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India’s Police Found Complicit in Anti-Muslim Mob Violence

Independent Report Highlights Police Inaction in February’s Delhi Attacks

Police stand guard during a protest against a new citizenship law at the Seelampur area of New Delhi, India, February 20, 2020.  © 2020 AP Photo/Manish Swarup

An independent investigation into attacks on Muslims by Hindu mobs in Delhi in February 2020 found that police were complicit in and even abetted the violence. The attacks came after weeks of peaceful protests against the Indian government’s discriminatory citizenship policies. Witnesses say that when they asked police for help during the violence, they refused, saying “they had no orders to act.”

The report, by the Delhi Minorities Commission, said that the violence was “planned and targeted.” It also found that the police were filing cases against Muslim victims for the violence, but not taking action against the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders who incited it.

Some BJP leaders openly advocated violence against the protesters. The attacks began soon after a local BJP politician demanded that the police disperse the peaceful protests. At least 53 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the violence, most of them Muslim.

Human Rights Watch has documented police failures and bias in the investigation into the February violence. Instead of addressing police abuse and carrying out a fair investigation, police are now using draconian anti-terrorism, sedition, and other laws to arrest students, activists, and critics of the government. Delhi police deny these allegations, saying the number of people arrested from the two communities are “almost identical,” but have failed to disclose arrest details. In April, the head of the Delhi Minorities Commission, who questioned the police about the arrests, was charged with sedition for making “provocative” statements on social media.

The account of the violence, the participation and complicity by the authorities, and the intimidation and harassment of activists is eerily similar to past incidents of mass communal violence in India. Many witnesses of anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 had said their calls to police either went unanswered or were met with responses such as: “We have no orders to save you.”

The failure to ensure justice for victims of communal violence in India has perpetuated further abuses against religious minorities and deepened distrust in India’s criminal justice system. The authorities should immediately drop politically motivated charges against those who peacefully protested the citizenship policies, enforce the recommendations of this new report, and ensure prompt, credible, and impartial criminal investigations into the Delhi violence, including police abuses. India’s embattled minorities are counting on it.

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