Muslims despair over police role in violence
On one side of the marketplace, it was carnage. As the Hindu mob descended, Muslim-owned stalls selling car parts were slowly reduced to debris and ashes. But just 100 metres away stood two police stations.
As the mob attacks came once, then twice and a third time in this north-east Delhi neighbourhood, desperate stallholders ran to Gokalpuri and Dayalpur police stations crying out for help. But they found the gates locked from the inside. For three days, no help came.
“How could they set fire to our market in such a horrific way, while it is so close to two police stations, and not be stopped?” said a shopkeeper, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “But if I make any complaint against the police and if they know my identity, I will face very serious trouble.”
Since the riots broke out in Delhi at the end of February, the worst religious conflict in the capital in decades, questions have persisted about the role Delhi police played in enabling the violence, predominately involving Hindu mobs attacking Muslims. Of the 51 people who died, at least threequarters were Muslim, and many Muslims are still missing.
“During the recent riots in Delhi the role of the police has been very reprehensible,” said SR Darapuri, a retired senior police officer from Uttar Pradesh. “They not only openly sided with the Hindu mobs attacking Muslims but also used brutal force against them. They purposely failed to respond to the SOS calls from the Muslims trapped in many violence-hit areas.”
Delhi’s police are under the direct control of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party government, specifically the home minister and party president, Amit Shah, who is one of the most fervent advocates of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda, which aims to establish India as a Hindu, rather than secular, nation. As a result, the political agenda of the government of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, which is widely seen as vehemently anti-Muslim, appears to have become firmly entrenched in the mindset of Delhi police, already an overwhelmingly Hindu force.
In the weeks since the riots, the alleged police bias has extended to accusations of a cover-up to protect the Hindu rioters and a widespread refusal to file or investigate complaints by Muslims.
Delhi police did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but speaking in parliament last week, Shah praised the “commendable” job done by the police and said that “people should not look for religion in riots”. The police claim they did everything to restore order. But those who took part in the riots on the Hindu side tell a different story.
The catalyst for the riots is widely acknowledged to have been a comment by Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, who on 23 February issued a public ultimatum saying if the police did not clear the streets of a protest against a new citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim, his supporters would be “forced to hit the streets”.
Ravinder, 17, who works in his father’s property business and is part of India’s lower-caste Gujjar community, said he and other young Hindu men heard Mishra’s call to action and began to mobilise on 24 February without fear of police reprisal. “There was a clear instruction of catch-and-kill action against any Muslim we could spot,” said Ravinder. “I was in a group of around 15 boys. Many senior brothers said to us that police would not take any action against any member of our community and we could attack the people on the other side [Muslims] the way we liked.”
Ravinder described how he and a group of seven men captured a Muslim rickshaw driver in his 40s, beat him with wooden sticks and metal rods until he appeared dead, and then threw him in an open drain while police stood by. He said police instructed them to destroy CCTV cameras in the streets.
“Some policemen were standing just a few metres away,” said Ravinder. “They did not say anything to us. They turned their faces away from us. We understood that police would not intervene.”
His account was echoed by a Hindu priest, speaking on condition of anonymity, who said he had witnessed young BJP supporters declare that the “police brothers are with us” as they gathered up weapons ready to attack Muslims.
While authorities have denied police were in any way involved in the violence, video footage captured during the riots and corresponding witness testimonies suggest police accompanied and encouraged the Hindu mobs or even took part.
In one of the first clashes of the riots, officers were captured in a mobile phone video beating five Muslim men who had not taken part in violence. They kicked and hit them with sticks until they lay limp and broken, and then forced them to sing the Indian national anthem. Among the men was Mohammad Faizan, 23. After the beatings, he and the others were detained, receiving no medical attention. By the time Faizan was released more than 24 hours later, his condition had deteriorated and he died in hospital the next day from internal injuries, though his family has still not been given the postmortem results.
Sitting on the floor of the oneroom house she shared with Faizan, his mother, Kishmatoon, 61, said: “They are policemen and I am poor and powerless. I cannot seek justice for my son’s murder by police in any court in this country.”
As the violence in the capital escalated, hundreds of thousands of phone calls began to flood into the police helpline, but in most cases no officers responded. Delhi police claim they did not have the capacity, but accounts given to the Guardian suggest many calls made by Muslims were purposefully ignored.
Mahmood Khan, 66, a Muslim former police officer whose house was raided in the riots, said no one had responded to his dozens of calls.
“Maybe they will pretend to look for the culprits but in the end they will be protected,” he said. “We are Muslims. There is no justice for us.”
‘Police not only sided with the Hindu mobs but used brutal force against Muslims’
Cars burned by rioting mobs during the outbreak of violence in Delhi Surveying the damage from riots in Delhi’s Shiv Vihar neighbourhood
SR Darapuri Retired police officer Kishmatoon, 61, holds a photo of her son Mohammad Faizan, who died after reportedly being beaten by Delhi police
Graffiti that appeared on a wall last week in a Muslimmajority area in north-east Delhi, saying: ‘Who do you call when the police murders?’