Incidents of violence in Northeast Delhi, February 2020:...
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Incidents of violence in Northeast Delhi, February 2020


1. Location and background

The Northeast district of Delhi saw law and order related disturbances and religious violence between February 22 and 25, 2020. The district has a population of 22.41 lakh (2.24 million) as per the 2011 census. This population lives in a geographical area of just 62 sq km. The population density of the district – 36,000 people per sq km – is the highest in India.

The district has clusters of a mixed population, comprising residents of Hindu and Muslim (and other) religious communities, as well as clusters that are Muslim majority. Civic infrastructure is poor. Narrow, crowded lanes and by-lanes, and poor quality of roads, make access and movement difficult, particularly in the interiors. Policing is never easy here.

These conditions have made many areas of the district conducive for criminal networks. The district adjoins the state of Uttar Pradesh and there is a highly porous inter-state border. This allows criminals to escape from one state to another and from one police jurisdiction to another. Other than economic crimes, the district has also reported incidents of religious violence in the past.

2. The specific incidents

Delhi has seen demonstrations both against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and in favour of it for a few weeks now. Largely, these have been peaceful. While there have been occasional clashes between violent protestors and the police, there was no inter-religious violence till the recent episode in the Northeast district.

On February 22, 2020, about 1,000 people – 400-500 of them being women and children – came out and sat in protests against the CAA and related issues. The protests took place on a busy street, which usually has heavy traffic. This disturbed normal life, but the presence of so many women and children, particularly young girls, made strict police action and removal of the protestors difficult. Normal life in the area was obstructed.

A day later, on February 23, 2020, pro-CAA crowds also gathered in the vicinity of the original protests. Soon stone pelting started between the two groups of protestors. In response, Delhi Police intervened and dispersed the protesters. Orders banning large crowds from gathering were imposed in the entire area.

Over the following two days – February 24 and 25, 2020, including the intervening night – clashes took place at various points in the interiors of the district. The clashes were accompanied by arson and damage to property. Police forces were quickly rushed to all areas where incidents of arson/violence were reported, with some allowance for issues of access in the interiors. From the night of February 25-26, 2020, no major incident of rioting or violence has been reported.

Over 50 people were killed in the violence that took place over the three days. It is important to note that victims belonged to both the Hindu and Muslim communities. There was damage to public buildings as well as private property and here again both communities suffered. As an illustrative example, there are 263 (Muslim) mosques and 324 (Hindu) temples in the district. Damage has been reported to 14 mosques and 10 temples.

3. Role of Delhi Police

Senior police officers were present at all major trouble spots. Efforts were made to pacify and calm the crowds. When violent mobs did not listen to appeals, police officers took firm action and used appropriate force depending upon the situation. Many police officers were injured in the line of duty.

A senior officer of Deputy Commissioner of Police rank was subjected to severe physical assault by a mob and suffered serious injuries requiring a medical surgery. While he survived, a policeman of Head Constable rank was not as fortunate. He was shot and killed while trying to manage an unruly mob. Overall, 76 police officers suffered injuries and one police officer was killed.

The police consistently gave priority to restoring peace over their personal safety. Policemen and women did not retreat in even the most adverse circumstances, risking their lives to rescue members of both the Muslim and Hindu communities. This has been acknowledged by residents of the affected areas while speaking to teams from the National Commission for Women, the National Human Rights Commission, and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, among others.

4. The violence: Spontaneous or planned?

Investigations indicate the violence was not spontaneous but part of a planned strategy. The initial blockade carefully kept women and young girls at the forefront of the protesting crowds, thus preventing pre-emptive action or a smooth clearing of public spaces.

On February 23, several groups of anti-CAA protestors came out and blocked the streets simultaneously. Stones, acid, petrol bombs and other incriminating material have been found stocked on rooftops. Some of this material was used to further the violence and arson. This material was clearly collected over an extended period preceding the violence.

A video has surfaced urging people to come out on the streets in large numbers during the visit of the US President, between February 23 and 25. This period coincided with the violence.

5. The situation today

Strong police action has been taken in the aftermath of the violence. A total of 654 FIRs (First Information Reports) have been registered till March 5, 2020, and 1,638 people have been arrested or detained. Two Special Investigation Teams have been formed to investigate the riot cases. There is significant deployment from state and federal police forces (Central Armed Police Forces). Shops and markets, schools and workplaces, have re-opened, and life is returning to normal.

The authorities have encouraged the formation of peace committees in neighbourhoods, with representatives from all religious communities. The peace committees are meeting regularly to rebuild social trust and restore and sustain peace and amity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly urged peace and fraternity. For instance, on February 26, he tweeted: “Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times. It is important that there is calm and normalcy is restored at the earliest.”



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