Seven months on, justice still evades families of Delhi riot victims

The victims’ kin have not been given proper relief and rehabilitation, says a report

Security personnel inspect an area in northeast Delhi hit by communal violence | PTI [File] Security personnel inspect an area in northeast Delhi hit by communal violence | PTI

Eighty-five-year-old Akbari was the oldest victim of the communal violence in north-east Delhi in February that killed 53 people, injured at least 473 civilians, destroyed property worth hundreds of crores of rupees, displaced thousands, and brought ruin to several lives and livelihoods. Akbari died after her house in Gamri village was set on fire. Her son Salmani operated a garments workshop on the first floor of his house.

Months later, justice still evades families of several victims like Akbari as they have not yet received proper relief and rehabilitation, says a 232-page report prepared by Citizens and Lawyers Initiative. 

In a first of its kind initiative, the NGO has studied the causes, fallout and aftermath of the Delhi riots and prepared a detailed report which calls for setting up an “independent multi-stakeholder accountability team” immediately for impartial assessment of evidence, damage and compensation for the affected.

In the prologue, Justice B.N. Srikrishna said that the narrative in the report is apparently based on material in the public domain and garnered from conversations with members of the public. He called upon the State and the Constitutional machinery to objectively assess the facts narrated and take necessary action to restore the faith of the citizens of this country in the rule of law. 

The report, edited by senior advocate Chander Uday Singh, is a combination of facts, evidences and profiles of the affected as it goes on to describe how police apathy, reported complicity and police inaction continue to haunt the riot victims. To make matters worse, the opaque mode of assessment and lack of proper documentation provided by authorities are throwing new challenges for giving compensation to the affected, he said.

The report noted that the violence occurred against the backdrop of widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA). Talking about the “creation of a facilitative environment for the violence”, the report said that after the introduction and passage of the CAA and the nation-wide protests, there was a rise to exclusionary counter-narratives and hate speech that incited and stoked the flames of communal violence. 

“This culminated in the communally charged Delhi election campaign, which was eventually won by the Aam Aadmi Party without challenging the vitriolic content of its main opposition. This gave rise to well publicized gun-wielding vigilantes,” it noted.

“The environment was as charged as a powder keg that just needed a spark to erupt. Kapil Mishra’s provocative speech in Jaffrabad and the incendiary Facebook Live posts by Ragini Tiwari aka Janki Behen appear to have had that effect,” it explained.

The report said that the factors  that contributed to the rapid escalation and horrific consequences of the violence include the ambiguity of the role of police, combining deliberate inaction, with selective acts of complicity with Hindu rioters, participating in striking terror amongst Muslim victims, acting with impunity in the full gaze of mobile phone webcams, television cameras, and the media, and an administration that clearly failed to mobilise and activate the resources necessary for its effective containment.

The report said that social media also played a key role in mobilization and coordination of attacks as well as the circulation of rumours and misinformation aimed to incite the violence. Further, gender-based violence had been used as an instrument of violence and intimidation.

Talking about the failure of law and order, it said that police’s inaction, complicity and impunity contributed to the escalation of the violence. Moreover, delayed response until February 26 allowed the violence to continue unabated which resulted in mounting loss of lives, it said.

The failure of the law and order situation arose as a result of reported incidents of police partaking in the violence, providing tacit support to Hindu mobs, and failing to take appropriate action to staunch the loss of lives, livelihoods, and properties. Further, the police also prevented aid from reaching the injured by stopping ambulances from entering riot affected areas, it said.

The report raises huge concern over inadequate relief and rehabilitation as it noted that substantial gaps existed in compensation promised versus delivered. “Reasons can be pegged down to tedious, obscure processes, opaque mode of assessment and lack of proper documentation provided by authorities in cases where FIRs of two individuals are clubbed together which hinders them from claiming compensation,” it noted. 

Further, civil society activists have pointed out that amounts of compensation are inadequate and lower than what was offered during the Muzaffarnagar riots.

Meanwhile, it noted that the Delhi Police charge-sheets hinted at a concerted conspiracy by anti-CAA protestors to defame the Narendra Modi-led government during the visit of the US President. The report said there was an urgent need to set up an independent multi-stakeholder accountability team for impartial review of evidence, investigation process, damage assessment, receipt of compensation, and citizen complaints. 

“This would be the first step in re-building trust with the communities and provide assurance of an impartial investigation into the violence that ravaged lives and livelihoods,” it said.

Among its list of recommendations, the report said there was an urgent need to clear bottlenecks in relief and rehabilitation and establishing strong witness protection protocols given the precarious position of witnesses and the likelihood of intimidation they are likely to face. The Citizens and Lawyers Initiative also called upon the government to publish an official list of deaths, disappearance, and grievous harm as several riot-hit families are still struggling for information about missing family members.

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