Mus­lims de­spair over po­lice role in vi­o­lence

The Guardian - - World - Han­nah El­lis-Petersen and Shaikh Az­izur Rah­man

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?’

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