Julio Ribeiro

I wrote a letter to the Delhi Police Commissioner that went ‘viral’ — a term my grand-children and their friends often use. I write letters at the drop of a hat but none turned ‘viral’. This one, obviously because it touched raw nerves, did! Since a leading daily wrote an editorial on what I said in the letter, my grandchildren have started reading editorials, an advice of an old man that they had ignored earlier.

The letter emanated from a discussion I had with old bureaucrat friends, who felt that injustice was being heaped on Muslims, the principal minority community in India, by the police at the behest of the ruling party — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The common man will say he sees no concrete evidence of this phenomenon, if it does exist. But those who are politically conscious can discern the clever, but not so subtle, games that politicians play with policemen as pawns on their chessboard.

A divisive campaign

Let us examine these manoeuvres that the political masters are orchestrating.

1. A conspiracy case has been registered by the Delhi Police’s Special Branch or Cell. Eighteen citizens have been arrested in the FIR as possible conspirators. Most of them are young PhD students, many of them women.

2. An offence under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) has been framed against these alleged conspirators. This Act, which replaced the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act or TADA, is a tad worse than its predecessor because the arrested accused are kept in jail indefinitely without trial by misuse of a loophole in the law. A day or two before the three months allowed for sending the charge sheet, the police make a fresh arrest that permits the continuation in detention of those earlier arrested. This means another three months in jail without trial. Was Umar Khalid arrested Sunday in C.R. 59/20 so as to prolong the detention of the others arrested earlier?

Under TADA rules, the judges were very alert to ensure that detainees were heard within a month. The UAPA encourages incarceration without trial for a prolonged period like has happened in the Bhima Koregaon case in the Pune District of Maharashtra. The Supreme Court should intervene to discontinue this practice.

If the Delhi Police is convinced that these young students, who are either Muslims or Leftists, are guilty, it should file the charge sheets in three months and give the accused their inalienable right to prove themselves innocent. But subverting the intention of the law by arresting individuals just as the time limit to file charge sheets is about to expire is a devious tactic that is unfair.

3. TADA allowed confessions made to deputy superintendents of police and above as evidence in trials. This provision is not available in the UAPA. The police circumvent this by resorting to selective leaks to friendly newspapers or electronic media. This is hitting under the belt. Besides, there is no guarantee that these leaks have the sanctity of truth.

4. The Delhi Police insists that it has been even-handed with both communities! It says that 410 of the 753 cases registered by it have been initiated at the instance of Muslims. In actual fact, the arrests made add up to 75 per cent Muslims to 25 per cent Hindus. The damage caused to property has been borne mostly by the minority community. No Hindu place of worship was destroyed. On the other side, several mosques have been damaged! The number of Muslims killed in the riots is double the number of Hindus killed. These figures tell their own tale.

On the first day of the riots, the Muslims did retaliate. But from Day 2 till the riots were quelled, the majority prevailed, as would be expected.

My own experience of communal riots is that the minority community is always on the defensive. The Muslim gangsters organise the defence of their co-religionists, but the weight of sheer numbers finally prevails.

Wool over our eyes

Divisions based on creed has been a constant source of worry since colonial times. But the intense hate that is being disseminated in the slums and now even in the drawing rooms of the elite in my city of Mumbai should disturb and alert the authorities about the health of the body politic. A country divided on religious lines is a sure recipe for disaster! If we get embroiled in hostilities with our big neighbour in the East, the enemy is bound to exploit this weakness in our own society, which we had managed to control for 70 years.

The activists of the Mohalla Committee Movement (MCMT) in Mumbai tell me that it has never been as bad as today — the hate, that is. My friend of many years, Sanjay Nahar, who lives in Pune and runs the NGO ‘Sarhaad’, tells me that the situation in his city is as bad. I grieve for my country! Where is ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas’ and now ‘Sabka Vishwas’? Is it mere wool that is being pulled over our eyes? Or is Prime Minister Narendra Modi ignorant of what is being attempted by his followers? Only time will give us an answer to that question. Just as we await the evidence that Delhi Police says it has collected against those arrested, both Hindu and Muslim!

 The Print, 17 September, 2020 

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