In an extensive investigation that spanned six months, Amnesty International implicates Delhi's police force in the deadly riots that mostly affected India's Muslim minority.
When anti-Muslim riots broke out in Delhi in February this year, India's Hindu nationalist government was quick to spin the story with the help of its online troll army and other fanatics.
Together they scapegoated the country's Muslim minority as being the main aggressors in the violence that killed more than 50 people.
Six months later, Amnesty International has released a damning report that accuses India's police of fueling violence against Muslims.
The international human rights body reached the conclusion after interviewing more than 50 riot survivors, eye witnesses, lawyers, human rights activists, and retired police officers.
Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India, said: “The Delhi police reports to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and it is shocking that there has been no attempt by the MHA to hold the Delhi police accountable till now. This, despite several of their violations being live-streamed on social media platforms. There have been several news and fact-finding reports published during these six months documenting the violations. This includes a report filed by the Delhi Minority Commission (DMC). But there has been no action taken against the police so far."
The violence in India's capital city was one of the ugliest manifestations of communal violence in recent history and was brought about by a culture of hate speech, which Hindu nationalist politicians, including legislators and parliamentarians, have thrived upon and encouraged.
With several Muslim neighbourhoods set ablaze, the rioters shot, slashed, and mutilated the victims. Some bodies were dumped in drains and many others were burnt. In reprisal attacks, at least 12 Hindus lost their lives.
Taking a dig at India's Home Minister, Amit Shah, for lauding the role of police in curbing the violence, the Amnesty report says its investigation revealed that Delhi police has engaged in a disturbing pattern of aiding the Hindu mobs in unleashing brutality on Muslim neighbourhoods.
The videos examined by Amnesty "showed Delhi police pelting stones with the rioters, torturing people, dismantling protest sites used by peaceful protesters and being mute bystanders as rioters wreaked havoc in Delhi."
Amnesty verified the evidence of human rights violations using cutting-edge technology to corroborate the claims.
"It authenticated these videos by verifying the time, date and location of the videos. In addition, Amnesty International India visited the locations where the videos were shot and interviewed the eyewitnesses and survivors," the report said.
In a clear display of a partisan approach in the riots, the report said Delhi police has violated several Indian laws, including Article 9 and Article 20 (2).
The investigation also verified eyewitness accounts that alleged senior police officers "did not intervene despite being present" while Muslims were being attacked and shot at. The report also says that the police intervened only to "arrest or attack the anti-CAA protesters and refused to register complaints of the victims."
Nawab Ali, a riot survivor, told Amnesty: “We kept calling them but they did not come. From 4 PM to 1 AM, we were calling them. We just wanted to come out of this alive. Those people were very dangerous. It wasn’t merely an organic crowd. It was a massive crowd and they had all sorts of weapons”.
Anti-CAA protests started in India in late November. Their motive was to prevent the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from passing a law that complicated the citizenship status of Indian Muslims and made them vulnerable to becoming second class citizens with no legal rights and agency.
OUT NOW: With 50 testimonies & analysis of several verified user-generated videos, the new Amnesty International India investigation has documented a disturbing pattern of grave human rights violations committed by the Delhi police during the #DelhiRiots.https://t.co/edZcGFfWMk— Amnesty India (@AIIndia) August 28, 2020
The two Azaadi slogans
Another survivor, Shahida, who saw rioters setting mosques on fire and throwing bottles inside people’s homes to set them ablaze, said, “We called the 100-emergency number so many times but not even once did anyone answer. When they did answer our phone they said, ‘you wanted Azaadi (freedom), here take your Azaadi now”.
'Azaadi' was the main slogan of the anti-CAA protests and it was intended to convey the protesters' frustrations towards the discriminatory approach of the BJP - seeking freedom from the ruling party's exclusionary policymaking.
But India's far-right parties have discredited the Azaadi slogan of Indian protesters by comparing it with the Azaadi slogan of Kashmiris, a majority of whom want the end of Indian rule in Kashmir.
Such is the extent of hatred for anti-CAA protesters among officials that Delhi police even refused legal access to dozens of people, mostly Muslims, who were detained during the riots.
Quoting a Delhi-based lawyer, Sunny Tayeng, the report said lawyers were not allowed to speak to their clients who were unlawfully detained by the police in north east Delhi.
When the lawyers objected, the policemen beat them up, according to the report.
"I was trying to make a video. Suddenly, a policeman who wore a helmet and did not have a name badge, snatched my phone and ran away. I went after him and asked him to give back my phone but he refused. I shouted at him but he almost attacked me, so I ran away. Many of our colleagues were forced to go outside the police station. They said, ‘if you don’t go out, we will beat you up’. There was no other way, we had to run for our lives,” Tayeng told Amnesty.