Delhi Police flouts NHRC order to file report on attack on The Caravan’s journalists

01 October 2020

Over a month after the National Human Rights Commission granted the Delhi Police four weeks to file an action-taken report about an attack on three journalists working with The Caravan’s, the police is yet to comply. On 14 August, three days after The Caravan’s staffers were assaulted, a network of people called the Human Rights Defenders Alert – India had filed a complaint before the NHRC seeking a criminal investigation into the attack and compensation for the journalists. Six days later, the NHRC issued notice to the Delhi Police in the complaint, calling upon them to file a report on the attack. But on 29 September, Henri Tiphagne, a national working secretary with HRDA-India, wrote to the NHRC to inform them the police had not yet complied with the order. At the time this report was published, the NHRC’s website reflected that the Delhi Police had still not filed the action-taken report.

The three journalists—Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh and a woman whose identity is being protected—were surrounded by a mob, beaten, subjected to communal slurs, threatened with murder, and sexually harassed. They were in Subhash Mohalla, in northeast Delhi, to conduct follow-up reporting on allegations raised by two Muslim women and a teenager that police officials had sexually assaulted them inside the Bhajanpura station premises. The three survivors had visited the station to seek the registration of a first-information report against Hindu residents from their locality whom they accused of raising communal slogans in the area on 5 August, while celebrating the stone-laying ceremony for the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

“It is our firm belief that this police failure to act, prima facie deliberate, amounts to a serious incident of human rights violation against HRDs”—human-rights defenders—“and journalists in the national capital of India,” the complaint stated. “Not only were the journalists subjected to a violent mob attack in plain sight, the Delhi Police did not act to adequately shield or protect the journalists or register the FIRs as they are legally mandated. This is serious breach of the law by the police.”

The HRDA-India’s complaint, filed through Tiphagne, sought multiple directions from the NHRC. These included directions to the deputy commissioner of police of Delhi’s northeast district to register an FIR into complaints filed by the journalists about the assault; directions to Delhi’s commissioner of police to transfer the investigation to a different police station; and for the NHRC to conduct its own independent investigation. The complaint also sought the initiation of criminal proceedings against Ashok Sharma, the station house officer of Bhajanpura police station, for not registering an FIR against the complaint of sexual harassment filed by the woman journalist. Section 166A of the Indian Penal Code criminalises a police official’s failure to record an FIR against a cognisable offence relating to sexual harassment or sexual violence.

The NHRC’s order from 20 August stated that if the Delhi Police failed to file the report in the stipulated time, “the Commission shall be constrained” to invoke its powers under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 and summon police officials to appear in person. Surajit Ray, an NHRC law registrar, said that the commission would wait for a few days after the final date to determine whether the report is in transit, failing which it would either provide the police another opportunity to respond, or summon the police in person.

Keywords: National Human Rights Commission Delhi Police media freedom communal violence