The numbers of bullets fired and tear gas shells used were the highest in recent years, several mid-level police officers said.(Sanchit Khanna/HT photo)
The numbers of bullets fired and tear gas shells used were the highest in recent years, several mid-level police officers said.(Sanchit Khanna/HT photo)

461 bullets, 4,000 tear gas shells used by cops to quell Delhi riots

  • As part of their investigation, police have till date arrested 1,753 persons, which includes 820 Hindus and 933 Muslims.
PUBLISHED ON MAR 05, 2021 04:00 AM IST

Policemen fired at least 461 bullets in the air and used nearly 4,000 tear gas shells to quell the Hindu-Muslim clashes that erupted in parts of northeast Delhi a year ago, according to Delhi police’s report on the riots.

The numbers of bullets fired and tear gas shells used were the highest in recent years, several mid-level police officers said. To be sure, while tear gas is commonly used to quell protests, instances of police resorting to aerial firing are not common. “Before the riots, while police may have used hundreds of tear gas shells during violent demonstrations such as the violence outside Jamia Millia Islamia during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, police in Delhi hardly have to resort to aerial firing. It happens only once in a while and in a few cases,” said an officer who did not wish to be identified.

At least 53 persons died while 581 others were injured when riots broke out in northeast Delhi between February 23 and 27 last year. The analysis on the use of force by police also mentions that “police did not use excessive force despite extreme provocation, with the first casualty in the riots being a policeman”.

Police have said that while rioters carried pistols and other types of weapons, all their officers fired only aerially and not at any rioter on the road. “...However, if police had resorted to direct fire, to disperse the protestors, the casualties would have been enormous and could have further fuelled the riots. The police used tear gas, lathi charge and aerial firing to control the crowd. The force used was neither excessive nor less but was commensurate to the demands of the situation,” the report reads.

Tear gas and lathi charge are the first steps used by police in handling riots.

Of the 53 people who died, postmortem reports later revealed that at least 13 of them had died of gunshot wounds. One of the defining images of the riots was that of a northeast Delhi resident, later identified as Shah Rukh Pathan, holding a pistol, also pointing it at a police officer, in the middle of the violence. Police investigations revealed that many rioters bought weapons from parts of western Uttar Pradesh before the riots began. In Shah Rukh’s case, the pistol he used (later recovered) was bought from Munger, Bihar. He bought it from an employee of an illegal gun factory in Munger.

According to the police report, the highest number of bullets fired and tear gas shells used were in the first 36 hours of the violence. It mentioned that before 2020, the 1992 riots in northeast Delhi were concentrated in areas under three police stations, while in 2020 the violence was spread across 12 police stations and two police districts: northeast and Shahdara.

Police mentioned that most of the casualties last year were reported in the interior areas north of Wazirabad Road, which had no previous history of communal riots. The mobs, according to the report, gathered in large numbers at many places simultaneously and when they were controlled or dispersed from one place, they continued rioting at the other places.

“The intensity and scale of violence can be gauged from the fact that 4,458 PCR calls were received on February 24, 2020 and 9,308 calls the following day,” the report said.

As an attempt to restore calm during and after the riots, police records show that between February 22 and March 21, 2020, a total of 471 peace committee meetings were held in the area, many of which were chaired by lieutenant governor Anil Baijal and police commissioner SN Shrivastava.

As part of their investigation, police have till date arrested 1,753 persons, which includes 820 Hindus and 933 Muslims. Of the 1,753 persons, at least 544 alleged rioters who were involved in specific incidents of rioting and arson are currently out on bail.

Local politicians Tahir Hussain and Ishrat Jahan, student activists Umar Khalid, Gulfisha Fatima and Sharjeel Imam who are among 21 alleged main conspirators are still behind bars. Police have booked the 21 persons on charges of sedition and under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

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