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India: ‘Muslims bore brunt of Delhi riots’

In exclusive interview, head of India’s quasi-judicial body, Zafarul Islam Khan says riots were well-planned and one-sided

Cheena Kapoor   | 10.03.2020
India: ‘Muslims bore brunt of Delhi riots’

NEW DELHI, India

Head of a quasi-judicial body in India has claimed that the communal violence that jolted parts of union capital Delhi recently was “well-planned” and “one-sided”. 

In the worst-hit riots in decades, which started on the day when U.S. President Donald Trump was in the city, over 50 people were killed and hundreds injured.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, the Chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission Zafarul Islam Khan, who toured the riot-affected areas along with other members of his body, said that they found maximum damage had been inflicted on houses and shops of Muslims.

Holding a doctorate from the University of Manchester, Khan, who is also an author and publisher, has been focusing on issues concerning the Muslim community in India. In July 2017, he was appointed as the head of the Delhi Minority Commission, a statutory body mandated to safeguard and monitor the implementation of rights granted to minorities in the Indian constitution.

Anadolu Agency: As a constitutional body mandated to safeguard the rights and interests of minorities, you had visited the riot-affected areas. What is your assessment?

Zafarul Islam Khan (ZIK): It was one-sided violence. Most of the damage has been done to Muslim properties, houses, shops, and even mosques have been burnt. Muslims bore the major brunt. We assessed that the violence in the northeast district of Delhi was well-planned, and people had been brought from outside, to inflict maximum damage, with local support. For instance, at Bhajanpura, we found that Muslim-owned shops, like a travel agency and motorcycle showroom, were looted and torched while Hindu-owned shops nearby were left untouched. It is a telling commentary and shows that homework had gone into engineering riots.

In Shivpuri, Muslims are a small minority. It is the worst affected area. We found Muslim homes selectively burnt and damaged. The nearby Aulia Mosque was gutted. Two gas cylinders were lying on the floor of the mosque, which had not exploded. Our team members found that most of the houses were blasted using gas cylinders taken from other houses. It was a highly planned riot.

Q. Police is being severely criticized for its role during the riots. How far are these reports correct?

ZIK: First three days, police stood mute even though the violence had taken an ugly turn. There was a minimal police presence. We have recommended that the Delhi Police should be held accountable for letting the schools be used by rioters.

We were informed that Feb. 26 onwards, that means on the fourth day, police presence was felt and they began doing their job seriously. At Khajuri Khas, we were told that the police area-in-charge intervened and saved the lives of 350 Muslims on that day.

No foolproof method to avoid riots

Q: Since you are heading a statutory body, what was the Commission doing to protect minorities from rioters?

ZIK: The Commission takes notice of concerns related to minorities, intervenes, and tries to highlight problems. Since these riots erupted, we have been issuing orders and notices to the government and police even in individual cases.

Q: What are the measures taken by your Commission to avoid the recurrence of Delhi-like riots in the future?

ZIK: There is no fool-proof measure or method. What we are trying to ensure that culprits are punished so that there is a deterrent. For this, we have formed a fact-finding committee. We will intervene in the legal and administrative battles, once the committee completes the task.

Q. Delhi state government has announced compensation to victims. Do you think the amount announced is enough to help people to restart their lives?

ZIK: Without massive help, the victims will not be able to rebuild their lives. We feel that the compensation announced by the Delhi provincial government is not adequate. The fact is that the ground situation is bad, people’s houses and shops have been burnt or demolished. We were also informed that residents of a building will get only one compensation irrespective of the number of families living there. On our recommendation, the Delhi government has raised compensation and somewhat streamlined it. We have written to the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to inspect the affected areas and then only ascertain the right compensation amount.

We found that people were returning to their localities from where they had fled on Feb. 24-25. But since the houses and shops are badly damaged, with the debris lying inside as well as on the streets, there is no question that they will be able to live their anytime soon. And more irony is removing debris or starting repairs that will affect their chances of getting any compensation from the government.

Q. What is the status of minority rights in India?

ZIK. On papers, minorities have the same rights as the majority community. But if you look closely, Muslims represent just 2-4% in government jobs, although they make 15% of the population. Even in Parliament, Muslims as per their population should be represented by at least 85-90 MPs. But there are only 22 Muslim MPs at present. There is a huge under-representation of minorities in the system.

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