. Forget an FIR, the Delhi police hasn’t even called them for questioning yet,” he said.

“What is my crime? Is it that I say this country is yours as much as it is mine? That India, which is such a diverse nation, is equal in front of the Constitution?” Khalid asked.

Government trying to crush voices of dissent: Kanhaiya Kumar

CPI member and former JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was also scheduled to address the press conference, but was not present. He, later, released a statement on his Facebook page on the arrests.

“As it is, activists were under the target by this government, and now in the case of the Delhi riots, the government is trying to crush any voice of dissent,” Kumar wrote.

“How is it the case that those who call Godse great, and those who say ‘goli maaro‘ and those who openly do violence become patriots and those who oppose them become rioters?” read his post.

‘Expecting my arrest soon’: Harsh Mander

Retired IAS officer and activist Harsh Mander, who was present at the venue, told ThePrint he is expecting his arrest soon.

Mander was named in one of the charge sheets filed by the police in June. “Mr. Harsh Mander, who visited the site on 16/12/19 and instigated the protesters to not have faith in the Supreme Court and to fight their battle on road to get justice. He, however, used a façade of peace in a part of his speech,” read the charge sheet.

“I am not fearful. But I am very much anticipating my arrest soon. I am expecting that they will show up at my home or I will be called in by them and charged under UAPA. That is the trend we have seen,” Mander said.

“Contrary to the advise people may give, my resolve has been to not be quiet and to speak up against these arrests,” he added.

This story first appeared in ‘The Print’ on September 16, 2020 here