Looking For Justice

It has been four months since North-East Delhi had been engulfed in communal violence. Karwaan e Mohabbat is one of the civil society organisations that have been engaged with rescue and relief work for the victims of the violence. A report released by Karwaan e Mohabbat documents the stories of providing rescue, medical, legal relief and mental health support to people who endured violence in February 2020. This article is chapter five of the report titled, “Chronicling truth, Countering Hate: Responding to the violence and flawed state action in North-East Delhi in February 2020" released on July 11, 2020. The entire report is available on the website.

December 2019 will be considered to be a turning point in the history of independent India for years to come. With the Central Government announcing the amendment to the Citizenship Act, mass protests broke out in all major cities across the country demanding the government to roll back the said amendment. The Citizenship Amendment Act, or the ‘CAA’, fast-tracks nationality for non-Muslim minorities from neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims. On this ground, the CAA, coupled with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) has been opined to be in violation of Article 14, Article 19 India and Article 21 if the Constitution of India.1

What started as a movement of a few, quickly gathered momentum and spread like a wildfire across the country. The Centre, in order to tackle a massive outburst of sentiment against the establishment, started vilifying and detaining the protesters in large numbers by arbitrarily imposing Section 144 of the IPC at places where the protest marches were organised. The protests, which started out as a peaceful and symbolic means to show displeasure against the unconstitutional Act passed by the Central Government, were eventually used as a tool to target Muslim youth across the country2. Various incidents of violence against the protesters at the hand of the Police were reported across the country. In Uttar Pradesh itself, as many as 18 deaths were recorded by the end of December 2020, most of which succumbed to bullet injuries at the hands of the Police with Meerut, Sambhal, Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Mau, Rampur, Ferozabad, Bulanshahar and Azamgarh being the worst affected areas3. Apart from that, several incidents of grave violence by police authorities have been recorde against the students of Aligarh Muslim University, Nadwa College (Lucknow), Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi), amongst others4

On 15th December 2019, India witnessed, the first dark night in the history of anti- CAA movement (I say first because there are several more that followed) when students of Jamia Milia Islamia were mishandled by the police forces. However, since the turn of events from peaceful protests by protesters to use of force by the police was so sudden, there was no preplanned preparation to tackle the situation that had arisen. The youth, thankfully, was fast to act. Since 15 December 2019, now infamously recalled as the Jamia incident, a group of lawyers have come together to provide pro bono legal service to victims in cases of mass illegal detentions that continued to be carried out of students participating in the anti-CAA protests. This group of lawyers was able to firm its feet in the ground by the end of the month, owing to a well-established and motivated network of lawyers across the country. So, when the violence broke out in Delhi on the 24th of February 2020, this group of lawyers was already on ground, ready to take charge and right the wrongs.

During the three days of the violence, every lawyer on the team received helpless calls from residents of North-east Delhi about the carnage and the suffering. Social media was flooded with pictures and videos of Delhi burning. However, due to the inaction on part of the Police to control the law and order situation, and omission of part of the Delhi Government to intervene in the violence, it took three days for things to settle down. Due to large scale violence and arson that continued for almost three days, a large number of families were left stranded in violence affected areas. The Government hospitals were flooded with an overwhelmingly large number of violence related victims. Apart from the Government Hospitals, Al Hind Hospital, a small hospital  in North East Delhi, came to the aid of victims that were turned away from the Government Hospitals or were unable to access them due to logistical reasons. During the three days of violence, there was obstruction created at hospitals and the movement of ambulances was being hindered by the Police on the pretext of controlling the situation. At the Al Hind Hospital, on 25th February 2020, several victims of the violence were stranded as ambulances were not allowed to access the hospital, thus hampering the transfer of grievously injured victims to bigger hospitals with better facilities. Late at night on 25th February, a petition was filed and the matter was taken up by a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court postmidnight and directions were passed in order to facilitate the movement of ambulances.

Alongside, since everything that was happening before 26th February was largely violent, a relief and rescue team was set up. The said team received various calls from victims informing about the violence that was taking place in the affected areas. A number of these calls required legal intervention in the form of filing complaints for arson, theft, looting, missing persons, etc. However, since the violence was at peak, it was impossible for lawyers to access the affected areas. It was only after the end of three days that lawyers could intervene legally. 

One of the most gruesome incidents during North East Delhi violence was the role played by the Delhi Police in the murder of a Muslim youth, Faizan, who was filmed as he was brutally assaulted by policemen who forced him to sing the national anthem between beatings5. Faizan died after the Delhi Police illegally detained him for over 36 hours and denied him urgent medical attention. Like Faizan, several other cases of police brutality were recorded and highlighted on social media. However, till date, no action has been taken against the policemen responsible for numerous deaths during the targeted violence and the Delhi Police in general for intentionally failing to control the law and order situation in the three days when Delhi was burning.

Following the communal violence, on 28th February, the Delhi Government announced the Delhi Government Assistance Scheme (‘Scheme’) for providing compensation to the victims of the violence. However, the amounts announced the by Delhi Government were abysmally low. A letter in this regard was written to the Delhi Government by prominent members of the Civil Society.6 However, the said letter remains unanswered till date. Apart from announcing paltry amount of compensation, the Delhi Government failed to lay down any procedure, or accompanying rules, to give life to the Scheme. Absolutely no information has been provided on the ground on which damage is assessed by the Officials. For example, destruction of an entire three storied house has been assessed as ‘minor damage’ by the officials and meagre compensation has been awarded accordingly. No provision for providing a copy of the Inspection report has been incorporated in the Scheme. No provision has been made for filing an appeal against rejected claims or improperly assessed claims. In short, the Scheme announced by the Government has mostly been an eyewash for the victims of the violence. 

By 29th February 2020, the legal team, along with a medical and relief team, set up a camp in a local school in Mustafabad area of North –East Delhi. This was the first legal, medical and relief camp to be set-up in that area; several more would follow in the days to come. By this time, even though the fire had largely settled and the panic had set-in, it was only the civil society that was present on ground. The Delhi Government, which had been voted into power just two weeks before the violence, proved to be largely ineffective and absent from ground zero. The absence of State intervention during and after the targeted violence was noteworthy. While members of the civil society were finding ways to enter the violence affected areas and stop the destruction being caused, the State government was mostly seen to be involved in ‘meetings’ and ‘planning’. This lackadaisical attitude of government caused a lot more damage to the spirits and morale of the victims, along with financial loss and loss to life, which could have been curtailed, had the government acted more swiftly.

Initially, the work of the legal team was largely limited to filling and processing of compensation forms. However, by 01st of March, when the residents of Shiv Vihar had some access to their houses and shops only to discover that they had been completely burned down, the work expanded to filing of complaints and getting FIRs registered. Since the intervention by the Govt of starting the compensation work was not a very planned one, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) office was soon inundated with requests that the government was not able to process. By this time, several missing persons reports were also recorded in the legal camps set up by us. The medical camp, which was catering to injuries suffered in the targeted violence, largely perpetrated by the mobs in the presence of the police, has also started redirecting victims to the legal camps to make sure the FIRs recorded the injuries and compensation forms were filled accordingly.

By March 5th, reports of dead bodies being dumped in the Shiv Vihar naala also started surfacing. A designated team of lawyers was accessing hospitals to help families identify bodies recovered from the naala. Around 10 complaints that were received in the camps were thus concluded when the bodies recovered from the naalas were identified by their next of kin. Since the bodies recovered were all of victims of targeted violence, it was imperative that a proper post-mortem be done and video recorded, in order to record the cause of death. To ensure this, several writ petitions were filed by Advocates in the Delhi High Court, wherein the Delhi High Court ordered video recording of the postmortems being conducted. 

The camps operated in Mustafabad area from 29th February till 20th March, when the entire city was shut down due to the COVID pandemic. In this one month, we were able to assist 400+ individuals with their complaints and compensation forms. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg. The major police stations – Karawal Nagar, Dayalpur, Khureji Khas, Jaffrabad, Seelampur – started creating obstruction in filing FIRs. While initially the victims were met with immense resistance when they went to file the complaints, eventually these complaints were accepted and a receiving was given. Every day, lawyers were compelled to visit these Police Station (PS) as the police refused to perform their duty and added to the suffering of the victims. Till date, no individual FIRs have been registered for the said complaints. For the rest, only a handful of omnibus FIRs have been registered, which fail to record the personal losses faced by the victims. Their complaints have, however, been endorsed on these FIRs and attached with them. Till June 2020, the SDM Office refused to process compensation forms of victims that had attached a copy of the omnibus FIR. 

However, in the WP(C)3650/2020, HMJ Navin Chawla directed the SDM Office to accept compensation forms of the Petitioners with a copy of the omnibus FIR. Despite the Court Order, the Petitioners, after having been to the SDM Office thrice in the last week (as on date 30.06.2020), were not entertained by the SDM and were asked to come after 01st July. 

On the administrative side, things were not smooth either. The government had launched an online portal for filing of complaints, which crashed within the first few days of its launch. Hence, the victims were forced to fill the forms again, physically, and hand it over to the SDM office, which was overwhelmed with work. Not only were victims turned away when they initially started to visit the SDM office to submit the forms, many of them were returned without giving them any receipt, any receiving, thus making it impossible for them to follow up with their requests. Some victims, however, eventually received a message with their ‘web ids’, which were later used to track the status of the compensation. However, none of this could be done online and the victims had to keep revisiting the SDM office in order to get any response from the Government. Following the nation-wide lockdown, the victims could not physically access the SDM Office and hence, could not get any updates on the status of their form.

In the same writ WP(C)3650/2020 mentioned above, the issue of the malfunctioning of the online portal was also highlighted. The Order of 22.06.2020 records that the online portal was to be rectified immediately. However, even though the online portal is now working, there is no proof that is generated once the compensation form is submitted. Therefore, there is no means for the victim to follow up on the form submitted online or to even prove to the authorities that such a form was ever filed. Interestingly, the requirement to file the compensation form online is far less stringent as compared to filing a form physically in the SDM Office.

Eventually, the SDM office started carrying out verification of the losses and initial compensation amount of Rs.25,000/- was handed over to some of the victims. There have been cases where an amount lower than Rs.25,000/- has been handed over to the victims. However, no justification has been provided as to how the said amount has been ascertained. In the initial cases, most of these payments were made in cash. However, till date, there are hundreds of victims who have not received even the initial compensation amount. Apart from that, for the victims who did get the initial compensation amount, the wait to get the full compensation has been endless. Till date, several of them have been calling and visiting the SDM office, only to be told that ‘there are no orders yet from above to release the full amounts’.

While working with the victims of targeted violence, what has become clear is that the State intervention is largely lacking, making the relief available to the victims limited. Despite the launch of the Delhi Victims Compensation Scheme, the same is not being implemented in letter and spirit and the victims are still running from pillar to post. Since the violence took place just a month before the nationwide lockdown was announced, hundreds of victims were rendered without adequate means to support themselves and their families, thus turning the civil society again for basic requirement of food and shelter. Various civil society organizations and legal groups that started camps in the affected areas in order to assist the victims eventually moved on to also undertaking full-time relief work during the lockdown. Apart from our team, many other smaller groups took charge of the work that was supposed to be done by the State government. However, since the work was being carried out by different groups following different modus, the work soon became scattered.

While quite a substantial part of the financial losses sustained by the victims have been managed by the civil society, which took over the relief work as soon as the country went into lockdown and made sure every individual had basic ration to survive these immensely tough times, the Delhi Police and the Crime Branch have been overtly active in the background. Over 800 arrests have admittedly been made in connection to the North East Delhi targeted violence, most of them being post lockdown7. Apart from arrests, defying all health concerns, the Delhi Police and the crime branch have actively been carrying out illegal detentions and hounding individuals in the name of investigation. Prominent figures who led the anti-CAA protests in several areas have been identified and targeted8. Even as we write this, people are being picked up in the name of investigation, arrests are being carried out, phones are being seized – all this while the entire world is battling a global pandemic. What started as peaceful protests to show dissent against the Amendment Act promulgated by the Central Government has been used as a weapon in the last six months to arrest and jail students and activists taking part in the protests. Not surprisingly, students from Jamila Milia Islamia and other educational institutions and anti-CAA activists are being fictively connected with the Delhi violence to create a convenient narrative and even the draconian UAPA and sedition laws are being used for these so called “conspirators”. Interestingly, no lawfulaction has been taken on the likes of Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur, who openly incited violence six months ago by urging shooting voices of dissent.

The Governments, both at the Centre and State, have failed to act responsibly and effectively. From relief to medical attention to rescue to investigation, everything is tainted. Even basic administrative steps have been taken with a lackadaisical attitude, causing more panic than relief. The silver lining, of course, is the team of lawyers who still continue to appear in courts, fight matters, contest bail applications, at every step of the way. The way ahead is still murky as the administration is not giving any clear answers with regard to the compensation that the victims are entitled to but have not received till date. The major challenges that lie ahead include making sure that the compensation forms of all the victims are processed. Along with that, for people who have lost their homes, their shops and means of livelihood, it is imperative that the government undertakes mass scale rehabilitation program in order to restore the losses suffered by the victims. While civil society intervention is important, it cannot, and should not, substitute the task of the government, which is to ensure that the citizens who voted for them are taken care of. The Government is expected to stand by the promises made with regard to compensation and iron the process by keeping in check the proper functioning of the SDM Office. While several writ petitions have been filed in the Delhi High Court in this regard, and several more are in the process of being filed, it is going to be impossible to approach court to get relief to every victim. Hence, it is expected that the orders passed by the High Court will be treated in parity for all the cases falling in the same category as that of the petitioners.


Notes

1Andra, M (2020) “Why the Nationwide NRC is Unconstitutional”, Bar and Bench (7th Jan), Available at: https://www.barandbench.com/apprenticelawyer/ why-the-nationwide-nrc-is-unconstitutional (Accessed 10th July 2020)

2Bisht, A (2020) “Indian police accused oftargeting Muslims over anti-CAA protests” AlJazeera (22nd April). Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/indiahindu- nationalist-gov-targeting-anti-caa-protesters- 200422122213197.html (Accessed 10th July 2020)

3Karwan-e-Mohabbat (2020) “A State at War with its People: Report on State Action in UP targeting Dissent and Muslim Minorities”. Available at: https://cjp.org.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/AState- at-War-With-Its-People-KeMFeb2020. pdf.pdf (Accessed 10th July 2020)

4Nanda, P (2019) “Citizenship protests spill over to universities across the country” LiveMint (16th December). Available at: https://www.livemint.com/news/india/citizenshipprotests- spill-over-to-universities-across-thecountry- 11576518748980.html (Accessed 10th July 2020)

5Wire Staff (2020) “Policemen Seen Brutally Assaulting Muslims, But 4 Months Later FIR Has No Suspects” The Wire (22nd June). Available at: https://thewire.in/communalism/delhi-policemuslims- assaulted-fir (Accessed 10th July 2020)

6A Memorandum to Delhi Govt on Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation in North East Delhi (2020) Kafila – 12 years of a common journey. Available at: https://kafila.online/2020/03/21/a-memorandum-toexample delhi-govt-on-relief-rehabilitation-andreconciliation- in-north-east-delhi/ (Accessed: 11 July 2020).

7Manral, M S (2020) “NE Delhi riots: 800 arrests made as MHA intervenes” The Indian Express (13th April). Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/nedelhi- riots-800-arrests-made-as-mha-intervenes- 6359541/ (Accessed 10th July 2020)

8Lalwani, V (2020) “In Delhi violence investigation, a disturbing pattern: Victims end up being prosecuted by police” Scroll (23rd May). Available at: https://scroll.in/article/962526/indelhi- violence-investigation-a-disturbing-patternvictims- end-up-being-arrested-by-police (Accessed10th July 2020)