The Central government has announced that it has unearthed a conspiracy behind the communal violence that rocked North East Delhi in February 2020, in which 53 people lost their lives and hundreds suffered injuries.
Soon after it took place, Home Minister Amit Shah had stated that it was a spontaneous reaction to the street protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). However, he changed his position a few days later. He declared in the Lok Sabha that the communal violence was the result of a conspiracy by those who were organising those protests. In particular, he named the organisers of United Against Hate campaign as being the masterminds of this conspiracy.
The Delhi Police has submitted a 17000-page charge sheet to support the Home Minister’s conspiracy theory. The charge sheet names numerous people who were active in organising street protests against the CAA and NRC. It accuses them of having planned the communal violence to coincide with the visit of American President Trump, allegedly to discredit India in the international arena.
The charge sheet makes no reference to the hate speeches delivered by BJP leaders, and the open call by one of them to shoot the “national traitors”, referring to those who were protesting against CAA and NRC. It also makes no reference to eyewitness accounts of armed gangs unleashing violence targeted at Muslims, while the police stood by.
The exercise of creating a National Register of Citizens in Assam began in 2013 and concluded in 2019. Instead of the government having to prove that someone is an illegal immigrant, the exercise required every person residing in Assam to submit multiple documents to prove that his or her ancestors were Indian citizens. It resulted in more than 19 lakh people being declared as illegal and threatened with having to spend the rest of their lives in detention centres.
On 31 May, 2019, the Central Government asked all state governments to start preparing detention centers for “illegal migrants”, in anticipation of the proposed exercise of extending the NRC to the whole country. Home Minister Amit Shah repeatedly referred to Bengali Muslims as “vermin” and “termites” who need to be expelled from the country.
According to the Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament on 11 December, 2019, those who had illegally migrated to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan are permitted to apply for Indian citizenship provided they are not Muslims. The threat of being deported or confined to detention centres is thereby targeted specifically at Muslims who cannot provide documentary evidence of Indian ancestry.
Large numbers of people, of different religious faiths, united to demand that the government withdraw the discriminatory CAA and abandon the proposed NRC. Women played a leading role in these protests. Students and academics from numerous universities actively participated, and so did Indian youth who were studying abroad. In spite of numerous efforts by those in power to inject violence into this mass movement, the protests remained peaceful.
The communal violence which was unleashed in North-East Delhi in February 2020 was aimed at discrediting and suppressing the mass upheaval against the discriminatory CAA and NRC. Following the lockdown imposed in March, hundreds of women and men who had played an active role in the protests have been arrested under UAPA and kept indefinitely in jail. The conspiracy theory being propagated by the central Home Ministry and supported by the charge sheet of the Delhi Police needs to be seen in the light of this background.
|Arrests and Detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA)
Fifteen people have been named by the Delhi Police in the first list of alleged conspirators responsible for the communal violence in February. They are Abdul Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan, Meeran Haider, Tahir Hussain, Gulfisha Khatoon, Safoora Zargar, Safa-Ur-Rehman, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Shadab Ahmad, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Taslim Ahmad, Salim Malik, Salim Khan and Athar Khan. According to news reports, supplementary chargesheets are being prepared against student leaders Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam, who are being accused of being among the masterminds behind the conspiracy.
All have been charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Except Safoora Zargar, who is out on bail because of being in an advanced stage of pregnancy, all others face indefinite jail terms without any chance of bail.
Answering a question in the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of State for Home has admitted that 3974 persons were arrested under the UAPA during 2016, 2017 and 2018. Of these, charge sheets were filed in only 821 cases. The remaining 3153 persons are languishing in jail without any charge. Data on the number of arrests in 2019 and 2020 are yet to be published.
The majority of those whose cases have been tried have been judged to be innocent, after having spent several years in jail. While the police is normally required to prove the guilt of persons against whom they have filed criminal charges, under UAPA, the burden is on the person accused, to prove his or her innocence.
Over the past 40 years, we have repeatedly witnessed the propagation of numerous official conspiracy theories to justify the use of force to suppress people’s movements. The propaganda that armed Sikhs were conspiring to kill thousands of Hindus was used to justify the army assault on the Golden Temple in June 1984. The propaganda that Sikhs had conspired to assassinate Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was used to justify the communal massacre of November 1984. Such propaganda was used to justify arbitrary arrests and detention of Sikh youth, as well as their murder by security forces in so-called encounters.
Portraying people of a particular religious faith as posing a threat to India serves the ruling class to justify unleashing state terrorism to suppress all resistance to its unjust and exploitative rule. It serves to justify treating legitimate political and economic demands of the people as a “law and order” problem. The fraudulent conspiracy theory being propagated about the Delhi communal violence in February this year serves the same purpose.