Ever since the naming of Left political leaders in chargesheets followed by the arrest of student activist Umar Khalid, criticisms and condemnations of the Delhi Police’s “riots probe” have intensified. In addition to students, intellectuals, activists, citizens across India, even former senior police officers wrote to the Delhi Police Commissioner expressing distress at the biased manner in which the police was conducting its “probe”.
Feeling the heat of these mounting condemnations, the Delhi Police has scrambled to issue a series of “clarifications” and statements. If anything, these statements confirm the Delhi Police’s inability to defend or disguise its blatantly indefensible actions.
In chargesheets filed by the Delhi Police in various riots cases, the names of political leaders like CPIM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPIML PB member Kavita Krishnan, Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav; intellectuals including Professors Apoorvanand and Jayati Ghosh; filmmaker Rahul Roy; former JNU student activist Umar Khalid and activists of student organisations and platforms like AISA, JCC, and Pinjra Tod were attributed by the police to “disclosure statements” by some of the accused persons. In the storm of outrage and condemnation that followed, many pointed out that such “disclosure statements” obtained in police custody carry no weight as legally valid evidence, since they tend to be scripted by the police. This impression that the “disclosure statements” in the Delhi violence cases are scripted is further strengthened by the fact that statements attributed to different individuals use identical language; and by the fact that at least three of the accused: Safoora Zargar, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita have written “refused to sign” on the statements they are said to have made. It was also pointed out that there were complaints of persons being forced to bear false witness in statements to the police: to either agree to falsely implicate activists or be charged under the draconian UAPA law.
The Delhi Police responded to these criticisms with a “clarification” that the academicians and politicians named are “part of disclosure statement of one of the accused in connection with organizing and addressing the Anti-CAA protests.” While claiming that “the disclosure statement has been truthfully recorded as narrated by the accused person”, the Delhi Police added that “A person is not arraigned as an accused only on the basis of disclosure statement. However, it is only on the existence of sufficient corroborative evidence does further legal action is taken.” On the very next day, however, the Delhi Police arrested Umar Khalid, solely on the basis of “disclosure statements” which attributed violent statements to him. Where is the “corroborative evidence” for the claims made in disclosure statements that Umar instigated violence? On the contrary, there is ample evidence of Umar’s speeches during the equal citizen movement against the discriminatory CAA NPR NRC laws, calling for peaceful protests even in the face of violence.
Bail orders for Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita in some of the cases under which they have been arrested, have clearly noted the fact that their public speeches do not, as the police claim, incite any violence, but merely call for peaceful protests. It is to compensate for this utter lack of evidence that the police is resorting to UAPA charges. The UAPA is a law designed to be a tool to target critics of the regime: a law under which a person can be imprisoned for years on the basis of a mere allegation by the State, without bail or trial. The Home Ministry, in a reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, has admitted that of the 3,005 UAPA cases filed in 2016-18, only 27% had chargesheets: a fact that goes to show the flimsy nature of these cases. Yet, police can delay investigations endlessly, and the falsely accused languish in jail for years. Even if subsequently acquitted, the accused is punished by the very process of being booked under UAPA.
In response to a letter to the Delhi Police Commissioner, former police chief Julio Ribeiro expressed concern at the fact that the Delhi Police was failing to act against BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur while arresting citizens for peacefully protests. The Delhi Police Commissioner issued a reply suggesting that Ribeiro should not lend his name to “concocted stories” of police bias by motivated persons.
Echoing the Police Commissioner’s reply, a representative of the Delhi Police also issued a note to the media claiming it has been even-handed towards Hindus and Muslims alike, stating that “Over 250 charge-sheets have been filed in the riots related cases in which 1153 accused (571 Hindus and 582 Muslims) have been charge-sheeted.” This is a misleading claim. The question which the Delhi Police is evading in the name of its Hindu-Muslim numbers is: how many pro-CAA persons have been charged under UAPA and other stringent sections of the law, in comparison with equal citizenship (anti-CAA) protestors? Among the 571 Hindus charge-sheeted, have any but the equal citizenship protestors like Natasha and Devangana been charged with stringent sections including UAPA? Have not most of them been charged with light sections?
The Delhi Police note, objecting to the fact that “various interest groups are using social media platforms and other online portals to raise questions about the fairness of investigation of the North East Delhi riot cases,” suggested, as did the Police Commissioner in his reply to Ribeiro, that anyone aggrieved with the investigation should approach the Courts rather than social media and news portals. These responses suggest that the Delhi Police has a problem with free speech by its critics, and by independent media (it is online news portals that have done the most rigorous reportage on the Delhi violence and police probe). At the same time, the Delhi Police itself has not had any qualms in leaking custodial (fabricated) “confessions” to selected pro-government media outfits to prejudice the case against the accused equal citizenship protestors. The Delhi High Court had to issue a notice against such leaks. The fact remains that in a democracy, the police and investigative agencies must be open to scrutiny and questions by citizens in the public domain; such questions cannot be confined to courtrooms, to which few have access.
Ribeiro, in his rejoinder to the Police Commissioner’s reply, has rightly observed that the Police Commissioner is silent on the “licence given to” BJP leaders Kapil Mishra, Union minister Anurag Thakur and MP Parvesh Verma “to rant, rave and threaten those who are peacefully protesting perceived wrongs.”
The Delhi Police’s 11-lakh page charge-sheet and its defensive statements cannot hide the truth. The police is protecting the real perpetrators of the Delhi violence while using draconian laws like UAPA to punish equal citizenship protestors. It responds to criticism by declaring that the critics represent, or are being used by “motivated vested interests”. Do the BJP leaders it is protecting, have no motivations and vested interests at all? Why is the Delhi Police allowing itself to be used by them?
The charge-sheets with their lakhs of pages bring to mind the words of Bertolt Brecht: Given the immense power of the regime/Its camps and torture cellars/Its well-fed policemen/Its intimidated or corrupt judges/Its card indexes and lists of suspected persons/Which fill whole buildings to the roof/One would think they wouldn't have to/Fear an open word from a simple man.” The simple people all over India are fearlessly facing a vindictive regime armed with nothing but their “open words”, their unity, and their commitment to the truth. It is the regime that fears the people.
Dear Shri. Shrivastava,
I write to you with a heavy heart. As a true patriot and a former proud member of the Indian Police Service I appeal to you to ensure a fair probe into the 753 F.I.Rs registered against peaceful protestors who rightly apprehend injustices born from bias and hate against a minority community.
The Delhi Police has taken action against peaceful protestors but deliberately failed to register cognizable offences against those who made hate speeches which triggered the riots in N.E. Delhi. It troubles sane and apolitical persons, like me, why Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma have not been arraigned before the Courts of law while deeply-hurt Muslim women, peacefully protesting against discriminations based on religion, were lodged for months together in jail!
The not-so-subtle attempt by the Delhi Police to entangle true patriots, like Harsh Mander and Prof. Apoorvanand, in criminal cases is another matter for concern. We, the police forces in the land, and its leadership drawn from the Indian Police Service, have a duty and obligation to respect the Constitution and the enacted laws, impartially without regard to caste, creed and political affiliations.
Kindly revisit the actions of the police under your command in Delhi to determine if they have been true to their oaths taken at the time of their induction into service.
I.P.S. (Retd.) 53 MAH
Dear Shri Shrivastava,
We, the undersigned, are retired officers of the Indian Police Service and belong to a larger group of retired officers belonging to different services and known as Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG). Mr Julio Ribeiro is a living legend of an IPS officer (as one publication put it) and is one of the most valued members of the CCG. We would like to endorse the letter he has written to you regarding the flawed investigation into the Delhi riots.
In addition, we would like to say that it indeed is a sad day in the history of Indian police that investigations and challans submitted in the court by Delhi Police in connection with riots of this year are widely believed to be partisan and politically motivated. It pains all those police officers, serving as well as retired, who believe in upholding the rule of law and our Constitution.
We were sad to note that one of your Special Commissioners had tried to influence investigations claiming resentment among Hindus over the arrest of some rioters belonging to their community. Such a majoritarian attitude in the police leadership leads to a travesty of justice for the victims of violence and their family members belonging to minority communities. This would further mean that real culprits of the violence belonging to majority community are likely to go scot free.
What pains us more is implicating all those who spoke and joined protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). They were simply exercising their fundamental rights of freedom of speech and peaceful protests as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Basing investigations on “disclosures” without concrete evidence violates all principles of fair investigation. While implicating leaders and activists, who expressed their views against CAA, all those who instigated violence and are associated with the ruling party have been let off the hook.
Such investigation will only make people lose faith in democracy, justice, fairness and the Constitution. A dangerous thought that may ultimately shake the pillars of an orderly society and lead to breakdown of law and order.
We would, therefore, earnestly request you for reinvestigation of all riot cases fairly and without any bias based on sound principles of criminal investigations to provide justice to the victims and their families and for upholding the rule of law.
Following Umar Khalid’s arrest, his friends and supporters released a pre-recorded video with a short message. The text of the message is translated from Hindi to English, below.
If you are watching this video, it means that I have been arrested. The Delhi Police is not catching people who openly instigated the riots, in front of the police, in front of TV cameras, we’ve all seen this. Forget an FIR, they haven’t even been called for questioning. But instead, it is going after those who criticise the government and its policies, especially the Citizenship Amendment Act. The ones who participated in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests are being wrongly framed without proof. I gave a 17-minute speech out of which 20-30 seconds are taken out and made viral saying that I conspired in the Delhi riots. The part where I talked about Satyagraha is nowhere to be seen.
Why am I dangerous? Is it because I say that this country as much mine as it is yours? We live in a beautiful country where people of different faiths, speaking various languages, all kinds of people are equal before the Constitution and the law. Today, efforts are being made to change this, to divide us. And those who speak against this divisive politics are threatened, intimidated and put behind bars to silence them.
They are trying to scare us, but they are trying to scare you too. They are stifling our voice by jailing us, but they are also trying to trap you in lies. They want to frighten you into silence. My one appeal is do not get scared. Raise your voice against injustice.
Statement issued at a Press Conference on 16th September, 2020, Press Club of India, New Delhi
We have gathered here today to express our collective anguish at the sheer brazenness with which the Delhi police has turned the investigation into the February violence in Delhi into an inquisition of the anti-CAA protests. Just two days ago, Umar Khalid was taken into custody and booked under UAPA and several other criminal sections, thereby adding to the list of anti-CAA protestors languishing behind bars. He is among the soaring young voices who have risen up in defense of the Constitution, at the service of truth, and are today prisoners of conscience.
The Delhi violence saw the loss of 53 human lives, assault on property and livelihoods, and attacks on places of worship. Even in February we were aghast at the role of the police, who were not just partisan but inhuman as they stopped ambulances from entering affected areas; until concerned citizens were forced to knock on the doors of the High court at midnight to remind the police of their duty.
In the last few months we have collectively witnessed the same dereliction of duty by the police. We all wanted a fair investigation into the Delhi violence, but what the Delhi police has resorted to is a sinister plan to brand, target, frame and arrest all those voices that dared to speak up against the unconstitutional and immoral Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Coupled with the National Register for Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), the CAA was designed to forever fracture the idea of India.
This was thwarted by what was undoubtedly the most vibrant and creative people’s movement across the country since independence. The movement was the exact antithesis of what the government in power wants us to be. It was united, and at the same time diverse; it was both peaceful and courageous. So, the ruling party has resorted to what it does best. It has deployed the police, a pliant media and all the draconian laws at its disposal to unleash a vicious witch-hunt, particularly against young minds. They do not want them to dream of an inclusive, pluralist, egalitarian India.
The real culprits – who in broad day light threatened to clear the protest sites by force, or those who came with guns into the protest sites, or those who chanted provocative and violent slogans – remain free. Even as all democratic voices of dissent are being gradually implicated. This includes students, academicians, artists, politicians and activists.
We demand an immediate end to this outrageous investigation that is being conducted with prejudice and malafide intent. We demand that activists booked under the UAPA be immediately released; and a judicial enquiry commission be constituted to punish the real culprits and ensure justice for the Delhi violence.
Syeda Hameed, Writer and former member, Planning Commission of India
Prashant Bhushan, Eminent Lawyer
Kavita Krishnan, Politbureau member, CPIML
Pamela Philipose, Senior Journalist
Nandita Narain, former President, DUTA
After Umar Khalid’s arrest, the Delhi Police seemed rattled by the massive outcry that followed. In a highly unusual move, Delhi Police Commissioner S N Shrivastava, along with Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police’s Special Cell Pramod Singh Kushwaha (who conducts most of the interrogations of the Delhi violence accused), spoke at a webinar organised by the Delhi Police Retired Gazetted Officers Association https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/road-blocks-during-delhi-riots-sign-of-conspiracy-chargesheet-by-thursday-police-6596305/. At the webinar, Shrivastava said that the social media outcry was because some of those being investigated have a strong social media following and are spreading fake news about the probe. This is ironic: after all, who has a stronger social media following and proven record of spreading fake news than the Prime Minister Modi and the legendary BJP IT Cell? The police chief’s remark is a sign of the failure of the BJP to control the narrative over the anti CAA movement and the Delhi Police witch hunt. The outrage at the brazenly biased and conspiratorial Delhi Police probe is the voice of India’s people who are refusing to buy lies. This outpouring is confined to social media for now only because of the pandemic: at the first opportunity, it will spill out in protests on the streets, as it did to protest every act of police violence during the anti CAA movement.
In a shocking development, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested cultural activists of Kabir Kala Manch Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor in the Bhima Koregaon case. Till now, 14 academics, activists and lawyers have been arrested in this case. Just one month back, we saw how Delhi University associate professor of English, Hany Babu, was arrested in this case. Subsequently, a scientist from West Bengal, Parthasarathi Ray, has been questioned by the NIA.
Both Gorkhe and Gaichor, in a video released few days back, have clearly said that NIA has been forcing them to give statements against those arrested. And since they refused to do so, they were likely to be arrested. The same pattern is being seen in the Delhi violence “investigations” also, where there have been complaints that Delhi Police is threatening people to either bear false witness against activists, or else face UAPA charges.
Even as activists, intellectuals, lawyers, and doctors are being harassed, intimidated, arrested and jailed indefinitely under draconian laws, there is no action against BJP leaders instigating violence, and against terror outfits involved in attacking Dalits and assassinating dissenters. Rather, persons like “Sadhvi” Pragya, still facing charges of Islamophobic terrorism, has been handpicked by the Prime Minister to enter Parliament as a BJP MP.
Under the Modi regime's undeclared Emergency, rights activists and dissenters are either shot at, killed, or raided, arrested and jailed. But even in the dark times, we draw our inspiration to fight back from the words of Ramesh Gaichor, “We aren’t descendants of (Vinayak Damodar) Savarkar but are children of Dr. Ambedkar. We have done nothing, we have always followed the Constitution.”