Advocate Prashant Bhsuhan, along with former senior government officials, ambassadors, senior police officers, activists and academics have sent a letter to the President of India, seeking a "Commission of Inquiry" into the manner of investigation of communal violence that perpetrated in North-East Delhi in Fenruary, 2020.
The letter, endorsed by 72 signatories, highlights allegations of police complicity in the violence and seeks a "credible" and "unbiased" probe into the incident, under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, by appointing sitting/retired judge(s) of the higher judiciary.
53 deaths were reported during the communal violence which took place in North East Delhi between the 23rd and 26th of February, 2020. The Delhi Police has set up three Special Investigation Teams (SITs) led by its officials to conduct a probe into the matter. In addition, the Delhi Police Special Cell is also probing the aspect of conspiracy behind the Delhi riots.
The letter however alleges that the Delhi Police "deliberately" did not prevent violence and in some places, even became a complicit in it.
For instance, the letter points out, a disturbing video emerged from near the Maujpur metro station showing uniformed policemen assaulting an injured youth, subsequent to which he was allegedly illegally detained by the Police for over 36 hours and denied medical attention.
"Shockingly" the addresses state, "the First Information Report registered by the Bhajanpura Police station makes no mention of the clearly documented video footage of the police assaulting Faizan and the Delhi police has not named any policemen as accused in the case."
The addressees state that the ongoing probe by the Delhi police does not inspire confidence and there is bound to be a perception that the agency is "shielding its own". They have therefore urged the President to ensure that officers accused of being complicit in the violence are not involved in the investigation by the Delhi Polic, to ensure that justice is done.
Citing various news and media channels, the letter highlights incidents of custodial torture, extraction of money to desist from harming detenu and obtaining forceful confessions, by the Delhi Police. It also alleges that the Delhi Police has been employing illegal means during interrogation, such as attempting to intimidate the witnesses/ offering them "deals" in exchange for giving statements against activists and those involved in the protests.
It also objects to the "pattern" of the police, charging people under additional FIRs and more stringent sections if they are granted relief by the judiciary in existing cases.
It is alleged that the Police refused to register FIRs in cases involving BJP leaders and did not pursue any such complaints.
"It is extremely concerning that the Delhi Police has refused to put nearly 700 FIRs registered by it in the public domain. In fact,it has not even made a summary of the FIRs available to citizens. This creates an asymmetry of information and thwarts all attempts at public scrutiny as only the Police knows which complaints and allegations are being pursued and which continue to languish," the letter states.
Criminalising dissent and protest
Inter alia, the addresses object to the approach adopted by the Delhi Police, i.e., a single "line of inquiry", criminalizing the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and portraying them as a conspiracy which resulted in the riots in Delhi.
"The protests in Delhi were exemplary in their adoption of Gandhian means of non-violent action and were recognized for their peaceful nature not only across the nation, but also globally. The protests in the form of 24 hour sit-ins were legitimate, within the framework of the Indian Constitution and were an expression of those aggrieved by the CAA, NPR and NRC… Therefore, the criminalisation of this act and presenting it as part of a conspiracy by the Delhi Police is completely unwarranted," the addressed wrote.
"The chronology presented in the chargesheets also criminalises dissent by claiming that speeches criticising the CAA, NPR, NRC led to instigation of violence in Delhi…However, a perusal of the contents of the speeches as presented in the chargesheets shows that while being strongly critical of government policy, in no direct or indirect manner was there any incitement or call to violence."
The addresses have urged the President to take cognizance of the issues raised in the letter and set up an independent inquiry Commission, to ensure that the investigation be free and fair.