Dead and Buried

The widespread and under-reported use of explosives by Hindu mobs in the Delhi violence

A man throws a petrol bomb at a Muslim shrine in northeast Delhi on 24 February. In the violence that swept the national capital in late February, numerous complaints by Muslim residents accused Hindu mobs of using explosives. Danish Siddiqui/REUTERS
06 July, 2020

In the wake of the carnage that swept northeast Delhi in late February, news reports on the violence appear to have missed one prominent element—the recurrent and devastating use of explosives by Hindu mobs. Numerous complaints filed before the Delhi Police by Muslim residents of the area, which The Caravan has copies of, accuse mobs of destroying lives and property with the use of bombs. But the media coverage of the issue predominantly focused on the use of explosives in one particular instance—those discovered on the terrace of Tahir Hussain, an Aam Aadmi Party councilor accused of killing an Intelligence Bureau staffer, Ankit Sharma. Yet, these complaints spoke of Hindu mobs using explosives openly and without fear, with accounts of such attacks from northeast Delhi’s Mustafabad, Chand Bagh and Karawal Nagar areas.

While reporting this story, I discovered a possible explanation for the prominent use of explosives going under the radar—in my presence, a police official who was recording one complainant’s statement actively discouraged him from reporting their use in the violence. Two other complainants said that when they lodged complaints in the immediate aftermath of the violence, the police had registered first-information reports that excluded the names of the accused and the details about the explosives. As a result, these complainants later filed new complaints at a police help desk that had been set up at a relief camp in Mustafabad’s Eidgah grounds. But this does not appear to have led to any specific investigation into the use of explosives during the violence.

“At around 11 pm on 25 February, my son received a call on his number from within the neighborhood that my shop was under attack and being looted,” Ilyas, a resident of Mustafabad, wrote in his complaint, which was filed at the police help desk on 19 March. Ilyas stated that he ran to his shop and found that a group of people, out of whom he named at least seven, who were carrying weapons in their hands and taking out goods from his shop and putting them inside a tempo. “Then Anil sweet seller came to the scene and asked everyone to move back. First, he shouted slogans of ‘Jagdish Pradhan zindabad,’ ‘Nand Kishore Gujjar zindabad,’ ‘Satyapal sansad zindabad.’” The slogans hailed the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Pradhan, Gujjar and Satya Pal Singh—as reported in the first part of this series on the Delhi violence complaints, all three were among the BJP leaders accused in the complaints but escaped investigation.

“He then threw a bomb into my shop, which exploded with a loud bang,” Ilyas wrote. “The roof of my shop blew up in a way that could be seen around the area and my ears went numb.” He then ran home out of fear, Ilyas wrote in his complaint filed at the help desk. He also noted that he had first filed a complaint at the Gokulpuri police station in the immediate aftermath of the attack, and explained why he had filed another complaint despite the registration of an FIR.

On 3 March, the Gokulpuri police registered an FIR against Ilyas’s complaint. The complaint, as recorded in the FIR, stated that rioters had looted his shop and set it on fire. It added that he had lost goods worth approximately eight or nine lakhs. It did not, however, name the individuals that Ilyas named in his second complaint nor did it mention the allegation that he had witnessed someone he recognised destroy the property with an explosive. 

“When my son read out the FIR to me, I was shocked,” Ilyas wrote in his second complaint, filed at the help desk. “It did not name any accused person, and the height of it was that it simply said, ‘A two-storeyed property has been destroyed,’ whereas I had very clearly told the police officer that Anil sweet wala took out a bomb from a bag, threw it at my house and destroyed the property.” He continued, “After this, I requested Ashish Gargji many times that this is not the FIR I had told you, but he responded, ‘Shut up and sit down or I will implicate you in a Section 302 court case’”—referring to the offence of murder under the Indian Penal Code. “You will come to your senses,” the police official said, according to the complaint.

The Delhi Police has not lodged an FIR against the second complaint. Garg told me that he was on medical leave and refused to respond to any queries, but the Gokulpuri station-house officer, Pramod Joshi, discussed the case with me. Joshi told me that Ilyas had not been cooperating with their investigation, and that he had falsely accused people in his complaint. “The complainant himself did not know who set his shop on fire,” he said. When I asked the SHO about the accusation of the use of explosives, Joshi dismissed it. “How will a bomb be used over here?” he replied.

Ilyas filed a police complaint stating that he witnessed rioters, whom he named, of destroying his shop with an explosive. But the police did not register any of these details in the FIR registered against his complaint. SHAHEEN AHMED FOR THE CARAVAN

Ilyas took me to the plot where only the rubble of his shop remained. The roof had been entirely blown off. When I asked him about the SHO’s claim that he had not cooperated with the investigation, Ilyas said that he had twice visited the police station upon being called and sat for over three hours on both occasions, describing those whom he saw attack his shop. “But I stopped going when they started threatening me,” he told me. “They started calling me at 11 pm at night. They also threatened me that if I did not come, they would come pick me up. If they are threatening me, then how can I go? I told my lawyer and he also told me not to go.”  Ilyas said that he even slept at his neighbour’s house one night because he was fearful of the police. Referring to the accused persons he had identified in his complaint, Ilyas added, “All of them are still moving freely, warning me against pursuing the matter.”

One of the most chilling accounts of the use of explosives by the Hindu mobs came from Saleem Kassar, a shop owner and resident of Karawal Nagar, who provided an eyewitness account of watching a mob murder his brother. Kassar filed a police complaint soon on 27 February, on the basis of which the police registered an FIR. But as with Ilyas’s case, the FIR omitted crucial details of the incident including the names of the accused persons, prompting Kassar to lodge another complaint at the police help desk.

“I reached my shop at 9 am on 25.02.2020,” Kassar wrote in his complaint filed at the help desk. “Suddenly, a mob came from in front of me, and they were shouting slogans, ‘Shoot the traitors of this nation,’ ‘Kapil Mishra zindabad,’ and ‘Jagdish Pradhan zindabad.’ The rioters were carrying iron rods, swords, petrol bombs and other weapons.” Kassar continued, “When the rioters came near my shop and house, they started breaking things in the shop.” His house was located above his shop in the same building. “My brother Anwar Kasim tried to stop them, so they started hitting him. Seeing this, I got scared and ran into my house, where my wife and child were crying in fear, and she told me, ‘These rioters will kill us. We need to run away.’”

While the assailants attacked his brother, Kassar wrote that he and his family escaped to their neighbour’s house, where a Hindu family resided. Kassar said he watched what was happening from his neighbour’s house out of concern for his brother. “The rioters had gotten a hold of him,” Kassar wrote. As some members of the mob held his brother down, the complaint continued, others looted the shop and the house, and set fire to vehicles parked near his house. The assailants shot his brother twice, Kassar wrote. He said that they then “took out a bomb from a plastic bag and placed it at my brother’s body and ran for cover. The bomb exploded and my brother’s body parts flew into pieces.”    

During our interview in late June, Kassar said he had told the police about the use of explosives in February itself. “I saw this with my own eyes, they were tying the bomb to his leg, and he was pleading with his hands folded,” Kassar told me. He said he had described this to the police as well. “As he was pleading, one of them, who was wearing a helmet, shot him. My brother fell down, and as he was getting up, another person shot him.” He continued, “Then my brother fell down, and they started kicking him. As he was writhing in pain, the mob of around fifteen people picked him up and threw him into the fire.” Kassar added, “There was a massive explosion. A gun could not have caused that sort of explosion. That’s when I realised that what they were tying to his leg was a bomb.”

Saleem Kassar said he witnessed a mob of rioters tie a bomb to his brother's leg before they shot him and threw him into a fire. SHAHEEN AHMED FOR THE CARAVAN

Kassar said he had told the police these details when he first filed the complaint on 27 February, but neither the names he mentioned nor the detail about the explosive were recorded in the FIR. For several days thereafter, Kassar said, he did not hear back from the police. Frustrated and desperate, he filed a fresh complaint at the help desk on 9 March. The help desk complaint was stamped by the Prime Minister’s Office, the ministry of home affairs, the Delhi police commissioner’s office and the Karawal Nagar police station.

But Kassar said that the lawyer who drafted the complaint on his behalf made one grave mistake—the complaint accused the wrong person of firing at his brother. It stated that a resident of the area named Sanju had shot his brother. According to Kassar, he had told his lawyer that Sanju was a part of the mob and visibly holding a gun, but that it was another resident named Lakhpat, and not Sanju, whom he witnessed fire the gun.

The new complaint appeared to have set the investigation into motion. Kassar told me that around a week after the nationwide lockdown began, on 25 March, he received a call from Rajiv Ranjan, the investigating officer in the case, informing him of five arrests, including that of Lakhpat, for various offences, including murder. Kassar told me that Ranjan, an inspector with the Delhi Police’s crime branch, sent him photos of the five individuals, and that he confirmed to the official that they were present at the scene.

Kassar said that even though he did not witness Sanju shoot his brother, he was certainly a part of the mob that killed him. “There were at least fifteen assailants who got hold of my brother and killed him, before blowing him to pieces,” Kassar told me. “All the culprits are not yet arrested.” In his response, Randhawa said that Sanju had been examined by the police during the investigation. Kassar added, “I have faith in one officer, Rajiv Ranjan of the crime branch.”

Several complainants spoke of the usage of explosives by mobs attacking men and women protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at Chand Bagh on 25 February. Rubina Bano and Rehmat, both residents of the area, wrote in their complaints that when they went to the protest site that morning, they saw a large contingent of police personnel standing alongside rioters who were armed with sticks, swords, guns and bombs. Bano wrote that rioters were standing on top of a hospital in the area, Mohan Nursing Home & Hospital, and throwing bombs at the anti-CAA protesters. Rehmat and another complainant from the area, Imrana Parveen, wrote that they witnessed the rioters throw bombs into the tent where the sit-in protests were held, setting the structure on fire. The police did not register an FIR in connection to any of these complaints.

Akram Khan, a 22-year-old resident of Old Mustafabad, was among those injured by the use of explosives at Chand Bagh. In a complaint dated 15 March—bearing a receiving stamp of the Dayalpur police station and recorded as entry number 55 in the station’s daily diary—Khan wrote about how he lost his hand during the violence. He was returning home from his prayers, he wrote, when a group of rioters approached him, and while running from them, he fell to the ground. “The owner and staff of Mohan Nursing Home were throwing stones and bombs from the top of the building,” he wrote. “That’s when I saw that a bomb had been thrown but I could not get up in time. It landed near my hand and my hands got caught in the explosion.” He added that fellow Muslims from the area immediately picked him up and somehow managed to save him by taking him to the nearby Mehar Hospital, before he was later admitted at the Guru Teg Bahadur hospital.

Akram Khan wrote in a police complaint that an explosive was dropped on him from the roof of Mohan Nursing Home, which led to grievous injuries on both his arms. The Delhi Police, however, claimed that he lost his hand in a car accident. SHAHEEN AHMED FOR THE CARAVAN

“On 25/02/2020, the doctors at the GTB hospital had to cut off my hand that was blasted by a bomb and I was in critical condition,” Khan wrote in his complaint. “My uncle approached a police official near the GTB hospital to lodge an police report, but the policeman began threatening my uncle. He said, ‘If you file a complaint about the incident then we will throw you and your nephew in jail and ensure that you do not get bail.’”

Khan added that his second hand was also severely injured, and that he feared for his life and those of his family members. “As anything can happen to me, this is my statement with my thumb impression as I am no more able to sign,” he wrote, concluding his complaint. The Delhi Police did not register an FIR against Khan’s complaint.

MS Randhawa, the public-relations officer of the Delhi Police, responded to my queries with a detailed response that repeated many of the claims of a rejoinder to the first article in this series. “At the outset,” Randhawa began, “it is stated that the information has been sought with the malicious intents.” One of Randhawa’s main concerns with the complaints appeared to be that they were filed several days after the violence. But as was the case with the rejoinder, the Delhi Police failed to acknowledge or address the complainants’ concerns that their complaints were filed again because the police omitted details in the FIRs. Randhawa also appeared to ignore the fact that it is not up to the Delhi Police to determine whether a complaint that discloses cognisable offences has been filed with a delay—it is a settled principle of law that only the court can adjudicate upon such questions. Moreover, without offering much in the way of evidence or reasoned logic in support of his argument, the PRO claimed that the complaints contained “concocted narratives” and that they were made to “influence free and fair investigation.”

Ironically, the police does not appear to have conducted any investigation into Khan’s case before I sent queries for this story. Randhawa wrote that Khan was not available on his address, but Khan told me that the police had never tried to contact him. On 29 June, the day after I emailed queries to the Delhi Police, I went to meet Khan at his house to inquire about his condition and ask him about the status of the investigation into his complaint. I found that Khan already had a surprise visitor—Mahipal Singh, an assistant sub-inspector with the Dayalpur police station, had come in civilian clothes to record his statement to follow up on the complaint.

The coincidence of our meeting was revealing, as it allowed me to witness for myself the allegations I had read in numerous complaints—that police officials intentionally omitted details from the accounts told by the complainants. Singh did not write down Khan’s allegation that the firing was coming from on top of the Mohan Nursing Home. When Khan repeated this for emphasis, Singh replied, “Bhajanpura side se likh diya, ek hi baat hai”—I have written that it came from the Bhajanpura side, it’s one and the same. Singh’s conduct suggested a conscious effort to keep the hospital—which was named in many complaints that emerged from Chand Bagh—out of the scope of its investigation.

Mahipal Singh, an assistant sub-inspector with the Dayalpur police station, appeared to intentionally omit several crucial details from Akram Khan's statement while he was recording it. SHAHEEN AHMED FOR THE CARAVAN

Khan also emphasised that “Anil sweets seller” was leading the mob, but his words appeared to fall on the deaf ears, as Singh continued writing the account in keeping with a different script, that did not identify such details. Khan observed this as well. Though he stopped arguing with the police about it, he continued looking at the cop with grudging eyes. “When I fell down, a bomb came down from Mohan Nursing Home,” Khan continued. Once again, Singh interjected. “Yeh sab investigation mein aa jayega”—All this will be covered in the investigation—he responded, refusing to note down these details.

When I asked Singh about his omissions while recording the statement, he told me matter-of-factly, “Listen, listen, that complaint is fabricated.” Singh continued, “On 24 February, at the Shastri Park main road, near the police station, there was an accident. A vehicle hit him, crushing his hands, and he was taken to GTB Hospital from there and admitted there. His hand was amputated during the treatment, and then an FIR was registered for an accident. Parvesh Kumar is the investigating officer, at the Shastri Park police station, and it is FIR number 60 of 2020.”

At no point while recording Khan’s complaint had Singh questioned him about any of these details. The PRO’s response did not contain these details either. But according to Singh, Khan changed his story after Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, announced compensation for those who had suffered injuries during the violence. “Yeh sab drama kar rahe ki humaare saath yeh ho gaya”—He is just being dramatic claiming all that happened to him—Singh told me. “Baat hi khatam ho gayi iski complaint ki”—There is no question left about his complaint.

The FIR that Singh referred to provided no details about the vehicle that hit him, the accused individual, the circumstances of the accident, or even how Khan was taken to the hospital. It noted that a medico-legal case, or MLC, had been registered, but Khan told me he was never provided a copy of his MLC report. In fact, he had asked Singh for it when his statement was being recorded, and the policeman had asked him to visit the police station to receive the copy.

I asked the IO, Kumar, for details about the said accident, who acknowledged the FIR. “Nothing could be traced out, so I will report it as ‘untraced,’” Kumar said. “Nothing was found in the CCTV footage at the Shastri Park red light.” Both the cops, Kumar and Singh, used the same language while dismissing the allegations in Khan’s complaint, claiming that he had changed his story because of “Kejriwal’s announcement of monetary compensation.”

Meanwhile, Khan told me that he had not been to Shastri Park that day. He added that he initially told police and hospital officials that it was an accident, because he had been prompted to say so. “You’ll get treated quickly, just say that it was an accident,” he recalled someone having told him. “I don’t remember who was telling me. But I was in such a terrible condition that I just said it.” Khan explained that he had acted instinctively, barely conscious and out of fear. “I was scared about the treatment. I didn’t know whether or not I would receive treatment, and that fear had taken hold of me, so I just said what I had been told to say.” But he said the doctors did not believe him. “The doctors repeatedly asked me to tell the truth about what happened, and that the injury did not look like an accident,” he said. “I then told them the truth.”

The Delhi Police claimed that Akram Khan suffered his injuries in a car accident, and that he said it was due to an explosion in the Delhi violence to claim compensation promised by the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. But the police’s version does not explain why Khan was taken to Mehar Nursing Home, as seen in this photo, before his hand was amputated at the GTB Hospital. Courtesy Ali Malik

A glaring hole in the police’s version of the story is Khan’s presence at the Mehar Nursing Home, in New Mustafabad, where he was administered first aid before he was taken to the GTB Hospital, on 24 February. His presence there is confirmed by an image of a bloodied Khan lying in the hospital, and interviews with the friend who shot the photo and a health worker who had attended to him. When we showed the health worker Khan’s photo, he responded, “Yes, I bandaged his hands,” but requested anonymity in fear of reprisals from the Delhi Police. “I recognise this boy by face,” he said, adding that his condition was severe and he had to be sent to the GTB Hospital. If Khan was injured at Shastri Park, as the police claimed, it would defy logic to take him to both Mehar Nursing Home and GTB Hospital, both of which are located over six kilometres away and in different directions. The police have not provided any explanation for this.

Across the three complaints, there seemed to be one common theme in the Delhi Police’s response—an unwillingness to investigate the use of explosives. Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Kassar if there was anything that he would like to say. He responded with a tone of despair. “What can I say? I am just anxious,” he said. “I want justice for my brother. I have only one goal now. By whatever means possible, I want justice for my brother.”

This is the third piece in a series, “Dead and Buried,” on the complaints filed by residents of northeast Delhi about the February violence.