Skip to main content

Delhi riots: Evading investigation, sections of media 'happily' offered police version

Counterview Desk
The Press Club of India (PCI), in a statement signed by its president Anand K Sahay and general secretary Anant Bagaitkar, even as conceding that "intrepid" journalists "went out in the midst of violence, risking their life and limb" during Delhi riots the four-day in order to tell stories and offer visuals, has come down heavily on the media "friendly to the government" for failing to do "fuller" investigation and accepting police version.
Giving specific instances, PCI says, the murder of Ankit Sharma, variously "described as a driver employed by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and IB officer”, was being projected as "threat to national security", though little was done to impartially probe the allegation that "this individual was also involved in stone-throwing."
Then, some TV channels "showed a young man, purportedly a Muslim now in custody, running about with a pistol in hand but not doing very much with it". Yet little was done to find out his links, whether he is he a gangster, a political worker of some kind, or a supposed agent of a foreign or Indian Islamist outfit. Some sections of the media were, in fact, "happy to give full play to police versions."
Similarly, while Delhi BJP leader Kapil Mishra, on February 23 pointedly said that the police must clear the anti-CAA protesters within 72 hours, i.e. by the time visiting US President Donald Trump departed, and if not, he would "employ his own methods", and wouldn't listen to the police. A DCP stood next by him at that time. Yet violence kicked off shortly after Mishra's speech, rendering the ‘grace period’ "as a smoke screen.
Accoding to PCI, here too there  was failure to find out why this happened. Insisting that media questioning was called for on the pre-violence preparation by Delhi Police, PCI says, country-made guns were allegedly used in the communal violence, as were petrol bombs, which were being prepared in full view of the police in some instances.

Text:

How did the media in the nation’s capital acquit itself in its presentation of the horrific communal violence in the northeast corner of Delhi which, officially, has already claimed more than 50 lives (and the count of the dead could rise as bodies are fished out of a stinking sewerage canal that covers a large part of the affected area)?
At the first level, the answer is straightforward- our photographers and our reporters, from both television and print, showed exemplary courage in discharging their professional responsibility.
In the line of duty, on February 25, a large number were admitted to hospital. One of them, a television journalist, had a gunshot injury. Many had been hit by stones hurled by rival mobs. Another television reporter had been hit and punched in the face by communal fanatics and had teeth missing.
A joint statement of the Press Cub of India (PCI) and the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) on February 25 had noted that the “police were either absent or have not come to help”. This was a noteworthy feature, made noteworthy by the fact of overt police inaction, especially on February 24 and 25, when the violence had turned full-blown and was at its peak.
In fact, media accounts have hinted at police personnel aiding a section of the producers of communal violence. This aspect needs to be examined in depth by an impartial probe, whose terms of reference ought to go beyond capturing specific events and delve into underlying- and surrounding - social and political causes if basic truths are to be unearthed for future guidance on police administration, policing responsibilities, and state orientation.
The PCI-IWPC joint statement had noted, “Shockingly, mobs were checking religious credentials of journalists.” The published account of a Times of India photographer, Anindyo Chattopadhyay, speaks of male journalists being made to lower their trousers to check religious identity. This again was a new feature.
Chattopadhyay is a member of the PCI Managing Committee and his insights were useful in the preparation of this report, besides those of a clutch of reporters and photographers who helpfully gave us a sense of the atmosphere and the time-line as the trouble spread across a corner of Delhi.
In the 1984 riots in which innocent Sikhs had been targeted, the police had been found wanting. Police personnel had encouraged rampaging mobs in some instances. The senior police leadership had remained quiescent, as in February 2020. However, reporters and photographers had not been threatened and no particular bravery was called for on their part.
Was this in part due to the fact that the mobs in 1984 were amorphous in nature, though local figures linked to the then ruling party directed mob actions in their areas, while in contrast, the communal violence of 2020 appeared to be triggered- as widely reported and commented on -- in the wake of provocative public comments of an influential ruling party personality who, just weeks earlier, had created an ‘India-Pakistan’ binary -- a deplorable construct aimed a demeaning India’s largest religious minority- in the context of the Delhi Assembly election?
More, the ruling national party of today is able to intervene to further its political and ideological ends through a host of civil society outfits and networks that frontload the religious factor and frequently engage in uncivil conduct?
Some of these, it is widely alleged, were acting upfront in the ‘India-Pakistan’ battle zones -- with devastating effect. These appeared to be ideologically-oriented mobs, not all-and-sundry mobs. Some loot- and- carry was apparently involved in both instances. But in 2020, it appears that one of the mob objectives was to economically cripple the minority locations that were hit. Shops, godowns, and small manufactories were particularly targeted.
The violence commenced on February 23, raged on through February 24 and 25, and simmered and eventually petered out by February 26, although there was tension and anxiety in the air even on March 7 when the PCI president, Anand K Sahay, visited some of the worst affected area with colleagues to get a feel of the geography and social make-up of the communal battleground areas, and a sense of the public mood.
It became evident that while there were numerous examples of ordinary Hindus and Muslims protecting one another and each other’s religious places during the troubles, and some large-hearted Sikhs rescuing tens of Muslims from difficult areas as the flames of communal passion leapt, a sense of mistrust and disquiet remains, arising from fear of the State.
Sandeep, a Hindu resident of Janata Colony, a predominantly Muslim locality by the Peeli Mitti Road (near the Jaffrabad Metro Station), informed us that there were five temples in the by-lanes of this area and all were safe. Some of his Muslim friends said their area was untouched by violence but a palpable sense of fear of the future remains.
In Mahalaxmi Enclave, right next to Shiv Vihar where Muslim residents suffered incalculable harm, Rajpal Singh Sain, who is a non-Brahmin keeper and priest of the Jwalaji temple, informed us that the temple also drew Muslim devotees. They are from among the 20-odd Muslim houses of the locality. He said a Muslim mosque nearby and the Hindu temples of the area were quite safe.
On the main road just outside these by-lanes, at the Shiv Vihar ‘tiraha’ or tri-junction, stand two large-sized parking spaces full of charred vehicles, a reminder of dangerous gangs at work unhindered by the forces of the state, underlining the unquiet times the nation’s capital is passing through.
***
One of Britain’s most famous foreign correspondents renowned for his professional integrity, James Cameron, who was active in the years after the second world war and had reported out of New Delhi, once famously said, “I don’t let facts come in the way of the truth!”
This important journalist was known to peel through layers of facts to arrive at “the truth”. It is in this respect that the shortcomings of the media as an institution are visible in dealing with the turbulent times since December 2019, including the recent communal violence which caught international attention since the picture that came through was that a particular religious minority had been consciously targeted.
Kapil Mishra
Intrepid reporters and photographers/ videographers went out in the midst of violence, risking their life and limb. They brought back telling stories and visuals. And yet, our understanding of the troubled times Delhi has passed through appears seriously grossly inadequate. There are too many unexplained or under-explained aspects of the big story, too many gaps, which needed to be filled or looked into.
Some can be enumerated as follows:
1. The area engulfed by communal violence is actually quite small -- about six kilometres square: roughly three kilometres in length from the Jafrabad Metro Station (just up from the Seelampur Metro) on the Yamuna Vihar Road to no more than two km in width, taking in areas of intense destruction in places such as Bhajanpura, Khajuri Khas, Mutafabad, Gokulpuri, Chand Bagh and Shiv Vihar.
In a tense communal situation this should have been easy enough to effectively patrol and control by a purposeful police force with a no-nonsense leadership. And this is exactly what happened once National Security Advisor was made to intervene. The trouble petered out as shoot-at-sight orders were passed.
Could this not have been done on the very first day, February 23, or latest by the following morning before the matter escalated and northeast Delhi came in the grip of communal violence of such magnitude that would bring shame to the country?
The mystery is why this was not done. To uncover the facts was beyond the experience and competence of the city reporters who were despatched on assignment to northeast Delhi. If journalists who routinely cover national affairs- in this case the ruling party and the Union home ministry- had been pressed into service, a fuller picture is likely to have emerged.
2. On the whole, in time sequence, it appears that the start of the communal trouble is traceable to a short speech at Maujpur Chauraha, about 300 or 400 metres from the Jafrabad Metro station where the previous day women against CAA had commenced a protest sit-in, made by a prominent Delhi-level local BJP leader, Kapil Mishra, on the afternoon of February 23 at about 3pm.
He said pointedly that the police must clear the anti-CAA protesters by the time visiting US President Donald Trump departed, namely within 72 hours. If not, Mishra said he would employ his own methods to do so, and in that event would not listen to the police.
Media has not sought to try and understand what gave BJP's Kapil Mishra confidence or sense of authority to issue ultimatum to police
A police DCP stood next to Mishra as this provocation was being uttered. An alert officer might have thought to place the politician under restraint for threatening trouble and threatening not to heed the police. This could have been interrogated by the media at the national political level.
Further, the violence kicked off shortly after the BJP leader’s speech, rendering Mishra’s so-called ‘grace period’ of 72 hours as a smoke screen to lull all concerned. Was the police really fooled? Or, did it pretend to be fooled? At any rate, the force deployment on the ground was extremely thin, going by eye-witness accounts as well as accounts of journalists-reporters and photographers- present at the spot.
The media have not sought to go into the reasons why the organised communalists got into action almost straightaway instead of waiting for the time supposedly given to the police to clear the place of anti-CAA women protesters. It has also not sought to try and understand what gave Mishra the confidence or sense of authority to issue an ultimatum to the police.
3. Local residents of northeast Delhi, as well as journalists who covered the three days of the nightmarish violence, suggest that, for many days prior, truckloads or wagonloads of bricks and stones had been ferried to different locations of the area, as though they were being taken for construction purposes. Did the local police stations have no clue? Have they at least now been able to find out who was ordering these potential missiles?
Delhi has been a tinderbox situation since the passing of the CAA last December, the erupting of protests against this law, the police inaction in JNU, police hyper-action in the case of Jamia, and the volatile communal speeches made by top leaders of the ruling party in the course of the Delhi Assembly election campaign.
Given such a backdrop, the police was expected to keep a sharp eye out for any signs of potential communal trouble. The stocking of bricks and stones falls in this category. Media questioning is called for on the pre-violence preparation by Delhi Police.
The person with pistol in hand
4. Country-made guns -- apparently pistols chiefly -- were also used in the communal violence, as were petrol bombs, which, according to allegations of eyewitnesses, were being prepared in full view of the police in some instances. The police are yet to be queried by the media about this.
For a day and a half, television stations friendly to the government showed a young man, purportedly a Muslim now in custody, running about with a pistol in hand but not doing very much with it. Details of his profile and his links are yet to emerge.
Is he a gangster, a political worker of some kind, or a supposed agent of a foreign or Indian Islamist outfit? This is the direction in which the media have been sent by the police and some sections of the media are happy to give full play to police versions without any investigation on their part.
Similar is the case of the deceased Ankit Sharma, variously described as a driver employed by the Intelligence Bureau and an IB “officer” in some initial media reports. So, who was he? Was he killed by those who knew him for reasons of personal enmity? Was he targeted because he worked for the IB?
This narrative is being sought to be developed in government-friendly media sections to suggest that the killing of a minor IB employee in the slums was a threat to national security. An impartial probe also needs to look into the allegation that this individual was also involved in stone-throwing. So little is known of his background and actions on those fateful days. A fuller media investigation can help us understand the situation better.
Surprisingly enough, the death of a policeman on duty -- whether in stone-pelting or on account of a bullet fired is still not clear -- is also sought to be given a national security colour, and is being linked with the IB employee’s murder to build a ‘national security under assault’ narrative. How valid is this approach? Media can contribute to our understanding of the terrible events by exploring the foundations or such a narrative and its foundational basis.
5. The provenance of BJP leader Mishra, whose speech is seen as the starting point of the ‘India-Pakistan’ troubles, is known. What about the Muslim mobs in the few places that they struck? Did they have a leadership, or were they plain hotheads -- reacting with extreme violence on occasion -- once they perceived themselves to be surrounded by mobs of another denomination and, as the allegation frequently goes, aided by the guardians of law and order? This is a point that needs independent investigation, preferably a media investigation.
An AAP counsellor -- a Muslim individual -- has been picked up by the police. His name is being bandied about in a section of the media as the riot-maker in-chief. This individual may have well played a negative role, but so far there is only the police version to go by. Independent media work is needed for greater clarity and greater credibility, especially since no prominent non-Muslims are presumed to be under investigation so far.
6. The scale of the destruction and the scale of the urgently needed relief appears very extensive, and may be beyond the capacities of the Kejriwal government in Delhi. Perhaps the Centre needs to step in, also to deal with insurance.
Usually in such situations, it is seen that the numbers of the insured are too few. This had been seen to be the case with the lakhs of victims of the Kashmir floods of September 2014. Media detailing of this aspect can lend credibility to victims’ claims.
7. There is confused rendering of account of the part played by Chandra Shekhar Azad’s Bhim Army, if any, in first hand descriptions by photographers and reporters who were on the ground in the Jafrabad, Maujpur, Kabir Nagar area on February 23, when troubles began. It will help political clarity of the events if responsible media analysis undertook this exercise.
The PCI is not an NGO, a political organisation, or a news media outlet. It does not possess the resources of independent investigation. But we are concerned with the well-being of our media, and have sought to be flag issues concerning journalism and journalists. It is in this report that this document has been prepared.

Comments

TRENDING

Young environmentalist's arrest 'sinister', even parents not told of her whereabouts

By Our Representative  The Coalition for Environmental Justice in India (CEJI), a civil society network, has said that it is “highly disturbing” that Disha Ravi, a young woman climate activist from Bengaluru was “picked up” in what is referred to as a “closely guarded operation” of the Delhi police. Disha, 21, has been remanded to police custody for five days after she was taken from Bengaluru to Delhi.

Mukesh Ambani's earnings during Covid 'can lift' 40% informal workers out of poverty

By Dr Gian Singh*  The Inequality Virus Report released by Oxfam, a non-profit organization, on January 25, 2021 on the growing inequalities in different parts of the world, sheds light on the growing economic, educational, healthcare and gender inequalities in India. The report has revealed that the wealth of billionaires has increased by 35 per cent during the lockdown period in the country.

US forensic revelation enough evidence to release Sudha Bharadwaj, others: Civicus

Counterview Desk  Civicus, a Johannesburg-based global alliance of civil society organisations and activists claiming to have presence in 175 countries with 9,000 members and working for strengthening citizen action, has sought immediate release of Sudha Bharadwaj, arrested in 2018 under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

'These people shouldn't be in jail': UN official seeks release of 16 human rights defenders

By Our Representative A United Nations human rights official has called upon the Government of India (GoI) to “immediately release" 16 human rights defenders who have been imprisoned on charges of terrorism in the Bhima-Koregaon Case, insisting, “These people should not be in jail. They are our modern-day heroes and we should all be looking to them and supporting them and demanding their release.”  

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

Evolution of Sardar Patel's understanding of those 'involved' in Gandhi's assassination

By Shamsul Islam*  As the world mourns the 73rd anniversary of MK Gandhi's assassination by Hindutva terrorists on January 30, 1948, RSS, the most prominent flag-bearer of Hindutva politics, whose cadres rule India today, is found reacting angrily to the reality – that the criminals who assassinated Gandhiji were not only part of the ideological world-view of Hindu Mahasabha (led by VD Savarkar) and RSS brand of Hindu nationalism but were also connected with these. 

No Election Commission safeguard against electromagnetic hacking of EVM: Study

Counterview Desk  Releasing a new study simultaneously in Chennai and Kolkata in view of the forthcoming elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE) – a civil society initiative – has regretted “lack of integrity of EVM voting”, pointing out, the Election Commission of India (ECI) does not appear to safeguard against the possibilities of ‘side-channel attacks’, i.e, hacking electronic devices through electromagnetic and other methods.

20% of FIRs against journalists in 2020 alone, targeted attacks in 2021 'too many to count'

Counterview Desk  Condemning what it calls “alarming rise in state repression and clampdown on news outlets and journalists” that “expose” the anti-people nature of the establishment, India's top civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has demanded “immediate release of arrested journalists, withdrawal of arbitrary charges and protection of media persons facing threats.”

Top academic claims he warned farmer leaders of Hindutva plot on Jan 26 morning

By Shamsul Islam* The photographs here show a Hindutva protagonist, Deep Sidhu, with his real masters. He is said to be the culprit who tried to derail the historic farmers' struggle by putting up a religious flag at Red Fort on January 26, with no Delhi police which works under the Indian home minister Amit Shah, a senior RSS cadre who is often described 'Iron Man' by Hindutva camp-followers.