Communalism

‘The government does not listen to us’

Print edition : August 28, 2020

Zafarul Islam. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Interview with Zafarul-Islam Khan, former Chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission.

The investigations into the violence in North East Delhi in February, which claimed 53 lives, have raised more questions than answers. Many people, including a High Court judge and a sessions court judge, have felt that the Delhi Police’s investigation has been unidimensional. The Delhi Minorities Commission formed its own nine-member investigation team to get to the root of the problem. Led by M.R. Shamshad, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court, the team spoke to a lot of victims, visited their charred houses and shops, and recorded 17 places of Muslim worship as being impacted by the targeted violence.

The committee, comprising Gurminder Singh Mathru, Tehmina Arora, Tanveer Kazi, Saleem Baig, Prof. Hasina Hashia, Abu Bakr Sabbaq, Devika Prasad and Aditi Dutta, submitted its report to the Commission towards June end. It was then presented to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Besides expending considerable energy on the incendiary speeches by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Parvesh Verma, Kapil Mishra and Tajinder Singh Bagga in the run-up to the violence, the committee came up with reports of targeted violence against Muslims and police inaction.

The fact-finding team establishes targeted violence, saying how only Muslim shops and business establishments were burnt down even as shops owned by others remained untouched. Even as allegations of the police’s partisan approach fly thick and fast, Frontline spoke to Zafarul-Islam Khan whose term as the Chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission ended in July. He spoke about the investigations and the loopholes in them. Excerpts:

Has there been any feedback from the Chief Minister’s Office to the minorities’ panel report you submitted?

I am not in the best position to comment because they would have responded, if at all, to the Delhi Minorities Commission’s office. I have demitted the office. But a report we submitted last year [on other incidents] was on the same lines and we had urged the government to study our recommendations and place them before the Assembly. But they did not follow that. We never got to know later what happened to the report or recommendations. This year, too, we have sent our recommendations. Let’s see what happens.

The government does not listen to us. They go against the statutes of the [Delhi Minorities Commission] Act under which the Commission’s report must be placed before the Assembly.

You formed a nine-member committee to investigate the North East Delhi violence. How much time did it take to complete its findings?

They were appointed on March 9. They held two meetings before the lockdown was imposed on March 24. After that, they held meetings over Zoom. Then again, when the lockdown was eased, they visited the place. In between also they went to North East Delhi, though understandably they could not move as freely as in normal circumstances. They had a one-month tenure. They asked for an extension. We gave them time until the end of June. They presented the report on June 27.

As reported in the media, the Commission’s fact-finding committee has found that the police’s investigation appeared one-sided…

Of course, it is the general perception. Even before this report I had this perception. You must be reading all these media reports on how a High Court judge and a sessions court judge had told the police how they [the police] were looking at only one side, not the other side. The Commission’s report is pretty exhaustive on this count.

One common charge by Muslims in North East Delhi is that their complaints have either not been registered or when they have been registered they have been clubbed with other cases.

It has happened. Even before the committee submitted its report, I came to know from the people in North East district that their reports were being appended to other FIRs [first information reports].

When this happens, it means there will be no action on other complaints. Instead of issuing a new FIR when a complaint comes from a new area or the same area or lane, they append it to the previous FIR, which makes it nullified; there would be no action.

This despite the fact that people were willing to name the attackers, or in some cases, the killers.

They were not allowed to name the attackers. The police were not accepting reports where the attackers were identified. If somebody named an accused, the police would ask them to write a fresh complaint without the name and then they would accept it. It was a very common complaint in the area.

At the same time, there have been allegations that certain places were used to attack Muslims. And the police did not even register an FIR. A glaring case is of Mohan Nursing Home. The police have filed no chargesheet.

There are so many witnesses [for it]. So many people saying, “I was attacked from there.” But the police are still not doing anything. There is no will, actually. Before [February] 25, people were attacked from its roof. There are videos of this. I myself have seen the videos but no action has been taken against the owner of Mohan Nursing Home or the attackers from there.

Rajdhani Public School has also been in the news…

Rajdhani Public School and DPR Convent School share a common wall. At some distance there is Arun Public School. At these three places I was told, by the driver in the Rajdhani school, who is a Hindu; by the guard in DSR school, who too is a Hindu; and by the owner of Arun Modern Public School, who is a Hindu and a former MLA, that people came from outside. They hid their faces by wearing helmets. They were well-built, something like 23-24 years old. These people took over these schools from the evening of February 24 to the evening of 25. They came in small trucks and used to go out for three-four hours and come back, eat, rest and then go out again. They were there for 24 hours. Now, the owner of Rajdhani School is being blamed for bringing people from outside. He is a victim. He is innocent.

Barely a few metres from Arun Public School is the Farooqia Masjid which was torched. Worshippers have alleged that the assailants first attacked the imam and the muezzin and the police stood just behind them. Any development on this?

I do not have the latest on this yet. But what the worshippers have said is well known. There have been serious allegations against the police.

[The fact-finding team states in the report: “The police in blue uniform entered the mosque and started beating people who were offering namaaz there. People coming out of the masjid were hit by the police. They (rioters) desecrated copies of the Quran… and exhorted people to kill the imam and the muezzin, after which people started hitting them with iron rods. When this man tried saving the imam, his eye got hit and he permanently lost sight in one eye. The second blow was on the head and he collapsed. His lawyer sent an email to the Delhi Police for the registration of an FIR. Till date, the complainant has not been told about the status of the registration of his FIR.”]

The report mentions 17 places of worship being damaged or attacked.

It is the list the committee has compiled. It is not the complete list. Therefore, in the committee’s report, you will find the words “some mosques”. It is not an exhaustive list. There were other mosques and dargahs too that were damaged.

Which are those?

At least there was one other dargah, besides the Bhajanpura dargah, that was attacked. It is confirmed. There were other mosques which were left out. The committee, due to time constraints, could not go there to find out. It is not a complete list.

How far has the Delhi government been helpful in rehabilitation work and disbursal of financial relief to the affected?

There is a section about it in the report. They were not very helpful. Yes, they announced a compensation. But the disbursal always takes places through the SDMs [subdivisional magistrates] who are at times not cooperative. I had to issue notice to one of the SDMs. I think it was in Karawal Nagar. They were not cooperative. They put hurdles. They asked for papers, they sent them back. They were rude. It did not encourage people to go there for relief. The purpose of any such announcement of relief was defeated.

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