‘A planned attack’

Print edition : March 27, 2020

Zafarul Islam Khan, Delhi Minorities Commission Chairman.

Rajdhani Public School in Shiv Vihar, which was vandalised. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Interview with Zafarul Islam Khan, Chairman, Delhi Minorities Commission.

Within hours of the first reports of violence in North East Delhi, Zafarul Islam Khan, Chairman, Delhi Minorities Commission, asked for curfew to be imposed in the affected areas: Karawal Nagar, Brijpuri, Mustafabad, Ghonda, Gokulpuri, Jaffrabad, Babarpur and Ashok Nagar. As reports of continued violence poured in, he asked for heavier police deployment. Khan sought an “action taken report” from the Deputy Commissioner of Police (North-East). A week after the violence claimed 47 lives, Khan toured the affected areas along with Kartar Singh Kochchar, member of the Commission, to assess the damage and speak to the victims of “the organised violence”.

After spending a day visiting the worst affected parts of the city, he released a report in which he stated: “The violence in North East district of Delhi was one-sided and well-planned in which maximum damage was inflicted on Muslim houses and shops with local support. Without massive help these people will not be able to rebuild their lives. We feel that the compensation announced by Delhi government is not adequate for the purpose.” He spoke to Frontline on what he thought of the violence.

Following your visit to violence-affected North East Delhi, do you think it was organised violence against Muslims or just another communal riot?

No, no, not a communal riot. It was organised, one-sided violence against Muslims. It had local support also. Without local support, it was not possible to pinpoint Muslim houses, shops and workshops. We found proof that people from outside came, we do not know from where, and occupied at least two schools, maybe more. In Shiv Vihar, Rajdhani Public School and DPR Convent School were occupied for more than 24 hours by people from outside who were well-built people, wore helmets; they hid their faces. They used to go out in batches for two-three hours, then return. The goons were like some unofficial commando units, like a private army. There were around 2,000 people in these two schools, maybe in some other places also. They targeted schools because they have so many facilities like rooms, loos, etc. From schools, these 2,000 people branched out to other areas. They spent more than 24 hours in schools and vanished only when the police started coming in the evening of February 25, Tuesday.

Wherever one spoke to the victims, be they Hindu victims or Muslim victims, they had a common complaint that the police did not respond to their calls. Do you think the police was slow in reacting?

It is true that the police did not react fast. At least on February 24, the second day of violence, it was a field day for the rioters. It was only from the evening of February 25 that the police started taking action. By then a lot of damage had been done, lives and property lost.

When one thinks of what happened on Febuary 24, 25, it was like the Gujarat model being replicated, where too the government did not act for 48 hours.

It is difficult to say it was like the Gujarat model, but something like that happened here also.

It is alleged that the goons also targeted some eight or ten mosques.

I do not know eight or ten mosques, but we saw at least three mosques which were badly damaged, Fatima Masjid in Khajuri Khas, Auliya in Shiv Vihar and another mosque. They were badly damaged, burnt, in fact. There must be more. We did not have the time to visit more.

Did you go to Ashok Nagar? I ask because in Ashok Nagar the goons singled out Muslim houses and attacked two mosques in a methodical manner.

No, we did not go to Ashok Nagar. We did go to Auliya Masjid in Shiv Vihar. The mosque was gutted. The floor of the mosque was hidden by debris, and we found two gas cylinders lying on the floor. They probably did not explode. But the pattern you speak of, it was everywhere. It happened at places where Muslims were outnumbered, like the places which had a Muslim population of less than 30 per cent of the total population. There the Muslims suffered. They were targeted. For instance, in Bhajanpura, we found that Muslim-owned shops, like a travel agency and a motorcycle showroom, were looted and torched while Hindu-owned shops were left untouched. At E-Block in Khajuri Khas, we found Muslim shops burnt. Likewise, in Khajuri Extension, a man called Jameel Ahmad has a car repair garage. Here seven cars, six autorickshaws and nine motorcycles were burnt. He told us that Hindus took away their cars hours before the garage was torched and the building was looted and damaged. Where Muslims were in the majority, they were not targeted.

Were the Hindus vulnerable in Muslim-majority areas?

I do not think so, but in some areas we found that Hindus, too, were victims. But in Muslim-majority areas, Hindus were not targeted.

Where do you think the government, both at the Centre and in the State, could have acted better?

I think in the light of the developments leading to the violence, when Kapil Mishra made his incendiary speech [Febuary 23] giving an ultimatum to the police, it was very clear that violence loomed large. There should have been police reinforcement in the area, much better deployment. Things could have been controlled.

But they did not do it on the night of February 23 when the speech was made. They did not do it on February 24 either. They did it on the night of February 25. Despite such violence for two days, Kapil Mishra was not arrested.

When you talk of Mishra not being arrested for two days, you are pointing a finger at the Central government as the police reports to the Home Ministry at the Centre. But where do you think the Aam Aadmi Party government went wrong in its handling of the problem?

Kapil Mishra still has not been arrested. The AAP government should have realised that it is the government. Yes, it does not have the police under it, but the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister should have gone to the affected region. When the CM or Deputy CM go to an area, a police posse goes with them. The CM should have declared that he was going to this area, and a huge police force would have gone there, but they did not do it. Instead, the Chief Minister went to Raj Ghat. That was just optics.

What do you think of the compensation of Rs.25,000 for damaged houses? Is it adequate?

It is meagre, very, very meagre. Ideally, justice demands that it should be double that, at least. The kind of damage inflicted should be assessed. There should be individual assessment of each damage and not just a token sum paid by the State government.