State actors were complicit during and after NE Delhi riots , says people’s tribunal

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By Special Correspondent

New Delhi: To marks two years of the communal carnage that shook several localities of Northeast Delhi in February 2020, a group of concerned citizens and organisations on Monday released a jury report. 

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The report released by what they called ‘People’s Tribunal’ indicated the complicity of all state actors in the killing of innocents and framing the victims in cases.

At a press conference held at the Press Club of India here, former Indian diplomat Deb Mukharji read out the a People’s Tribunal report.

Slamming the Delhi government led by Arvind Kejriwal for its partisan role, the Tribunal demanded that it must immediately set up an Empowered Group to look into all cases of inadequate and delayed compensation.

It said despite having all intelligence  the Delhi Police failed to take adequate measures to prevent the spreading of the riots. Widespread instances of police misconduct have been noted including misusing of technology to frame people, to biased and unjust chargesheets, the police have been even more complicit in the violence.

The Tribunal brought together survivor families and individuals from Northeast Delhi, field experts, and lawyers to testify before a Jury composed of people who have had long experience in their respective fields. It was a day-long, closed-door event that saw a series of discussions on five key themes: – Impact of State Apathy in Northeast Delhi – Testimonies of Families from Northeast Delhi – Medical Cases and State Response – Police Investigation and the Riots – Compensation – Access, Amount, Framework.

Jury Findings

  1. In spite of adequate intelligence and warning indicators of heightened tensions and threats, the Delhi Police failed to take adequate measures to prevent the spreading of the riots. Once the violence broke out, the Delhi Police along with acts of omission and commission, allowed the riots to continue for a longer period. Taking no action against the mobs perpetrating the violence, and letting victims fend for themselves more often than not, this only resulted in larger casualties, more suffering and harassment and greater property damages.
  2. Widespread instances of police misconduct have been noted. From harassing victims and innocent citizens by various means including large-scale arrests, refusing to arrest and take action against ‘powerful’ people implicated in inciting violence, corruption and attempts at extortion; misusing of technology to frame people, to biased and unjust chargesheets, the police have been even more complicit in the violence. And this has not been highlighted by the media – especially those mainstreams – over the past two years.
  3. There has been a lack of proper and transparent investigation, and a biased approach leading to lack of credibility in the overall investigative process. These were also brought out by innumerable adverse comments of the Courts during this period. Hundreds of innocent people, including victims, have been in jail on what seem to be completely trumped-up charges.
  4. The Delhi Government failed miserably in providing adequate relief to victims of the violence. It has also not been able to prevent harassment and fair investigation of riot-related cases over the last two years. 5. Precious little has been done by the state to bridge the communal divide created and widened by the riots. This has led to insecurity and ghettoization with people moving into mono-religious neighbourhoods.
  5. The compensation scheme drafted and provided by the state government has been blanket and discriminatory. While a policeman’s death was offered more than Rs. 1 crore, the death of an ordinary victim of the violence was given only Rs. 10 lacs. Furthermore, a child’s death was allocated merely Rs. 5 lacs according to the scheme. These blatant and arbitrary discrepancies have been pointed out repeatedly and need to be questioned further.
  6. It is noted that the most amount of legal support provided to survivors of the violence have been by young and community-based lawyers. The state has done little to nothing to provide free legal aid to them.

Jury Recommendations

  1. A Judicial Commission of Enquiry headed by a Retired Judge of the Supreme Court must be set up immediately to inquire into the riots. The impunity enjoyed by the state and non-state actors can only be challenged through setting up of such a commission of enquiry with members who have stature and credibility among the affected communities.
  2. The Delhi Government must immediately set up an Empowered Group to look into all cases of inadequate and delayed compensation. The process of assessing the claims and giving compensation must be completed within 3 months. The Empowered Group must also take into account the hardships faced by riot survivors over the last two years because of the faulty compensation scheme of March 2020 and recompense them for the same. The Empowered Group must have members from Northeast Delhi who understand the political-economy of the area and can effectively engage with the community.
  3. The use of predictive policing must be brought under a regulatory framework. A sharp rise in the use of predictive policing including facial recognition technology which was used by the Delhi Police to round up those they framed as instigators of violence is based on a fallacious assumption that the algorithms ensured bias-free investigations. There are influential research studies pointing to the bias built into its very design in order to deliver pre-determined outcomes. The use of such technology must come with a guarantee of a proper regulatory framework.

The State and Central governments must have programs for rebuilding employment opportunities for riot survivors who lost their livelihoods and provide them with crucial livelihood support (for example e-rickshaws, sewing machines, technical training and equipment).

  1. Both the Central and the State governments must make efforts to prevent communal violence in future by taking steps toward building communal harmony and preventing further ghettoisation. Rebuilding of mutual trust and relationships is necessary for the long-term coexistence of all communities. Attempts must be made to bring back the people who have left their homes so that distress sale of properties can stop. While members of the civil society have taken on the responsibility of rebuilding trust, schools – especially government schools – could be important sites of promoting communal harmony by ensuring participation in activities from children of all communities. There must be workshops for teachers on how they can counter feelings of hatred and otherising among children.
  2. All instances of neglect and delay in treatment of serious injuries of riot victims, some of which resulted in death or permanent disability at government hospitals must be probed by the Judicial Commission of Enquiry. They must also look into the alleged communal bias of the doctors and hospital staff. The State Government must ensure that adequate and free medical care is provided to the riot victims so that their treatment can continue.
  3. State and Central Governments must remedy the disruption of education of young people. An assessment and evaluation, with the cooperation of civil society organisations working in the field of education, must be done of instances of youth dropping out of school to earn a living. Bridge courses must be organised for those willing to re-join schools. It is important to ensure retention of girl students in schools to avoid early marriage.

The Jury comprised former Indian ambassador Deb Mukharji, former Home Secretary (Ministry of Home Affairs of India) Gopal Pillai, historian Mridula Mukharji, senior journalist and researcher Pamela Philipose, and former member of Planning Commission of India and writer Syeda Hameed.

To mark the carnage, and take forward the much-needed discourse on the lives of the victims, a group of concerned citizens and organisations – comprising National Federation of Indian Women (NIFW), All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), United Against Hate (UAH), and Karwan -e -Mohabbat – came together on February 26, 2022, to organise a People’s Tribunal.

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