Eminent activists, professors, journalists and academics have made a public statement of solidarity and demanded that a commission of enquiry be set up, to scrutinise the Delhi Police’s investigations into the February 2020 North East Delhi communal violence. Gathering at the Press Club of India, New Delhi, in the wake of the arrest of activist Dr. Umar Khalid, the latest in a series of arrests of Anti-CAA dissenters, senior activists once again raised their collective voices , to express their anguish at the “sheer brazenness with which the Delhi Police have turned the investigation into the February violence in Delhi into an inquisition of the anti-CAA protests.”
At midnight on Sunday, news broke that Dr. Umar Khalid was taken into custody and booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and several other criminal sections. He had earlier been questioned for almost the entire day, and many times before that. His arrest, though almost expected after the way the investigators kept calling him back for questioning, has instead of silencing dissent, inspired more people to speak up.
The speakers included Kavita Krishnan (Politburo member, CPIML), Syeda Hameed (Writer and former member, Planning Commission of India), Prashant Bhushan (Senior Advocate and activist), Pamela Philipose (Senior Journalist) and Nandita Narain (former President, DUTA). The statement they issued was also signed by activist Kanhaiyya Kumar, who was a fellow scholar and activist with Umar Khalid at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
While the police were seen even throwing stones during the riots in multiple videos, no action has been taken against them, said Prashant Bhushan. He has called this ‘investigation, “a criminal conspiracy” on the part of Delhi Police. The activists stated that the Delhi Police seems to be adding to the list of anti-CAA protestors languishing behind bars, said the group of activists gathered in Delhi to stand in solidarity with Khalid and others. “He is among the soaring young voices who have risen up in defense of the Constitution, at the service of truth, and are today prisoners of conscience,” they stated. The alleged involvement of the Delhi Police is not new said activists, “even in February we were aghast at the role of the police, who were not just partisan but inhuman as they stopped ambulances from entering affected areas; until concerned citizens were forced to knock on the doors of the High court at midnight to remind the police of their duty.”
Kavita Krishnan, Politburo member, CPIML, spoke passionately asking Delhi Police if they wanted history to remember them as a “private army” of the powers that be. “In Gujarat we saw how police was used by the then chief minister. Does Delhi Police want to be remembered like that,” she asked. She said the common citizens of India had begun to speak up now, and everyone has seen the videos of how politicians made speeches to incite violence but were not arrested. “We will not be silenced,” she said.
The speakers noted and spoke about witnessing the repeated “ dereliction of duty by the police.” They stated that everyone wanted a fair investigation into the Delhi violence, “but what the Delhi police has resorted to is a sinister plan to brand, target, frame and arrest all those voices that dared to speak up against the unconstitutional and immoral Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Coupled with the National Register for Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), the CAA was designed to forever fracture the idea of India.”
“This was thwarted by what was undoubtedly the most vibrant and creative people’s movement across the country since independence,” they stated adding, that the movement was the “exact antithesis of what the government in power wants us to be. It was united, and at the same time diverse; it was both peaceful and courageous. So, the ruling party has resorted to what it does best. It has deployed the police, a pliant media and all the draconian laws at its disposal to unleash a vicious witch-hunt, particularly against young minds. They do not want them to dream of an inclusive, pluralist, egalitarian India.”
The speakers reminded the media of their duty to report facts, even as journalists themselves were facing many pressures. The real culprits, stated the speakers, were seen and recorded as they threatened to clear the protest sites by force, but have gotten away so far, even those “who came with guns into the protest sites, or those who chanted provocative and violent slogans” remain free. On the other hand, “all democratic voices of dissent are being gradually implicated. This includes students, academics, artists, politicians and activists.”
“We have seen these young activists grow before our eyes,” recalled Dr Nandita Narain, who teaches at Delhi University, “they are outstanding academics, committed to serve their social responsibilities. They are the leaders and role models who inspire.” She said silencing such voices was a part of “intellectual colonisation” that can replace “books with trishuls and swords, in the hands of children”, who then will just be used as mobs. “Do you want this for your children,” she asked
The activists have demanded “an immediate end to this outrageous investigation that is being conducted with prejudice and malafide intent” and asked for the release of all “activists booked under the UAPA, and a judicial enquiry commission be constituted to punish the real culprits and ensure justice for the Delhi violence”. A similar commission had been demanded after the Anti Sikh Delhi riots of 1984, reminded Prashant Bhushan.