Tale of two reports

Print edition : June 19, 2020

N. Sai Balaji, national president of All India Students Association and former president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU), said: “Arresting student activists, slapping [the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act] UAPA on them and seizing their phones amidst a pandemic and lockdown are not random acts. They are part of a fantastic script diligently followed by the Delhi Police in which some godi  media organisations also play a dubious role. The script was drafted by the likes of advocate Monika Arora, an RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] affiliate who contested DUSU [Delhi University Students Union] elections from ABVP [Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad]. She led a delegation to the Ministry of Home Affairs with a report that blamed All India Students Association, Pinjra Tod, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University and other student-youth organisations even before members of these groups were arrested. The way the Delhi Police has subsequently acted shows that they have simply borrowed from the script.”

Two  non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Call for Justice and Group of Intellectuals and Academicians (GIA) led by the advocate Monika Arora, have submitted fact-finding reports to the Union government on the violence that took place in North-East Delhi in February. Call for Justice submitted its report on May 29 to Home Minister Amit Shah at his residence, while the GIA submitted its report titled “Shaheen Bagh Model in North-East Delhi: From Dharna to Danga” in early March to Minister of State for Home Affairs G. Kishen Reddy.

When protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) started gathering momentum in December 2019, some media channels began using terms such as dharna (protest) and danga (riot) in their reports preparing the ground for targeting certain individuals. A lawyer who has been following the developments closely said: “In one such programme, prominent civil society leaders such as Harsh Mander and Prof Apoorvanand of Delhi University, though he was not named, were targeted. This is clearly a Bhima Koregaon model where an anchor accused advocate Sudha Bharadwaj on air and the next thing we know is that she was arrested.”

In early March, Mander, along with other activists, approached the Supreme Court with a petition seeking to register a first information report (FIR) against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Kapil Mishra, Parvesh Verma, Anurag Thakur and Abhay Verma for their alleged hate speeches in the days preceding the violence in North East Delhi. Instead of addressing the BJP leaders’ hate speeches, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta read out excerpts from a speech made by Mander at Jamia Millia Islamia in December and accused him of inciting violence. Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, in whose court the matter was heard, asked Tushar Mehta to file an affidavit and decided not to hear Mander’s petition until the matter of his “derogatory remarks” was settled. The Delhi Police sought initiation of contempt proceedings against Mander, and Mander’s petition was all but forgotten.

Some 95 retired civil servants wrote an open letter in defence of Mander. In it they said: “By what stretch of the imagination can such words be construed as being inciteful of violence when they refer to Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation, who left us a priceless legacy of non-violence, truth-telling and compassion? By what inversion of meaning, by what distortion of facts and by what supreme disregard for the plain truth do the Solicitor General of India and the Deputy Commissioner of Police seek to mislead the Supreme Court of India? In our considered and collective opinion, there is a good case for filing a suit for defamation against both worthy gentlemen but that is a decision for the person defamed to take.”

The GIA report claimed that the violence was a “planned conspiracy” and demanded that the cases be transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The Call for Justice report said that the “tukde tukde gang was hand-in-glove with various radical groups such as Pinjra Tod, Jamia Coordination Committee [JCC], Alumni Association of Jamia Milia Islamia, Popular Front of India [PFI], Bhim Army and local politicians from the Aam Aadmi Party.” Two members each of Pinjra Tod and the PFI, an AAP MLA and several members of the JCC have been arrested by the Delhi Police, Crime Branch and Special Cell, on various charges, among them conspiracy.

Quoting the Enforcement Directorate, Call for Justice said the anti-CAA protests were funded by the PFI, that leaders of the Congress and the AAP were in touch with the PFI and Rs.120 crore was deposited in 73 bank accounts relating to the PFI for execution of the anti-CAA drive.

The report also blamed the “criminal hotbed” of Seelampur “dominated by Muslims” and a “flood of illegal Bangladeshi migrants” who “brought rapid demographic change and steep spike in crimes” for the violence.

In December 2018 the NIA had cracked down on an Islamic State (IS)-inspired module operating in Jaffrabad, arrested five people and “recovered 120 clocks, 25 kg of explosives, 100 phones, 135 SIM cards and a country-made rocket launcher”. But the report failed to mention that in 2019, the NIA dropped charges against four of the 10 accused in the case as it did not find sufficient evidence against them.

It is true that the investigating agencies had been watching North East Delhi for a while perhaps because of its majority Muslim population. In April 2019, a member of pro-IS module Harkat-ul-Harb-E-Islam was arrested for his alleged involvement in the procurement of arms and ammunition to carry out terrorist acts in and around the National Capital Region. In January 2020, the Special Cell claimed to have arrested three IS terrorists from the Wazirabad area after an encounter.

The Call for Justice team headed by Justice Ambadas Joshi, retired judge of the Bombay High Court, included retired Indian Administrative Service officer M.L. Meena, retired Indian Police Service officer Vivek Dubey, former Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Tirath Das Dogra, social entrepreneur Neera Mishra and advocate Neeraj Aarora.

Dogra, a noted forensic pathologist, assisted the Central Bureau of Investigation in the 2002 Godhra violence, the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, the Nithari killings case, the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case, the Batla House encounter case, the Shopian rape and murder case, and cases relating to Tulsi Prajapati, Bhanwari Devi, Haren Pandya and Arushi Talwar. His medico-legal cases include the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Beant Singh autopsy, Naina Sahni tandoor murder, Madhavrao Scindia aircrash and the Khairlanji massacre.

Aarora is a computer forensic expert and has acted as a Special Public Prosecutor with the NIA. Neera Mishra runs an organisation called Draupadi Dream Trust founded on “vedic principles and philosophy to create a better understanding of ancient vedic culture”. The trust was endorsed by several politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2013, Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and former President Pratibha Patil.

Justice Ambadas Joshi had served as the Chairman of the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal when the BJP was in power in the State from 2014 to 2019, while Dubey had served as a special Central police observer in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

They stated that as the Narendra Modi government resolved long-pending issues such as triple talaq, Article 370 and the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, it “angered radical groups” who “penetrated” the poor and illiterate Muslim communities of North East Delhi and “pushed them into riots”.

The Call for Justice report describes the calls for protest and mobilisation against the CAA as criminal activities and names prominent lawyers Kapil Sibal, Indira Jaisingh and Dushyant Dave as beneficiaries of PFI funding. It states that the PFI’s Delhi president, Md Parvez Ahmed, was in touch with the AAP’s Member of Parliament Sanjay Singh and several Congress leaders, including Udit Raj. Udit Raj has admitted that Parvez had called several parties, Muslim leaders and Dalit groups to unite against the CAA. Parvez’s membership in WhatsApp groups such as “Unification of Muslim Leaders etc” is framed as conspiratorial.

The GIA is a group of “professional women and entrepreneurs, mediapersons and academics committed to social justice and nation building”. It includes Dr Prerna Malhotra, assistant professor, Department of English, Ram Lal Anand College; Sonali Chitalkar, assistant professor, Department of Political Science, Miranda House; Dr Shruti Mishra, assistant professor, PGDAV College; and Divyansha Sharma, assistant professor, Institute of Home Economics.

Terming the February violence as “anti-Hindu riots”, the GIA claimed that the violence was “pre-planned in four phases and protests against CAA was only used as an alibi and a platform to plan [attacks] by urban naxal jehadi organisers”. According to its report, the riots originated in anti-CAA protest sites where women were used as shields. It alleged that “riot weapons were stockpiled over a period of time” and pointed to “links across the border”.

The GIA recommended that “foreign funds and support for the violence in Delhi should be investigated by the NIA”. It also recommends that intelligence and government agencies should investigate the “outsider network” responsible for engineering the riots in Delhi through an NIA inquiry. “The role of students, teachers, artists, organisations responsible for instilling hate through dharna/protest marches, social media posts, provocative speeches, etc., should be investigated. Funding of Shaheen Bagh-type protest: board, lodging, food, hoardings, banners, publicity material, etc., must be investigated. Sanctity of public spaces to be maintained by all law enforcing agencies. Police should ensure that roads, streets, parks, etc., should not be used for dharna and protest. Such gatherings should only be allowed at designated spaces,” stated the report.

 

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