On 25th July, ‘Karvaan India’ organized an online session with Mr. M R Shamshad, chairman of the Fact-Finding Committee. The committee, set up by the Delhi Minorities commission, recently came out with a report on the north east Delhi violence that took place in February 2020. The session, ‘Delhi February 2020: riot or pogrom?’ was hosted by Asad Ashraf via zoom video call.
The conversation started with the host highlighting the need for such a topic. When we talk about any communal violence, the use of semantics matter. If we talk about the Delhi violence, the version given by the police calls it a riot i.e. violence from both side but Mr. Shamshad, in the fact-finding report, calls it a pogrom.
Mr Shamshad, whose role has been instrumental in the investigation, gave a detailed analysis on why he claims that the Delhi violence was a pogrom and not a riot. Starting with the background of the violence, he said that while a country-wide protest was going on against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, a parallel event was being carried out by the people who were against the ongoing protests. In different parts of the country, speeches were being delivered with the nature of calling out supporters to take part in violence.
He noted that in addition to the background, the violence that took place had a pattern. It’s important to see how the violence took place. If we look at the property damage, we will notice that only the property belonging to people of particular community was damaged and looted while the rest were untouched. Giving an instance of Shiv Vihar, which was also mentioned in the report, he stated that out of 30 households in the gully, 27 of them, belonging to Muslims were attacked while the remaining 3 were left. A similar pattern was also seen in the market areas, where only the shops belonging to Muslims were burnt and looted.
When asked what is his understanding of killings on both sides as a lawyer, he said that just like the protests going on in different parts of Delhi, a similar protest was going on in Jafrabad. Till 23rd February, all the protests were going on peacefully. Then suddenly a counter rally is arranged in Maujpur, where someone says that they are going to take the matter in their own hands and remove the anti CAA protesters from the protest site, then obviously out of fear, the protesters would look for defense. It’s not like Muslims planned any kind of violence. However, the killings that took place were unfortunate.
Moving on the next question, he was then asked if he thinks BJP Leader Kapil Mishra was a part of the violence. He pointed out that Kapil Mishra may or may not be involved in the violence but his speech did trigger the violence. Since December, many political leaders like him started giving statements that were sufficient for their supporters to be ready for violence. The planned manner in which violence took place was impossible to be executed overnight. The weapons, the attack on property of only one community can not have happened without any prior planning.
Replying to the role of ‘chakka jaam’ in the violence, Mr. Shamshad passed on his observation that the protests were related to a very basic issue of existence as a citizen of the country. These protests were not for a small or localized issue. The seriousness and anger over the issue was so much that sometimes, the protesters blocked the road. Even though blocking roads was not a correct move and should not have been done in the first place, still it’s not a justification for the mass level killing that took place.
Talking about role of police, the host asked the reason for the biasness among the police or is there some kind of pressure on them. Mr. Shamshad replied that in cases of communal violence, the role of police is never clean. If we look at the Delhi violence, everything went on for 4 days but the police took the cases on priority while the rest of the cases are still pending. They only took up the cases that would create a perception among the public that violence took place on both sides. There are hundreds of complaints from the people that the police never came for any investigation. There are many cases where police have not even registered any complaint. Among many footages of the violence, there is one where police officials can be seen breaking the CCTV cameras, but no one knows what investigation is being done in that case.
When asked what was the reaction of the government to the report or if any one from the government reached out, he cleared that he wouldn’t know. The fact-finding committee has forwarded the report to the Delhi minorities commission. People might troll the report but till now no one has been able to question the facts in the report.
Coming to the last question, the host asked about the hostility from the Delhi government and what have they done regarding the compensation to the victims. Mr. Shamshad pointed out that the Delhi government is only trying to be politically safe. If the Delhi govt were vigilant in stopping the violence, they would have appointed officers to camp out in the riot affected areas. It is the responsibility and obligation of the government to provide victims with compensation but till now there are many families who have not been compensated nor any verification or inquiry has been conducted. He concluded his point, saying that the Delhi government cannot be given a clean chit.
The session concluded with the host, Mr. Asad Ashraf, thanking Mr. Shamshad for joining the session. He also thanked all the viewers who had joined from different parts of the country.