NE Delhi Riots: Report Details Role of Delhi Police, Government, Media
"Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North East Delhi Violence 2020", examines different facets of the violence from its genesis, nature, and aftermath
A citizen's report by former civil servants on the 2020 Northeast violence has explained how the current government engineered anti-Muslim narrative and propaganda led to violent signals and with how when amalgamated with hate messaging in public discourse, it actually led to incidence of violence.
The report was written by the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), which is a group of former civil servants belonging to the All India and Central Services who have worked with the Central Government as well as different State Governments of India.
In February 2020, India witnessed violence in Delhi's northeast area, which led to the deaths of 53 people and left hundreds injured. Following the riots, the group visited some of the affected areas and later wrote to the President of India asking for a judicial enquiry.
"Considering the horrific nature of the riots, the scale of violence, the loss of lives and the resulting communal divide between communities, we felt that an expert body should carry out a thorough examination of what transpired before, during and after the riots. We invited a group of retired judges and civil servants with proven records of public service to take on this task," the report stated.
The Citizens Committee consisted of Justice Madan Lokur, former judge of the Supreme Court (Chairperson), Justice A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of the Madras and Delhi High Courts and former Chairman, Law Commission of India, Justice R.S. Sodhi, former judge of the Delhi High Court, Justice Anjana Prakash, former judge of the Patna High Court, G.K. Pillai, IAS (Retd.), former Home Secretary, Government of India, Dr. Meeran Chadha Borwankar, IPS (Retd.), former Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development.
The Committee completed the report, titled "Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North East Delhi Violence 2020", authored by the five members. The report, organised into three parts, examines different facets of the violence from its genesis, nature, and aftermath.
Part I sets the context of what was triggered by the amendments passed to the citizenship law, analyses the build-up to the violence, its trajectory, and the state's response as it unfolded.
The second part talks about the role played by sections of television and social media in channelling polarised narratives before and after the violence.
The third part contains a legal analysis of the Delhi Police investigations into the violence, and of larger implications of the use of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA).
"The clearing of the anti-CAA sit-in protests in North East Delhi cannot be overlooked as an isolated instance. The targeted use of UAPA also cannot be ignored as innocuous. It constitutes not only a gross abuse of the law, but represents a consistent trend of quelling dissent by invoking the tool of criminal law. The use of violence to silence protesters and the use of UAPA in the subsequent investigation has cast a chilling effect on the act of protesting itself. Such actions pose a serious threat to the health of our democracy," the report stated.
The report also suggested that sections of media played a key role in propagating hateful narratives, which has been illustrated in detail. "Sections of the media play a key role in propagating hateful narratives, illustrated in small part through the study in the report.
"Their audience of daily watching households, as well as their social media presence, ensures that the hateful narratives reach a very wide number. Clearly, any oversight exerted by the existing broadcasting oversight bodies pales in proportion to the channels' reach and leeway," the report suggested.
The report cited examples of episodes aired on primetime shows of the six most viewed television news channels: Republic, and Times Now (English), and Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV, and Republic Bharat (Hindi).
"We also examined relevant posts on various social media platforms. The analysis reveals that the channels' reportage of events surrounding the CAA framed the issues as "Hindus versus Muslims" with prejudice and suspicion against the Muslim community. These channels concentrated on vilifying anti-CAA protests, fanning unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, and calling for their forcible shutdown," stated the report.
The report also spoke about the institution's failure not only in their response but the way they handle the aftermath of violence. It criticised Delhi Police and said that they "failed to take punitive measures" against hate speeches made by political leaders and others on the day and before the run up to the day of violence itself.
"Allegations of police assisting mobs and participating in attacks on Muslims, anti-CAA protest sites, and mosques have been documented, in eyewitness, media and affected persons' accounts.
The Committee has obtained a limited, but credible mass of information indicating abject police failures, including apparent police complicity, of varying degrees in the violence. This requires investigation through an independent process, possibly a court-monitored investigation," the report suggested.
It also calls the role of the Union Home Affairs Ministry "wholly inadequate", and demands a serious examination of its failure to respond to the violence. It claims that the Ministry did not avail of any effective steps to respond to the spread of violence, and didn't increase police deployment on the days of the riots.
It held that a "comprehensive, independent review of the body of known intelligence, total police and other security force strength, and sequence of deployment across affected areas during the days of violence, is urgently required."
The report also criticises the Delhi government for doing little to mediate between the two communities in conflict in the days leading up to the violence, or calm the situation. It also holds it guilty of not providing timely and adequate relief and compensation to the victims of the violence.
"The Delhi Government has failed to ensure timely and adequate relief and compensation to those affected by violence. Approval of compensation by the government and the Claims Commission is riddled with delay; where decisions have been made, there are concerns regarding the quantum of compensation not being commensurate to the harm suffered," the report stated.
According to various reports, many victims of the violence are yet to receive compensation from the Delhi government, while the Central government has not taken any initiative to give compensation to the victims, who were mostly Muslims.
The report also suggested that Delhi Police's investigation was skewed and analysed a chargesheet filed by the police alleging "that there was a pre-planned conspiracy to instigate the violence which involved terrorist acts" and in which the UAPA was invoked, and finds that it lacks credibility.
It also found that the legal threshold for alleging crimes or terrorism is not met, and casts doubt on the claims made in the chargesheet. It stated that the prosecution case – the allegation of an overarching premeditated conspiracy aimed at orchestrating communal riots – is based on unexplained and the "statements which are inherently unreliable in law".
"A comparison of the investigation in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) FIRs with the investigation into the same allegations in FIR 59 reveal a number of contradictions and inconsistencies. These further cast a shadow on the claims made in the first chargesheet. It is the Committee's view that if the core of the prosecution case bears the taint of tutoring and fabrication, this taint looms large over the entire investigation," stated the report.
The report talks about how UAPA was in an unjustified manner and that "patterns of larger use of the UAPA suggest its targeted application by the state".
"The law enables prolonged pre-trial custody of individuals through drawn-out investigation and exceedingly limited grounds to secure bail. UAPA accused are very often acquitted in their trials due to insufficient evidence, yet, forced to remain in custody, often for years. This ensures the legal process itself becomes punishment," it stated.
According to the report, the committee's examination of the violence led it to "discern broader implications impacting constitutional values and the health of democracy in India. The microcosm of an engineered anti-Muslim narrative leading to the violence signals the growing fusion of hate messaging in public discourse with the actual incidence of violence. There seems to be a deafening lack of institutional will to act against hateful content."
The report in its broader takeaway said that the only way forward is for the state to act towards justice harboured in the conjoined practice of fraternity, equality and freedom.