Eight months on, Delhi Police ignores eyewitness complaints of Farooqia Masjid rampage

The Delhi Police has ignored the complaints of two eyewitnesses in its investigation into the arson and rampage carried out in Brijpuri’s Farooqia Masjid during the communal violence in February. Both eyewitnesses were survivors of the attack who accused police officials and named individual rioters of the attack. Shahid Tantray For The Caravan
25 November, 2020

Eight months after Hindu rioters and security personnel stormed the Farooqia Masjid, in the Brijpuri area of northeast Delhi’s Mustafabad locality, and killed people praying inside, the Delhi Police is yet to register a first information report against complaints about the attack. According to survivors, at around 6.30 pm on 25 February, on the third day of the communal violence that swept northeast Delhi, rioters and men in uniform had torched the mosque and brutally assaulted those who were praying inside, and left them for dead. Two survivors of the assault who were praying in the mosque at the time, Khursheed Saifi and Feroze Akhtar, filed complaints in March and April accusing the Delhi Police and naming rioters involved in the attack. But the only FIR registered into the communal attack appears to ignore their complaints.

The Caravan reported on the assault in the mosque in March, and noted that three survivors—including Akhtar—as well as other locals who witnessed the incident, identified the attackers as “force” or “policewaale”—policemen. The three survivors—Mufti Mohammad Tahir, a 30-year-old imam of the mosque; Jalaluddin, the mosque’s 44-year-old muezzin, who gives the calls for prayers; and Akhtar—said that the uniformed attackers brutally beat them with lathis and then set the mosque on fire. They estimated that between thirty and sixty uniformed men had attacked the mosque. The Caravan has also previously reported that the next day, the Delhi Police returned to the area, destroyed whatever CCTV cameras had survived the previous evening, and then torched a madrasa that stands adjacent to the mosque. None of these accusations have been recorded in the FIRs registered by the Delhi Police.

Akhtar is a tailor by profession who was praying in the mosque at the time of the attack. In a complaint filed in April, he wrote that rioters, policemen and “people in some green uniform” carrying weapons had stormed the mosque at around 6.30 pm, and launched a ruthless attack on everyone inside. Akhtar specifically identified the station house officer of Dayalpur police station, Tarkeshwar Singh, in his complaint, though he only mentioned him by his post, not his name. He said that the SHO entered the mosque with other police officials and the “people in green uniform” and “attacked those praying inside, and the people who tried to leave the mosque were shot by the police officials stationed outside.”

“I saw the policemen beating us mercilessly and then dragging us out of the mosque, leaving us for dead on the road,” Akhtar told me. “One man in police uniform even told his fellow assaulters that no Muslim body should remain inside the mosque as this will impure the land on which we will build up a ‘mandir’ now,” he added. “I remember we were at least five men offering namaz when the policemen stormed inside the mosque. Half of them got hold of me while the others ran in different directions, beating all of us with batons and iron rods.”

Akhtar identified three Hindu assailants—the person who runs the local Chawla General Store, whom he accused of shooting people with the police outside the mosque; one Rahul Verma, whom he accused of shooting people inside the mosque; and one Arun Basoya, whom he accused of throwing petrol bombs inside. He emphasised that the assailants violently assaulted the imam and the muezzin. Describing the attack on the former, he continued in the complaint, “the maulana sahab’s legs were placed on bricks and then on the SHO’s instructions, they beat his legs till they broke.” Akhtar wrote that he was beaten with an iron rod, which led to grievous injuries on his arms and his head, and then thrown into the anti-CAA protest tent while it was on fire. He added that he somehow managed to escape and survive.

Saifi, an erstwhile interior designing contractor in his early thirties, corroborated several parts of Feroze’s complaint. He wrote in his complaint that he had fled to the mosque for safety when rioters and security forces attacked the Brijpuri anti-protest site. He noted that rioters and security forces then entered Farooqia Masjid and launched a brutal assault on everyone inside, and beat him with lathis and rods. He lost his left eye in the assault, and suffered multiple fractures on his face and head, and permanently dislodged his jaw, because of which he can no longer eat properly. Saifi no longer had a cheek bone on his right side, and he suffered a nerve disorder due to which he also lost his sense of smell. “I eat only rice now, as I cannot chew meat nor even roti,” Saifi told me. Due to the injuries, he has been forced to abandon his previous job and now runs a small grocery shop in Mustafabad.

On 15 March, Saifi lodged a complaint at a police help desk in Mustafabad’s Eidgah grounds, which was stamped by the station with the daily diary number 61. Saifi’s complaint narrated an attack at the Brijpuri anti-CAA protest site, and identified the same three individuals as being part of an armed mob that attacked the protesters. “They attacked the women present with bullets, stones, sticks et cetera,” Saifi wrote. “At that moment, Rahul Verma and Arun Basoya threw a petrol bomb that had been prepared in a bottle, which set fire to the protest site. Mayhem ensued as people ran started running away, and I was standing near the gate of the mosque at this time.”

Saifi wrote that he witnessed the Delhi Police, rioters and men in green uniform enter the mosque. He added that he saw “police officials outside the mosque shoot them and the Chawla general store guy and his accomplices would cut them down with their swords and throw them into the gutter.”

Saifi, like Akhtar, accused Verma of firing at those present inside and Basoya of throwing petrol bombs inside the mosque. He stated that Basoya instructed the other rioters to kill the maulvi, referring to the imam Tahir, and saying, “Kill the maulvi and his friends today, and once they die we will build a mandir at this place.” Saifi added, “They attacked maulvi sahab and muezzin sahab, hitting them with lathis, sticks and iron rods. When I moved forward to protect them, Rahul Verma hit me with a stick, which hit me in my eye. The second stick hit me on my head and I fell down on the ground. Then they all began beating me with lathis and sticks. Somehow I managed to escape.”

Despite both complainants identifying assailants by name and receiving diary numbers and stamps on their complaints, the Delhi Police have not registered an FIR against these allegations. The only case in the arson and brutal assault at the Farooqia Masjid appears to be FIR 64 of 2020, registered at Dayalpur police station. In a September report by The Wire on the Farooqia Masjid case, the Delhi Police’s reply  claimed that this was the FIR registered against Saifi’s complaint. It is absurd, then, that the FIR itself paints a very different image of the attack at the mosque—in fact, it does not focus on the rampage in Farooqia Masjid at all.

The FIR’s version of events represents the anti-CAA protesters as the agitators and the Delhi Police as little more than helpless bystanders. The FIR was lodged on a complaint by an assistant sub-inspector Surender Pal Singh, who was also assigned to be the investigating officer in the case. The FIR states that upon receiving information that arson had been committed “near the Brijpuri Puliya masjid”—the Farooqia Masjid is near a bridge in Brijpuri—the police officials had visited the area to find a large crowd. At the outset, the FIR projected the police as the victims of the incident. “The people present in the area were sometimes raising anti-CAA slogans or chanting, ‘Dilli Police haye haye”— Delhi Police down down. It added that the Farooqia Masjid was under construction and that there was destruction going on there, but that the police were unable to reach it despite repeatedly trying to mitigate the situation.

The FIR claimed the police were compelled to “resort to slight use of force and use tear gas but the crowd remained the same and continued chanting slogans.” It added, “In this situation, to protect people’s lives and property and to save the government property, the ASI and the staff remained at the spot.” The FIR further claimed that “the agitated crowd attacked the Farooqia Masjid and the madrasa and hindered the police from doing their work by pelting stones at them.” Accordingly, the FIR charged the unnamed members of the anti-CAA crowd with offences pertaining to rioting, obstruction of a public servant, wrongful restraint and damage to public property.

Akhtar and Saifi’s complaints specifically raised allegations of murder, attempt to murder, arson, communal violence, inciting violence on religious lines, and criminal intimidation. Not one of these offences are listed in FIR 64 and neither of their complaints were registered as FIRs. Moreover, the FIR does not even mention the time of occurrence of the offence. Meanwhile, the police investigation into the deaths of individuals, whose families said they were killed in the mosque attack, has been riddled with inconsistencies and does not even mention that police officials were accused of the violence.

In the months following the attack, both of them have sought to pursue their complaints, and have also filed applications seeking witness protection in court. Saifi told me that he appeared in a Karkardooma district court in Delhi on 24 July for the hearing of his application for police protection. That day, he said, the current SHO of Dayalpur station, Ved Prakash, “refused to acknowledge me as the witness in the mosque attack case.” Saifi added, “The judge however grilled the SHO for harassing me and finally directed the police to provide me with protection.”  

Akhtar faced similar resistance from the police in his application for police protection, before his request was finally granted by the court in October this year. “The police in the court last month refused to recognise me as the victim, but when the judge asked the SHO the fate of my complaint, the SHO said he needed time to reply,” Akhtar said. “It was finally on 12 October that he acknowledged my complaint in the court, and even then stating that, ‘We have made him a witness.’” It is unclear what the SHO was referring to, but Akhtar and Saifi both told me that they have never been summoned by the police to give a statement in reference to their complaints or what they witnessed at the Farooqia Masjid.

The SHO did not respond to messages about this query about recording Akhtar and Saifi’s statements, and told me said the police had not yet filed a chargesheet in FIR 64. Prakash confirmed that the police had “arrested some people” before adding, “but I will not be able to give you the details as investigation was still on.” Court records reveal two persons arrested in the case—Rajiv Arora, who is identified in one order as “running a general store in the name and style of Chawla Kirana Store for the last 25 years” and one Sunil Chauhan. Both were subsequently released on bail by the district judge Sudhir Kumar Jain, who also heard Saifi and Akhtar’s witness-protection applications.

Arora was released on bail on 10 August. His bail order indicated that the Delhi Police supported Arora’s case for bail, informing the court that “the CCTV footage relied on by the investigation agency in present FIR are upto evening time and the CCTV footage relied on by the investigation does not pertain to the incident subject matter of present FIR.” The court’s order then stated, “In these circumstances, the accused Rajiv Arora is admitted to bail.” On 17 July, the court had rejected Arora’s previous bail application citing “direct evidence against the accused/applicant Rajiv Arora.”

It appears that the only evidence relied on by the police is wrongly dated CCTV footage. If the complaints by Saifi and Akhtar been taken into consideration by the police and submitted to the court, there would have been two eyewitness testimonies for evidence.