As the Hindu mob descended, Muslim-owned stalls selling car parts were slowly reduced to debris and ashes. But just 100 metres away stood two police stations.
As the mob attacks came once, then twice and then a third time in this north-east Delhi neighbourhood, desperate stallholders repeatedly ran to Gokalpuri and Dayalpur police stations crying out for help. But each time they found the gates locked from the inside. For three days, no help came.
Since the riots broke out in Delhi at the end of February, the worst religious conflict to engulf the capital in decades, questions have persisted about the role that the Delhi police played in enabling the violence, which was predominately Hindu mobs attacking Muslims. Of the 51 people who died, at least three-quarters were Muslim, and many Muslims are still missing.
“During the recent riots in Delhi the role of the police has been very reprehensible,” said SR Darapuri, a retired senior police officer from Uttar Pradesh. “They not only openly sided with the Hindu mobs attacking Muslims but also used brutal force against them. They purposely failed to respond to the SOS calls from the Muslims trapped in many violence-hit areas.”
Delhi’s police are under the direct control of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party government, specifically the home minister and party president, Amit Shah, who is one of the most fervent advocates of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda, which aims to establish India as a Hindu, rather than secular, nation. As a result, the political agenda of the BJP government of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, which is widely seen as vehemently anti-Muslim, appears to have become firmly entrenched in the mindset of the Delhi police - which is already an overwhelmingly Hindu force.
In the weeks that have followed the riots, the alleged bias of the police has extended to accusations of a cover-up to protect the Hindu rioters and a widespread refusal to file or investigate complaints made by Muslim victims.
Speaking in parliament, Shah praised the “commendable” job done by the Delhi police and said that “people should not look for religion in riots”.
The catalyst for the riots is widely acknowledged to have been a comment by Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, who on 23 February issued a public ultimatum declaring that if the police did not clear the streets of a protest against a new citizenship law seen as anti-
Muslim, his supporters would be “forced to hit the streets”.
“There was a clear instruction of catch-and-kill action against any Muslim we could spot,” said Ravinder. “I was in a group of around 15 boys. Many senior brothers said to us that police would not take any action against any member of our community and we could attack the people on the other side [Muslims] the way we liked.”
“Some policemen were standing just a few metres away,” said Ravinder. “They did not say anything to us. They turned their faces away from us. We understood that police would not intervene if we turned violent against any Muslim … and a large section of the police all along backed us throughout.”
On 24 February, in one of the first clashes of the riots, police officers were captured on video footage beating five Muslim men who had not taken part in any violence. They kicked and hit them with sticks until their bodies were limp and broken, and then as the wounded men lay in the street, police forced them to sing the national anthem to prove their “loyalty” to India.
As the violence escalated across north-east Delhi and hundreds of thousands of phone calls began to flood into the police helpline, in most cases no police came.
Others described how when they had called the police helpline, they had been told: “You wanted Azadi [freedom], this is it.’’
Most victims of the riots now believe that police complicity in the violence means they will never receive justice. Mehmood Pracha, a lawyer who is providing free legal assistance to riot victims, alleged that the police were now trying to prevent the mobs that carried out the violence being brought to account.
“Police are using pressure tactics and trying to ensure that no complaint is filed against the rioters,” said Pracha. “We have received hundreds of complaints from Muslim people that police are threatening people, including women and children, that if they filed complaints, they would be implicated in false cases.”
Darul Ihsan Media Desk