New Delhi: Alleging massive human rights violations by the Delhi police during the February 2020 Delhi riots, the Amnesty International India, in its field investigation report, pointed out that Delhi police officers indulged in violence with the rioters; torturing in custody; using excessive force on protesters; dismantling protest sites used by peaceful protesters and being mute bystanders as rioters wreaked havoc, etc., among many others.
Six months ago, in February 2020, communal violence broke out in New Delhi. The riots took place over six days, from February 23 to 29.
According to government data, the riots claimed at least 53 lives and injured more than 500. During these six months, the Delhi police in their investigations into the riots have filed more than 750 first information reports (FIRs) and at least 200 charge sheets.
Referring to various media reports, the Amnesty International India said that until now, the Delhi police have arrested several students and named professors and human rights activists in their statements to the court.
“It alleges that the students, professors and human rights activists, who were instrumental in organising peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), are the chief conspirators of the riots. The Delhi police allege they engineered the violence to discredit the Union Government of India internationally. One such student is Safoora Zargar, a pregnant woman who was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and sent to jail during the COVID-19 pandemic for her alleged role in the riots. She has since been released on bail. But till now, not even a single political leader that made hate speeches which advocated violence in the build-up to the riots has been prosecuted,” the report said.
Amnesty International India interviewed more than 50 riot survivors, eyewitnesses, lawyers, human rights activists and retired police officers. It also analysed several videos on social media platforms like Twitter to analyse the role of the Delhi police during the riots.
These videos showed 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, it said.
“In the build-up to the legislative assembly elections in Delhi which were held on February 8, 2020, several political leaders made hateful speeches against the anti-CAA protesters demonising them as ‘anti-nationals’ and inciting violence against them in their election rallies. These speeches were followed by violence on university campuses against those protesting the CAA. Even after the Delhi elections, the hate speeches continued followed by widespread violence in the North-East district of Delhi,” the report said, adding: To date, the Delhi police have not taken any action against the perpetrators leading to a climate of widespread impunity. Their heavy-handed crowd-control tactics on university campuses have been captured in various videos which were uploaded on social media platforms and verified by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab.
POLICE’S FAILURE TO PREVENT THE RIOTS
Amnesty International India interviewed several survivors who witnessed the violence break out right after BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s ‘ultimatum’ speech.
The inadequate response of the Delhi police to hate crimes committed during the violence manifested in various ways, the report alleged.
The vast majority of individuals Amnesty International India spoke to said that 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.
Drawing from his experience, Harsh Mander, a human rights activist, founder of Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a Delhi based non-governmental organisation and former civil servant underlined the complicity of the Delhi police.
Sharing with Amnesty International India, he said, “I have been in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). I have handled many riots myself. I have studied riots very closely after I left IAS too. No so-called ‘riot’ can go on for more than even a few hours if the state and the police don’t want it to continue. The fact is that this was a riot waiting to happen, and even ordinary people knew that everyone knew in this area. If people who had made (hateful) speeches would have been detained, if the police had come down heavily (on those inciting violence), this wouldn’t have happened at all”.
POLICE’S COMPLICITY AND FAILURE TO CONTROL THE LAW-AND -ORDER SITUATION
Amnesty International India in collaboration with Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab analysed and verified various videos that were uploaded by eyewitnesses on social media.
These videos were recorded during the riots and show the Delhi police committing various human rights violations. After the riots, Amnesty International India visited the locations where the videos were shot and interviewed people on the ground.
It found that the behaviour of the police officers in many incidents during the violence in Delhi is a cause for concern as police officers
a) did not intervene despite being present
b) intervened only to arrest or attack the anti-CAA protesters and
c) refused to register complaints of the victims.
In a video that went viral on social media, Delhi police officers can be seen kicking and hitting a group of five wounded men, poking them with rifles and asking them to sing the Indian national anthem on February 24.
The riot that seemed far from spontaneous saw almost three times the number of Muslim casualties compared to Hindus. Muslims also bore the brunt of loss of business and property. The percentage may be lower but establishments and homes owned by Hindus were not left completely untouched, the report said.
Amnesty International India interviewed Roop Singh who is the caretaker of the DRP Convent Public School in Shiv Vihar, an establishment owned by a Hindu.
The school was vandalised during the riots on February 24 and 25.
“I saw two ropes hanging into our compound from Rajdhani School next door and about 40-50 men climbing down. They were raising slogans of ‘nara-e-takbeer allah o akbar’ (God is Great). They opened the gate and more men came in. They fired in my direction with a locally made pistol. They said, ‘There is a Hindu, kill him’,” he recalled.
Amnesty International India calls on the Ministry of home affairs to:-
Initiate a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into all allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement officials including excessive use of force, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, failure to protect the survivors and other individuals from attacks by far-right groups, and the unlawful use of firearms.
Establish a fully independent, public and transparent inquiry to review the Delhi police’s role in failing to prevent and aiding the violence that broke out in North-East Delhi between February 23 and 29, 2020. Such an inquiry must not have any structural or organisational connection with the police and must be provided with adequate power and resources to examine the scene of the incident and summon the witnesses.
Suspend all police officers named by the communities, pending investigation/inquiry.
Ensure in-service training on hate crimes and communal violence, on the specific needs of the victims and the role of police in combating and protecting people against discrimination is imparted to all police officers periodically.
Create a comprehensive strategy aimed at preventing hate crimes against minority communities, in consultation with the civil society.
Create comprehensive guidelines for the implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials in consultation with the civil society.
Implement the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Prakash Singh Vs Union of India for police reform.
It calls on the Prime Minister of India and Ministry of External Affairs to:
Ratify, without reservations, the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) immediately and enact implementing domestic legislation criminalizing torture.
UNCAT requires that states criminalize torture in domestic law, establish jurisdiction over acts of torture that occur within the state, make torture an extraditable offense, investigate any allegations of torture within the state and provide effective and enforceable remedy to torture victims.
It calls on the Parliament of India to:
Amend the laws governing the police at the state and central level so that the grounds on the basis of which the police can investigate communal violence and arrest and detain persons are made more stringent and discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, sex, gender and political opinion is explicitly prohibited.
Amend criminal laws at both the state and central level to include an explicit duty for police authorities to investigate any discriminatory motive behind the perpetration of the crime.
It calls on the National Human Rights Commission to:
Call for the implementation of its recommendation on establishing Human Rights Cells in state and city police headquarters.
Human Rights Cells monitor the human rights violations committed by the police officers and act as a bridge between the state police departments and the NHRC, which is the premier human rights monitoring body in India.