Legal help a priority as Police turned Perpetrator instead of Protector: Delhi

An eye witness report from the violence-affected areas of North East Delhi

delhi violence

Forty phone calls to the control room were unanswered and as the police abdication from its lawful and constitutional duty is apparent, what is needed is a committed team of legal professionals to ensure accountability

The team consisting of Dr. Saif Mahmood, Advocate, M. R. Shamshad, Advocate, Shwetasree Majumder, Advocate and Vishal Vig visited the areas of Jafrabad, Mustafabad, Maujpur on February 29, 2020

Executive summary: Several groups of police and paramilitary forces and police vehicles now line the main Jafrabad road at a distance of barely 200 metres from each other. Yet police presence did nothing to assuage the survivors of the carnage of February 23, 2020.

On the contrary, the role of police seemed to have a chilling effect on the residents and survivors. Everyone we met narrated stories of inexplicable police inaction. From a non-responsive control room, to senior personnel claiming there were no orders to go to the area, to an emergency number (100) where panicked calls were received and simply not actioned…all tell a tale of why the carnage reached the magnitude that it did.

Our first stop was Madrasa Bab-ul-Uloom where Maulama Mohammad Dawood, Maulana Qasimi and other representatives of the Jamiat Ulema e Hind, were providing shelter to a large number of people of all faiths and were in the process of setting up a relief camp in the Idgah to house them. At the moment, people were being accommodated in private homes and mosques scattered in the area and in other make-shift locations from where they would need to be shifted soon.

We were then directed to Mustafabad where we met Maulana Akhlaq at Madina Masjid, Gali No. 3. Maulana Akhlaq told us of larger relief camps where thousands of people were being housed and also showed us private homes scattered around the Masjid which had opened their doors to survivors and were providing for them.

We visited the home of Nafis Ahmed Saifi in Indira Vihar who is hosting more than 300 people displaced from Shiv Vihar in his home. Here we also met some young lawyers who were helping the displaced persons.

Shiv Vihar was a primarily Hindu area with 8000 Muslim families. The first group of women we spoke to narrated how the rioters came, broke open the locks on front doors and rushed inside their homes to set them on fire with the families inside! How the rioters threw gas cylinders into the flames to cause explosions. How the survivors climbed on to the roofs of their homes and jumped or sometimes ran through the flames to escape. We met a young girl whose face had been hit with a piece of brick. We heard how the rioters had looted, committed arson and had now taken over their homes, claiming them as their own.

While the women said that the rioters were not their neighbours and that they were outsiders, several men told us that their neighbours were involved. We were given to understand that even now many dead bodies are lying in the Nallah nearby to which police is not allowing access. Given the incidents of the past few days where anyone who went back in failed to return, Shiv Vihar was by far the most dangerous area for its Muslim residents even now, underneath the outward semblance of calm. We left 25 cartons/ bags of relief supplies in the Medina mosque for distribution in this area.

Our next stop was Al-Hind Hospital (the only hospital in that area) where we met the local hero, Dr M. A. Anwar. His midnight phone call with Justice Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court had saved the lives of 20 critical riot victims who were thereafter shifted to GTB Hospital. He told us how he had converted the hospital into a shelter the first night, and also echoed our fears that the death toll was several times higher than the official figures. Dr. Anwar told us how, despite repeated calls to various police officers, he failed to convince them to send ambulances. Dr. Anwar also complained that no medical practitioner or pharmacy in the vicinity tried to help Al-Hind while they were trying to save large number of lives.

Our next stop was Mustafabad where we met Haji Imran, the owner of Nida Jewellers. He had converted his home into a storage space for relief supplies and was distributing them systematically to the families who had taken shelter in private homes in the area. The need for dry rations here was immense and 40 of our kits were distributed here. They were over in less than 30 minutes!

We heard more stories of systematic and planned carnage – how the homes and establishments of Hindu owners who had rented them out to Muslims were looted and the homes and establishments of Muslim owners were set fire to. How Hindus that shielded Muslims were not spared. Of how over 40 phone calls to the police control room remained unanswered.

Next steps: Apart from the ongoing supply of relief materials which we continue to collect and distribute, we are working on the long-term rehabilitation of those displaced. We have commenced an exercise of creating a database of displaced persons with names, contact details and particulars of family members. This will also reveal more information on how many people are missing/ dead. We are aware that this will still not be the full picture as a large number of migrants, especially bakery workers who were from Bengal, have left the city.

Once the database is complete, the families will need to be matched with home-owners willing to give out their homes on rent. Those willing to help will need to commit to pay the rent for at least 3 to 6 months for these families, while they rebuild their lives. The local school that is burnt to the ground and the two mosques need to be rebuilt.

One of the most crucial things to do is to professionally, and aggressively, pursue the legal recourse available to victims. To facilitate legal assistance, there appear to be few teams already working. However, we feel that a team of 10 dedicated, competent young lawyers be formed and they be put on work under the supervision of 2-3 senior lawyers. For this purpose, we will identify competent young lawyers who can dedicate sufficient time to this work and will pay them for their services.





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