Human Rights Group: Delhi Police Violated Human Rights

Human Rights Group: Delhi Police Violated Human Rights

NEW DELHI — Indian authorities are not investigating the “grave human rights violations” allegedly committed by the police during February riots in New Delhi, human rights group Amnesty International India claimed.

“Delhi police personnel were complicit and an active participant in the violence,” Amnesty said in an investigative briefing released Aug. 28.

The organization’s investigation is based on conversations with 50 riots survivors, eyewitnesses, lawyers, doctors, human rights activists and retired police officers, as well as several videos of the violence.

The Delhi police force has denied any wrongdoing and did not respond to a Zenger News request for comment about the Amnesty report.

President Donald Trump was in New Delhi as part of his first state visit to India when violence roiled the northeastern parts of India’s capital, in which 53 people — mostly Muslim, India’s largest religious minority — were killed.

A parking lot in Northeast Delhi which was burnt down during the riots. An intelligence bureau staffer Ankit Sharma was killed near this parking lot on March 16, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

Amnesty’s report documents a timeline of alleged violations by Delhi police, starting from the pan-Indian protests against a new citizenship law in late December 2019. It claims to have found a “disturbing pattern of grave human rights violations committed by the Delhi police during the riots.”

“Six months on, there has not been even a single investigation into the role of the Delhi police,” said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty International India.

During the six days of rioting, a video surfaced of police personnel kicking five men and forcing them to sing India’s national anthem. One of them, known as Faizan, later died of his injuries.

Amnesty said the video was among those analyzed by its crisis evidence laboratory, and the team interviewed Faizan’s mother. After the incident, Faizan was detained by the police for close to 36 hours without any charge. He was handed over to his mother at 1 a.m. on Feb. 26 after his condition had deteriorated.

Mohammad Rafiq, a 27-year-old tailor, was also among the five men who can be seen being assaulted in the video.

Mohammad Rafiq shows his injuries on March 14, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

He said the group was kept in police lockup until late on the night of Feb. 25. Rafiq had been picked up by the police when he had stepped out to look for his mother on Feb. 24.

“The policemen first dragged me to the government-run clinic in the area and beat me up,” he said. “Four people were already lying on the ground there. I lost all hope and thought, ‘I won’t survive this.’”

The police took them to the local hospital for first aid and then moved them to the lockup at the police station.

“We asked them to release us,” Rafiq said. “But they said the situation outside the police station was bad.”

“The ruthless treatment of the heavily injured men by the Delhi police officers violates the international human rights standard,” Amnesty said in its statement.

The police force has said previously its investigations were fair.

“Delhi police would like to assure you that it is has the capability and the resolve to bring all those responsible for the riots to justice – and nothing bears out this intention more than the fact that over 750 cases have been registered and more than 1,500 persons have already been arrested in connection with the riots,” Eish Singhal, a Delhi police spokesperson, wrote in a statement on Aug. 7.

In another response on June 26, Singhal had written that more than 400 First Information Reports, or official written complaints, have been registered from the minority community.

“No discrimination has been made on grounds of community, caste or color,” he said.

Tall iron gates come up in neighborhoods of Northeast Delhi after the riots on March 13, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

Violence in northeast Delhi followed two months of protests against the new citizenship law. The law, passed by the Indian parliament in December 2019, fast-tracks the citizenship process for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In New Delhi, one such protest in the northeastern parts of the city had snowballed into riots.

Kapil Mishra, a local leader from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, had threatened to forcibly remove the protesters. Amnesty said the police did not act against Mishra, even when his speech was immediately followed by large-scale violence.

Delhi police and Mishra did not respond to the allegation. 

“Amnesty International is bereft of any credibility,” said Sudhanshu Mittal, a senior party leader.

“The leadership of Amnesty, the Aakar Patels and Ashwini Kumars have a long history of being anti-Modi,” he said, referring to the former and present chief.

Wall writing calls for a Hindu country in Northeast Delhi on March 14, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

“Sometime back, media was full of stories about a senior police officer writing to his juniors about a large number of complaints received from Hindus alleging bias in the investigations by the police,” Mittal said. “How is it that Amnesty has not chosen to look into any complaint which the Hindus have made against the Delhi police?”

But victims of the violence agree with Amnesty’s report.

“Had the police acted properly we would not have faced this situation,” said Babu Khan, whose two sons, Amir Khan, 30, and Asim Ali, 19, were waylaid by a mob, killed and thrown into a drain on Feb. 26.

Babu Khan outside his residence in Mustafabad in Northeast Delhi on March 13, 2020. (Courtesy: Sadiq Naqvi)

Amnesty also claims the police selectively targeted anti-citizenship law protestors. A lawyer who is representing many accused of rioting said the situation was grim.

“Not only are victims being attacked, but also lawyers are being threatened and journalists are being assaulted,” said Mahmood Pracha, whom Delhi police have accused of forging documents and instigating a man to depose falsely.  

Delhi Police’s Special Cell, its anti-terror wing, is probing the riot. Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967, police have arrested several students, activists and politicians who were protesting against the new law.

Amnesty has demanded a prompt investigation into all allegations of human rights violations by the police.

“This ongoing state-sponsored impunity sends the message that the law enforcement officials can commit grave human rights violations and evade accountability,” Amnesty’s Kumar said.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Natalie Gross.)



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Leadership Crisis Rocks India’s Main Opposition Party

Leadership Crisis Rocks India’s Main Opposition Party

NEW DELHI—An explosive letter leaked by the Indian Express has set political circles in New Delhi’s power corridors abuzz about the fate of the Indian National Congress—India’s oldest party and the single largest opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As prominent senior leaders call for a complete restructuring of the party, a burgeoning split between older and younger members has been revealed.

The crisis has been brewing for the past five to six years, said Zoya Hasan, professor emerita at the Centre for Political Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“It is an unprecedented crisis in Congress’s history,” she said.

The party has been working without a full-time president since Rahul Gandhi resigned in July 2019, after Modi’s was reelected in a landslide for a second consecutive term three months earlier. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul’s mother who was the president of the party from 1998 to 2017, has been serving as interim president.

The party held a seven-hour meeting on Aug. 24 to try and resolve the leadership crisis. However, a day earlier, a letter was made public from 23 senior leaders, including former chief ministers and former cabinet members, to Sonia Gandhi seeking sweeping changes and acknowledging that the youth of the country had backed Modi.

Former Union minister Kapil Sibal and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, both of whom were reportedly among those who signed the letter, did not respond to questions sent by Zenger News.

 

“If 23 senior leaders send a letter to a party’s president asking for complete restructuring, that itself indicates a serious crisis,” said political scientist Sanjay Kumar, who heads the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a New Delhi-based research institute.

Kumar said the letter laid bare the divide within the party.

“Younger leaders may still support Rahul Gandhi, some loyalists may also like him,” he said. “But events suggest there is a clear divide between the younger and older generations.”

The history of the party sheds some light on the situation it finds itself in today.

The Congress was founded in 1885 in Bombay (now Mumbai), comprising notable Indians and some Englishmen. Allan Octavian Hume, a retired English civil servant and one of the founding members, described it as a “safety valve” that would inform the colonial administration of the grievances of Indians.

Soon, however, the party became the principal organ of the independence movement and was transformed by Mahatma Gandhi into a formidable political force. After India gained independence from British rule in 1947, the Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, was elected to power and continued to rule without interruption until 1977, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi—Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother—was voted out of office.

She had declared a state of emergency in 1975, allowing her to rule by decree. During the 21-month period, the press was gagged and opposition leaders were jailed.

Indira Gandhi was returned to power in 1980 and served as prime minister until 1984, when she was assassinated by her bodyguards recruited by the Sikh separatist Khalistani movement. Her son (and Rahul Gandhi’s father), Rajiv Gandhi took office after his mother’s death until his assassination in 1991.

During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister, some reforms were initiated in transforming the country from a Soviet-inspired closed economy to a more liberal one, but the complete liberalization agenda was taken up by Rajiv Gandhi’s successor, Congress party member P.V. Narasimha Rao, who served as prime minister from 1991-1996.

Rahul Gandhi, then-Vice President of the Indian National Congress party participates in a “Sadhbhawana Yatra” in Barpeta district, on December 12, 2015. (Courtesy: Biju Boro)

Rajiv’s wife, Sonia Gandhi, was elected president of the party in 1998, leading the party to electoral victory in 2004. The party remained in power, with economist Manmohan Singh as prime minister until  2014, when his tenure ended after a series of corruption scandals and the election of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Since then, the Congress party has found it difficult to stage a comeback.

“The opposition has been weakened because the Congress is deeply enmeshed in a leadership crisis,” said Hasan, of the Centre for Political Leadership.

Many believe that the Congress is the only party that can challenge the Bharatiya Janata Party’s hegemony at the national level. The party has an absolute majority of 303 among 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

“There can be no serious opposition to the BJP without the Congress,” said Hasan. “The regional parties cannot stand up to it.”

“This has long-term impacts on how democracy will function,” said Kumar.

While Rahul Gandhi’s performance as leader in elections has been patchy, many in the party still seem to support him and his family. At the Aug. 24 meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the party’s decision-making organ, it was decided that Sonia Gandhi would continue as interim president. It also authorized her to make organizational changes.

The election of a new party president is scheduled to take place in six months.

Priyanka Gandhi campaigning for Lok Sabha elections in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh on April 9, 2019 (Courtesy: Roshan Abbas Naqvi)

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and other parties have often attacked the Congress for perpetuating family rule.

“The media wants a non-Gandhi (leader for the Congress), the BJP wants a non-Gandhi, but the Congress doesn’t want a non-Gandhi,” said Hasan.

The party may be headed to a split when it elects a new leader.

“Eventually, when the party comes to electing a president formally, I think that is the time when Congress would face a bigger crisis,” said Kumar.  “A split is imminent.”

Some of the parties born out of these splits have become regional behemoths.

“They may not help the party win elections, but the Gandhi surname has kept the flock together,” said Kumar.

In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index released in January, India dropped 10 places, to 51st out of 165 independent states and two territories. The report cited “erosion of civil liberties” in the country as among the main reason for the downturn.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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Political Mudslinging in India Following Bollywood Actor’s Mysterious Death

Political Mudslinging in India Following Bollywood Actor’s Mysterious Death

MUMBAI, India—Political and social groups are raising questions about the death of popular Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who was found hanged in his Mumbai apartment on June 14. Speculation about his death, which police reported as accidental, has ranged from alleged suicide to suspected murder.

The Central Bureau of Investigation – the Indian equivalent of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation — officially took over the case on Aug. 19 with permission from the Supreme Court of India. A three-member Special Investigative Team was designated to investigate the case.

Rajput, 34, was one of the few actors to successfully transition from Indian television to the Hindi film industry. His last film “Dil Bechara” which was released posthumously on Disney+Hotstar, got 95 million views in 24 hours.

In the immediate aftermath of Rajput’s death, the Mumbai police, who report to the Maharashtra state government, undertook the investigation. However, the case soon turned political when members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party in charge of India’s central government, accused the police of botching the investigation.

“The inquest was inconclusive and paradoxical with no uniformity of detail,” said Ashish Shelar, a BJP member of the Legislative Assembly from Mumbai. “We do not have a problem with the Mumbai police as an institution, just this investigation.”

 

The Maharashtra government is made up of a coalition between the Shiv Sena, the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.

The Shiv Sena, a right-wing nationalist party, used to be an ally of the BJP. But in October 2019, the long-standing collaboration ended after Shiv Sena formed a coalition with BJP’s biggest political opposition — the Congress parties — to form a government in Maharashtra.

“As soon as the accidental death report was filed, 56 people were summoned for questioning,” said Priyanka Chaturvedi, member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House, and deputy leader of Shiv Sena.

“Rajput’s family was summoned for their statement and when his father arrived for the final rites, he suspected nobody and that is what his statement claims,” said Chaturvedi. His sister, Shweta Singh Kirti, did not suspect anyone or any wrongdoing, he said, and Rajput’s brother-in-law, an Indian Police Service officer, “OP Singh was also present when the statement was taken in the presence of the entire family.”

A month after Rajput’s death, a social media campaign—powered by the actor’s fans, family, and some high-ranking Indian politicians—rejected the suicide theory and called for an impartial government agency to investigate his death.

The actor’s family filed a police complaint in the actor’s hometown, Patna, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, on July 28, asking for a CBI investigation.

A fringe political party, the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, held a candlelight march in New Delhi on Aug. 16, with hundreds of people, demanding a CBI inquiry in the case.

The initial Mumbai police probe focussed on the actor’s mental state. The actor’s therapist Susan Walker Moffat, a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and hypnotherapist who practices in Mumbai, revealed that Rajput was suffering from depression and bipolar disorder.

Some hints about the actor being depressed because he had lost out on key film projects led to a number of people in the film industry being questioned by the Mumbai police.

After Rajput’s family filed a First Information Report, the case took a different turn. That document is typically filed when police receive information about the commission of a cognizable offense.

The report filed by Rajput’s father, KK Singh, alleges that Rajput’s girlfriend, actor Rhea Chakraborty, and her family siphoned at least INR 15 crore ($150 million) from the actor’s bank accounts.

“The family wanted a criminal investigation; instead, they got an inquest and (a focus on) Bollywood,” said Vikas Singh, the lawyer representing the Singh family. “We decided to file the FIR in Patna so we could approach the Central Bureau of Investigation,” he said.

The FIR was eventually filed after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stepped in. The state is currently ruled by a Janta Dal United and BJP coalition. Bihar is slated to have legislative elections in October-November to form a state government.

Singh, however, discredits any political conspiracy theories about BJP using Rajput’s death to disrupt the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar.

“The CBI is examining the case and collecting information,” said Singh.

Chakraborty is being investigated by the Indian Directorate of Enforcement, an independent law enforcement and economic intelligence agency.

Chakraborty has alleged harassment from trolls online. She also filed a plea with the Supreme Court calling for a stop to what she calls an “unfair media trial.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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