The chargesheet filed by the Delhi Police Special Cell is more communally grotesque than the tsunami of hatred that swept North East Delhi this February. All the 15 people, charged under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Indian Penal Code and Arms Act, are connected to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) demonstrations. The police haven't charged a single CAA supporter or hate-monger.
The most jarringly missing name in the 17,000-page charge sheet is that of Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Kapil Mishra, the 'instigator-in-chief' in the riots. Mishra's belligerently provocative speech against CAA protesters on 23 February at Maujpur " less than a kilometre from the Jafrabad Metro Station, where more than a hundred women were peacefully protesting the controversial law " has been repeatedly cited in reports and court petitions as the main reason that triggered the riots.
With deputy commissioner of police, North East, Ved Prakash Surya beside him in riot gear, Mishra had the gall to threaten CAA protesters with direct confrontation and issue an ultimatum to the police if Jafrabad and Chand Bagh weren't cleared in three days. "Till the time [US President] Trump goes back [from India], we are going to go forward peacefully. But after that, we will not listen to the police if roads are not cleared. After that, we will have to come on the roads," he thundered.
The indisputable fact that rioters stormed several parts of North East Delhi " including Shiv Vihar, Khajuri Khas, Chand Bagh, Gokulpuri, Maujpur, Karawal Nagar and Jafrabad " hours after Mishra's provocative speech has been mentioned in the Report of the Delhi Minorities Commission Fact-finding Committee on North-East Delhi Riots of February 2020.
In fact, the highly charged atmosphere of CAA and National Register of Citizens demonstrations had started turning ominous few weeks before the riots with Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur and BJP MP Parvesh Verma making dangerous communally laced remarks"with the police as a mute spectator.
Thakur's infamous slogan at an election rally in Delhi, on 20 January, "Desh ke ghaddaron ko (the traitors of the country)", which instigated the vociferously charged-up crowd to complete its second half "Goli maaron saalon ko (shoot the traitors)", was indirectly directed towards a particular community and the protesters.
On 28 January, Verma presented a dangerous consequence of the protests in a TV interview comparing the demonstrations to the height of Kashmir terrorism in the '90s. "The people of Delhi know that the fire that raged in Kashmir a few years ago, where the daughters and sisters of Kashmiri Pandits were raped ¦ This fire can reach the residences of Delhi anytime ¦ Lakhs of people [protesters] gather there. These people will enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters and kill them."
The police's blatant bias towards such hate-mongers was palpable from the very beginning when no First Information Reports (FIRs) were registered against them despite a Delhi High Court order. As dead bodies piled up and violence and looting escalated, the court, hearing a petition that sought registration of an FIR against Mishra, Thakur and Verma for their remarks that allegedly instigated the rioters, asked police to take a "conscious decision" to register such an FIR in 24 hours.
In reply to similar petitions filed in the high court, the police said in July that no "actionable evidence" was found against the trio and AAP's Amanatullah Khan. In an affidavit filed before the court, the police said that the violence appeared to "be a part of a well-thought-out conspiracy to destabilise harmony in society".
Despite the fact-finding committee clearly stating that the riots were preceded by several such hate remarks, the police inaction shows its callousness to the riot victims. "The violence, which broke out in North East Delhi, was clearly preceded by a number of speeches by BJP leaders openly maligning anti-CAA protestors and questioning their motives with no basis, making derogatory remarks laden with communal undertones and open threats of violence," the report states.
Hate speech in any form is barred in India. Though the Constitution allows freedom of speech and expression, it imposes reasonable restrictions to ensure public order, decency or morality. Article 19, clause (1), sub-clause (a) guarantees freedom of speech and expression, but clause (2) clearly states that "nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence".
Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) prescribes imprisonment of up to three years or with fine or both for anyone who "(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities or (b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquillity".
Similarly, Section 295A of the IPC says: "Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both."
That the remarks by Mishra, Thakur and Verma are in the category of hate speech, under relevant Article and sections of the Constitution, and the IPC, is irrefutable. Mishra's public threat in front of a senior police officer that he and his supporters "will not listen to the police if roads are not cleared [of CAA protesters]", which alluded to vigilantism, violates public order, decency and morality, mentioned in clause (2) of Article 19. The police should have immediately acted and arrested him on the spot.
Similarly, Thakur egging on the crowd to chant "Desh ke ghaddaron ko goli maaron saalon ko" was a clear threat to public order and violated decency and morality. The police didn't act against him either.
In August, the role of the police was severely criticised by Amnesty International India in a field investigation in which more than 50 riot survivors, eyewitnesses, lawyers, human rights activists and retired police officers were interviewed. Analysis of videos on social media "Ashowed Delhi police pelting stones with the rioters, torturing people, dismantling protest sites used by peaceful protesters and being mute bystanders as rioters wreaked havoc in Delhi".
According to the people interviewed by the human rights organisation, "the police did not respond to the multiple calls that were made to 100"police's emergency helpline number"leaving the survivors to fend for themselves over the period of six days of violence in Delhi".
A break-up of the number of fatalities in the riots on the basis of religion shows that only 23 percent of the victims were Hindus. According to a Delhi Police affidavit in July, out of the 53 dead, 40 were Muslims. Contrast the break-up with the Delhi Police's charge sheet, which states that "these conspirators were in direct touch with the foot soldiers that resulted in the riots in North East Delhi in February. Conspirators planned the riots while middle ring of leaders at the area level executed the plan through the foot soldiers".
Logically, if the all the conspirators were CAA protesters " majority of whom were Muslims " what did they achieve by killing members of their own community? If Hindus bore the brunt of the riots and more members of their community were killed compared to Muslims, the charge sheet would have held some semblance of logic.
The chargesheet, which has clearly been prepared under political duress, has given a clean chit to the men whose incendiary speeches and remarks stoked the communal embers that engulfed North East Delhi.
John Stuart Mill once said, "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than those good men should look on and do nothing." The police looked on and did nothing.
The views expressed are personal.