Jamia stir was a ‘beta test’: Charge sheet
Cops allege elaborate plot to spark violence in region; accused call the probe a fantasy based on ghost witnessesUpdated: Sep 23, 2020, 13:32 IST
The key conspirators behind the communal riots in north-east Delhi, in which 53 people were killed and over 400 suffered injuries, learnt lessons from the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests near Jamia Millia Islamia, and used these learnings to organise and fan violence in the area this February, according to Delhi Police.
The charge sheet, filed by the police’s special cell last week, has named 15 people who allegedly conspired to orchestrate the riots in February across north-east Delhi localities.
In the 17,500-page charge sheet, the police have named Abdul Khalid Saifi, Ishrat Jahan, Meeran Haider, Tahir Hussain, Gulfisha Khatoon, Safoora Zargar, Shifa-ur Rehman, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Shadab Ahmad, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Taslim Ahmed, Salim Malik, Mohd Salim and Athar Khan as accused. They have all denied wrongdoing.
Former JNU student and activist Umar Khalid, who was arrested on Sunday night in connection with the case, has not been charged. Sharjeel Imam, who was earlier arrested for giving an alleged seditious speech, has also been not charged, though both Khalid and Imam have been named in the document. Police have said that they may file supplementary charge sheets into the case. Khalid and Imam have said that they have no role to play in the riots.
The police have annexed statements of over 100 protected witnesses, call details and chat records of the different WhatsApp groups that the arrested persons were part of.
A copy of the charge sheet was provided to the lawyers of the accused on Monday.
The charge sheet describes the anti-CAA protests near Jamia, which turned violent last December, as the “beta version of the carnage”.
Violence followed an anti-CAA protest near Jamia in December, in which several vehicles and public property were damaged. Besides cracking down on those outside, the police had also barged into the Jamia campus and beat up students sitting in the library. This was followed by protests at the university gate, then at the nearby Shaheen Bagh and different parts of the city and the country.
“The key conspirators had learnt their lessons drawn from December 2019 and while executing the continuing conspiracy in February 2020 chose north-east Delhi with its unique economic, social and demographic matrix as being the ideal ground for mass scale mobilisation and violence as it was found to be much more vulnerable and dispensable as compared to south east Delhi,” reads the charge sheet. “Almost every character who gained notoriety in February 2020 had been noticed as being present in the incidents of December 2019,” the charge sheet adds.
According to the document, the members of Pinjra Tod were brought on board to ensure that the protests were not branded as one being led by only one particular community. The police said that sites for sit-in protests were chosen in pockets dominated by the Muslims, and which were close to arterial roads that led to areas with mixed population.
The Pinja Tod activists have denied any wrongdoing.
The charge sheet mentions that the conspirators “by their ingenuity and criminality of thoughts”, gave a new meaning to hate speech. It says that the speeches were sugar-coated with nationalism, aimed “at igniting and reinforcing a pan-Islamic identity.”
According to the investigators, the accused kept the “audience” confused by raising several issues at once, including CAA, fascism and interests of Dalits and the marginalised. ”The conspirators had something for everyone who was looking up to their intellectual corpus in the belief that they represented a bonafide alternative in India’s democratic palette.”
BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who had also given a speech a day before violence erupted in north-east Delhi, was questioned by the police but he denied giving any speech. He was summoned on July 28 and he told the investigators that he had gone to the protest site in his personal capacity. “I have not delivered any speech. I just told police to clear the road in three days. If they did not do it, I said that we would also sit on dharna,” Mishra told the police, as per the charge sheet.
Critics of the police probe into the riots have often pointed out while the police targeted anti-CAA and anti-government voices, it did not take any action against people like Mishra, who belonged to the ruling party even though there was video footage of them giving inflammatory speeches and leading slogans.
The charge sheet claims that five accused in the case got Rs 1.61 crore in cash through bank transactions to allegedly “manage” the anti-CAA protest sites and “execute the conspiracy” for riots. Police have named former councillor Ishrat Jahan, activist Khalid Saifi, suspended municipal councillor Tahir Hussain, Shifa-Ur-Rehman and Jamia Milla Islamia student Meeran Haider for collectively receiving the money, of which around Rs 1.48 crore was withdrawn in cash on separate occasions to implement the plans.
Police have cited the bank details of arrested accused Ishrat Jahan, and claimed that Rs 4 lakh was transferred in her bank account from a Corporation Bank account in Maharashtra. The money was transferred by a man who worked as a driver for Samir Abdul Sai in Sindhudurg Maharashtra, according to the police. Sai, who has recorded his statement before a judge, alleged that he was conned into sending the money by his business partner who was allegedly funding the anti-CAA protests.
The charge sheet mentions suspended councillor Tahir Hussain, Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam and Khalid Saifi as some of the main conspirators who planned and executed the protests and then the riots. Both Khalid and Imam, however, are yet to be charged.
According to the charge sheet, Hussain, also the prime accused in the murder of IB official Ankit Sharma, arranged funds for the riot and mobilised rioters. Police have attached the statement of an “insider”, who has claimed to have seen Hussain preparing for the violence by stocking petrol, acid and bottles.
According to the police, it was Saifi who brought Hussain and Khalid together. Khalid, the charge sheet says, planned the conspiracy which had to be executed during the visit of the US President Donald Trump.
Imam was involved in the conspiracy since the first clashes outside Jamia, the charge sheet says. Imam, who was arrested for making an alleged inflammatory speech, has been accused by police of using social media “for large scale indoctrination and mobilisation of youths for chakka jaam as a protest against CAA”.
Pinjra Tod activists
Police have attached WhatsApp chats of Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal with Khalid, Sharjeel and other alleged co-conspirators as the ones mobilising people on the roads before the violence. It also contains statements by protected witnesses, claiming women who were part of the protests were given chilli powder to be used during violence.
The charge sheet mentions that there were at least 25 WhatsApp groups, which were created to for the purpose of mobilising support to block roads, for protests against the CAA and, ultimately the riots. One such WhatsApp group (the chat records features as evidence of conspiracy) was created by Pinjra Tod member Gulfisha Khatoon.
Lapses in deployment
According to the charge sheet, the riots in north-east Delhi coincided with Trump’s visit when the national capital was on a high alert. However, the police deployment data related to the violence-hit areas cited in the charge sheet shows police were unprepared or had not anticipated the scale of the clashes.
On February 23, when the first incidents of violence were reported from Jafrabad, there were 1,393 police personnel deployed there. On February 24, there were 1,361 police personnel on the ground, and on February 25, 1,399 police personnel were posted. Most cases of rioting and murder were reported between February 23-25.
What defence says
Advocate Mahmood Pracha, who is representing Gulfisha Khatoon, called it a ghost charge sheet. “The informer of this FIR is ghost and more than 100 main witnesses are also ghosts. If police is shying away from disclosing their names, one can imagine the worth of this charge sheet,” he said
Adit S Pujari, appearing for Pinjra Tod activists Natasha and Devanga, said: “The only place we will respond is in the court.”
Advocate Rizwan, counsel for Tahir Hussain, said his client was being made a scapegoat. “These are all concocted facts because people first came to know about Trump’s to India on January 13. Police have alleged that the conspirators met at Shaheen Bagh on January 8.”
Pradeep Teotia, counsel for Ishrat Jahan, said his client had no role in the riots. “We have video footage, which shows my client was not leading any mob. She was forced to sign disclosure statements.”