Delhi clashes: How cops lost the plot at the outset

Ghughuti Bulletin

NEW DELHI: It appears that erroneous judgements, inadequate deployment and absence of swift decisions on the part of police led to
northeast Delhi spinning out of control and 42 people being killed in a span of 36 hours. TOI spoke to several police officers whose accounts seemed to suggest this was what happened when riots broke out last Sunday.

It was around 10pm on February 22 that the first seeds of the upheaval were sowed. Around 600 women were seen proceeding through the congested lanes of Jafrabad towards the
Delhi Metro station there. However, police did not intervene immediately. Sources said the local police assumed the crowd was heading to an existing protest site only to realise they had squatted in protest at the metro station itself, 500 metres from the presumed spot.

There were very few women cops to handle the predominantly female crowd, and police could not use force to disperse them. They received no orders for their dispersal from the brass, which was apparently wary of how the courts would perceive such action.

The women were joined by around 400 male protesters. A senior police officer claimed that the core group comprised non-locals. By Sunday morning, the strength of the protesters had swelled to 3,000. “While we could not remove them physically, we did not permit the erection of a dais, tents or PA system at the site,” the officer said.

By noon, the police were in a catch 22 situation. Hindu groups announced they would block the entire road, arguing that if the other community was being allowed to sit on protest there, they too should be allowed to congregate. “We tried to reason with them but they didn’t listen,” the police officer added. Soon enough, the two groups began pelting stones at each other, and police managed to bring the situation under control only late in the evening.

There are allegations that the cops did not take the developments seriously as warranted, believing it would be peaceful like in Shaheen Bagh. A senior cop countered this. “We made adequate arrangements for February 24, when the US president arrived, though the eastern range officers had been exempted. It took time to mobilise the force, but we had sufficient officers on the ground,” he claimed.

By 9am that day, rioting had broken out. What began with stone pelting degenerated into arson and vandalism. Not much later, both groups resorted to shooting with country-made and semi-automatic pistols. “The antagonistic groups were not only attacking each other, but also police. In some places, cops were caught in the middle, and in others it was a three-sided combat. However, there was limited use of firearms,” attested a source.

DCP (Shahdara)
Amit Sharma and his team accompanied by three companies were attacked around 11am near a mosque at Chand Bagh. While Sharma and ACP Anuj Kumar were beaten by rioters, head constable Ratan Lal was shot dead. “The challenge now was to send reinforcements to Chand Bagh,” another officer recalled. A joint commissioner was asked to rush there with more personnel. Rumours had sent large numbers on to the streets in 20 localities, so he wasn’t able to reach. A DCP was stuck near Maujpur, so another DCP from Crime Branch and a joint commissioner were summoned. Using the Usmanpur-Pushta route, they reached Chand Bagh, and by 4pm, we had reclaimed Wazirabad and the 66-Feet Road.”

However, it was only when national security advisor Ajit Doval and special commissioner S N Shrivastava stepped in that the situation was fully managed.

When asked why the force did not go all out against the rioters at the outset, an officer asserted, “With 80,000 people to every square kilometre, northeast Delhi is among the densest areas in the country. The groups very easily mobilised 25,000 people from Jafrabad and Kardampuri in a few minutes. On December 22 last year, over 40,000 had gathered on the Jafrabad road, though things passed off peacefully then.”

The officer added, “Every step had to be calculated. Not one officer retreated. We didn’t allow any lynching on the main road. If police had been reckless, the toll would have been much higher.”

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