(The following letter is the sixth reminder sent by over 350 women activists to the Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, in the context of North East Delhi violence. The move was spearheaded by several women’s organizations in Delhi including Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan. Editor, ND)
July 10, 2020
Through E-mail/ Twitter
Memorandum to the Ministry of Home Affairs
This is to bring to your attention the repeated appeals we have been making to the Ministry to conduct a public Judicial Enquiry and release all the FIRs in public. Since April, we have written five times to you on behalf of over 350 lawyers, women’s collectives, students, civil society representatives and the citizens of the country. This memorandum is our reminder to you regarding the objection we have to the ongoing investigation of the violence that destroyed North East Delhi and shook the country in February. This comes at a time when international disgrace is being brought about by an investigation that is opaque, biased and aims to crush democracy. Even the UN observers have expressed dismay at the manner in which the police investigation is linking the NE Delhi violence of February 2020 with anti-CAA protests. The violence of the pro-CAA agitators is not mentioned at all in the entire narrative built around the investigation.
What is even more appalling for the country is the stifling of the first women led democratic protest movement, by vilifying it as anti-national or seditious. The world witnessed one of the largest protest movements that went on for months without harming anyone or damaging any property. The misogynistic investigation is targeting educated women who stand for peace and equality. Their opposition to a law that discriminates on grounds that go against the ethos of the constitution of the country should be imbibed in the democratic processes. Instead, we have a police claiming that activists of Pinjra Tod are trying to run a media campaign against them!!
- The idea of conducting an investigation at the time of a pandemic, when the accused do not have an access to a regular judicial system is unjust. What is worse is the fact that the under-trails are being jailed. At a time when the WHO, UN and other agencies are asking for a release of political prisoners, India is seen as increasing their numbers. The jails are centres that have the potential to be Corona hotspots. By keeping political prisoners as under-trials in prisons is a threat to their lives. It would seem as if the police and the investigating agencies are planning to physically eliminate any opposition.
If Delhi police thinks it sounds credible when it tells the court that women deliver children in jails and are safe, they need to give themselves a reality check. If after reading the news of Akhil Gogoi being tested positive for Covid19 after 200 days in prison the police wants us to believe that incarcerated under-trials are safe in jails, they are sadly mistaken. The developments are alarming.
- Month after month the opaqueness of the investigation is indicative of the travesty of justice that is happening. As women’s collective conducting a campaign for the release of all detainees being charged under UAPA in the North East Delhi pogrom investigation, we are saddened by the government’s lack of response to the demand for justice. Week after week, we are witnessing a rise in vilification of the arrested students, civil society activists and unarmed democratic opponents of a bad legislation. What is even more tragic is that the society is learning the truth about the pogrom from the media rather than from official investigative agencies.
- In what seems to be an attempt to deflect the attention of the civil society, about 16 members of the RSS too have been booked for rioting. The one creditable move has however failed to take the focus away from the glaring inconsistencies of the investigation. The accused RSS members have been randomly picked from some of the eye witness testimonies. The absence of names and identities of the criminals who have been named in the GD, are absent from the charge-sheet. Also absent are the names and identities of the WhatApp group members (125 till they left the group after the violence was over), whose records are in public. The open call for arms, violence, looting and murder during the WhasApp chat, at public places, on FB live, and other such evidences have been totally overlooked by the investigative agencies.
- In an apparent move to shield the actual criminals, named BJP councilors/MLAs/MPs, are being left out of the investigation and students, activists who were carrying out peaceful protests against an unjust law are being branded as political prisoners and tortured in prisons. The arrest of boys and men of the Sikh community who operated a langar to feed the protestors at Shaheen Bagh are being charge-sheeted for running an open kitchen! This move of the investigative agency is bringing international shame to the democratic and just credentials that India was hailed for. If political pressure can make the investigators overlook the perpetuation of violence that has been recorded by national and international media, plus it has been flaunted on social media by a Hindutva brigade that has been gloating over its ability to kill, loot, rape, plunder and get away with it, the investigation needs to be taken away from the investigators.
- We would like bring to your attention the misusage of the UAPA and the archaic Sedition Acts to keep students and CAA opponents in custody. Despite being bailed students are being kept in custody for an indefinite period of time under sections of the UAPA. We are opposed to indefinite periods of police/judicial custody in lockups to give time to investigation agencies to frame charges. This implies that those in custody are guilty till proven otherwise, when by law everyone is innocent till proven guilty. The indefinite arrests, incarceration and torture are a violation of the human rights of the accused and a violation of their fundamental constitutional right to access the justice system at no personal cost.
- Another deflection was created when Safoora Zargar was granted bail. The act was advertized as an act of charity and goodness by the judge, and the media did not stop gushing over the fact that the government was humane enough to grant bail to a pregnant girl. It does not take away from reality, which is that the girl was incarcerated on arbitrary and abstract grounds. There was no case, and the extensions of her incarceration were to give the police time to fabricate stories to keep her in prison. The AG’s statement that her pregnancy should not be used as an excuse to seek her release as pregnant women give birth regularly in jails, was inhuman and crass to say the least. The AG was right to say that pregnancy should not be the only reason to seek bail. It has been months since she has been accused of crimes that have never been proven. She deserves not bail, but an acquittal. It is not her fault that the police or an investigating agency is taking months to frame credible charges. It is not her fault that the court or the prosecutor fails to tell her why she is being held in custody for an indefinite period of time as under-trial.
Not just Safoora, all those charged under clauses of the UAPA need to be released immediately. If the police or any other investigating agency is able to prove charges in a court of law, the accused can be jailed under the supervision of the court to serve their punishment. Not till then. We are re-submitting our findings and demands for your consideration. We would like to re-iterate that we stand with all the victimized in prison, who are being kept in coerced custody as under-trials while the police carries on a shoddy investigation.
We stand with all the students, activists and victims who are being accused of fomenting violence and destroying a part of the city, as they oppose an unjust law and seek justice from prosecution by a biased police force. As the UN observers note, the violence advocated and conducted by the pro-CAA lobby is being totally blanked out, while the opponents using democratic means are now being persecuted. Reports of torture of those in custody are also rampant.
The police has been given a free hand to frame opponents of the CAA in sections of Acts without complying the due procedure even under the current criminal law, was an observation made by the Honorable Judge of the TN High Court. We respect the judgment and seek an end to arbitrary vilification of CAA opponents.
- We are opposed to the CAA/NPR/NRC.
- We are opposed to the UAPA and the system whereby thousands are getting arrested during a pandemic when their access to the judicial system is extremely limited. For the citizens of the country access to justice is a fundamental right.
- The arresting and charging of victims demonstrates a new level of incompetence of handling such a sensitive investigation. Eyewitnesses and complainants are being charge-sheeted and threatened, especially if the court gives a direction in their favour. Intimidation is not a component of democracy, and we will be opposed to state machinery trying to subdue the demands for justice from the aggrieved.
- Excesses during pandemic cannot be brushed under the carpet. We will keep demanding our right to a Public Judicial Enquiry.
Poonam Kaushik, General Secretary, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan Delhi
Dipti Bharti, General Secretary NFIW, Delhi Unit
Maya John , Center for struggling woman
Kusum lata Sehgal , Swastik Mahila Sangathan
Enclosed : The Letter which has been signed by more than 350 Woman Collectives/ organisations/ Activists/ Academicians/ Lawyers
Draconian Laws, Inaccessible Judiciary and the Suppression of Democracy
The lockdown and its extension has brought to the fore the economic, social and political pandemics that are totally engineered by mal-administration and a communal fascist ideology. We would like to draw attention to the manner in which civil society and the democracy that it safeguards is being killed by framing, misusing and abusing the legal framework.
The level to which communalism has permeated the police and the legal system is visible in the rise and growth of vigilante forces. If we analyze the pogrom of North East Delhi in March 2020, the curtain raiser to the violence came in the form of speeches by BJP leaders who stood with Delhi police openly declaring that they will unleash violence in a matter of time. The police dismissed the threat as un-important. Over the next four days, as targeted killings, rapes and plunder started haunting colonies in North East Delhi, Indian as well as foreign media houses clearly showed the hand in glove camaraderie of the police with the RSS terrorists. The pogrom of Northeast Delhi led to the death of over 53 people, many injured, 19 mosques gutted, houses and shops of Muslims were burned down. The economic damage alone has been estimated to be close to a billion US dollars. The result of hate speech and propaganda by BJP leaders, the violence has been the worst witnessed in decades in Indian history.
The lockdown has given the BJP government, an opportunity to use draconian laws and crush any form of opposition to its power and show a blamelessness of the BJP/RSS or other Hindutva goons. The lockdown has provided the police with a perfect cover to arrest and detain opponents of the government. The limited access of the detainees to courts and judicial systems during the lockdown has provided the prosecution and the investigative agencies a perfect cover to slap various charges on students and file uncontested FIRs. Delhi Police has taken no action against BJP leaders, but has booked for sedition, murder, attempt to murder, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and rioting Jamia Students, women who read the constitution or poetry at the anti-CAA protest sites and citizens who came out in support of the opponents of the unjust CAA/NPR/NRC.
What we found most appalling in the entire process of management of the Lockdown, was the pushing through of the Hindutva agenda of eliminating minorities, particularly Muslims. From the beginning of the Janata Curfew, one of the main task of the political parties across the board should have been to educate their constituencies about the virus. However, they chose to openly defy Article 14 of the constitution that ensures equality of all persons in the country irrespective of religion, race caste or gender. In open defiance, we saw the Delhi government listing Markaz cases separately and highlighting them as the main reason why the city’s cases saw a spike. Calls to shoot the Tablighis and Muslims have been dominating social media platforms.
Since January, while mapping the ecosystem of violence, its abettors and enablers, we saw how the dissent was being crushed through administrative and policing techniques. Violations of fundamental rights are rampant. The police have been working with armed thugs and political mobs to suppress resistance and dissent. Their use of arbitrary and extrajudicial violence is unchecked without any remedial action.
On the orders of the MHA, Delhi Police continue investigating the pogrom undeterred by the pandemic lockdown. The limited access of the detainees to courts and judicial systems during the lockdown has provided the prosecution and the investigative agencies a perfect cover to slap various charges on students and file uncontested FIRs.
In our investigations we found that student activists, including pregnant women, have been charged with rioting in NE Delhi. We could lay our hands on around 45 FIRs, but the number of FIR as per various credible media reports, could exceed 800. NONE OF THE FIRs HAVE BEEN PUT UP FOR PUBLIC SCRUTINY. Students, activists and those associated with the anti-CAA protests have been issued notices under preventive violence sections 107/51CrPC.
Police has said it is arresting scientifically and on basis of evidence, but fail to clearly state their findings. Officially there are 53 dead, of which 2/3rd are Muslims. Their MLCs are FIRs in themselves. Who has been arrested for those killings? This is not been made clear by the Delhi police. Who has been arrested for the killing of Faizan, who was beaten to death by police after being made to sing national anthem, in a video that went viral on social media?
We would like to highlight the fact that the issue of suppression of human rights is affecting women most severely. When husbands, brothers, sons and now even women of the household are being picked on abstract charges, it makes the fight against patriarchy even more gruesome. As activists/collectives/organizations, we disprove of the idea of the use of the pandemic to file FIRs and not put them up in public domain. This travesty of justice will not go down well in history.
- Release of all arrested during the time of the pandemic. There should be no hounding of activists, particularly after being labeled Naxal, jihadi or urban naxal.
- All FIRs, particularly against those accused of being anti-CAA and implicated in the Delhi pogrom, need to be put up in the public domain.
- We demand a Public Judicial Enquiry to establish sequence and facts that led to the pogrom in North East Delhi. The enquiry needs to examine facts and the FIRs.
- We seek answers from Delhi Police, NIA and other investigative agencies regarding the basis of surge of FIRs against the Muslim students and activists.
- We demand a reply from the Police about the killers of the 53 accounted and listed dead. What have been taken to arrest their perpetrators?
- The violence saw a lot of loss of damage to property and real estate. We demand that the investigating agencies publicly declare who it has held responsible for the targeted burning the houses, properties of Muslims? Properties that suffered damage will need to be compensated too.