Why Delhi violence -2020 was pogrom

By Aamir Raza

What happened in North East Delhi last year was not a riot but a systematic executed anti-Muslim violence or Pogrom. The anti-Muslim riots raged through multiple areas of North East Delhi between February 23 and 27 before they were finally controlled. Out of Fifty-three people killed 40 were Muslims and more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, were injured. Armed Hindu mobs rioted with impunity and the police appeared to be co-conspirators during violence. Mosques and homes and shops of Muslims were attacked, sometimes allegedly with the help of police.

The Delhi Minorities Commission’s report, released five months after the pogrom in northeast Delhi, said that the violence “was seemingly planned and directed to teach a lesson to a certain community which dared to protest against a discriminatory CAA law”. The report also stated that testimonies of affected people revealed that the violence was not spontaneous like a “riot”, it was “planned, organised and targeted”.

Pogrom is a mob attack, either approved or condoned by authorities, against the persons and property of a religious, racial, or national minority. Paul Brass, an outstanding scholar of political violence in India, has busted the myth of spontaneity and instead called communal violence “institutionalized riot systems.” What turns a riot into a pogrom, he writes, is “when it can be proved that the police and the state authorities more broadly are directly implicated in a ‘riot’ in which one community provides the principal or sole victims…” Since the killing does not happen in a vacuum, Brass stresses to account for the “atmosphere” that precedes a pogrom. The atmosphere is not simply a precondition but a cause of it. This precisely is the reason to name the violence in Delhi as a pogrom.

Throughout the Delhi Assembly elections campaign from December 2019 to February 2020 many BJP leaders have created an atmosphere of fear and hate by making inflammatory speeches against the Anti- CAA protestors laden with communal undertones and open threats of violence. Short speech of Kapil Mishra on 23 February 2020 at Maujpur has put final nail in the coffin in instigating the Anti-Muslim violence. very soon violence raged across the north-east of India’s capital for four days as Muslims were burned alive in their homes or dragged out into the streets and lynched.

In several areas of North East Delhi, properties owned by Muslims were looted, burned, and completely destroyed. The attacks were targeted to the extent that in instances where the owners were Hindus but the properties had been rented to Muslims, the buildings were spared but the moveable properties were looted or burned outside the premises. For example, in Shiv Vihar, in a particular lane there are 30 houses, 27 of these belong to Muslims, only 3 to non-Muslims. All the 27 houses that belonged to the Muslims were burnt, looted, attacked, and people had to leave that area. The remaining three houses were left untouched. Munga Nagar has four houses that belonged to Muslims only these four houses were looted and burnt; every other house was left unharmed. In Chand Bagh, one of the worst hit areas, only the Muslim businesses – hairdressers, ice-cream shops, butchers – lay in ruins. In all, 11 mosques, five madrasas or religious schools, a Muslim shrine and a graveyard were attacked and damaged

Several videos which got circulated on social media shows the rioters claiming police officers were “with them,” while others show how police officers helped the saffron goons collect stones to be thrown during the clashes. The DMC Report mentions that during the violence between 23 to 27 February either the police did not come forward to help or the police response was very slow, even when they did answer their phones. There are enough and more videos to show the partisan manner in which the police acted. There is the video of the police beating five young Muslim men, as they lie writhing in pain on the ground. Similarly, they never came to help victims. Evidence of police apathy in Delhi violence is hyper visible. It becomes evident from the testimonies and the series of events that mobs targeted single religious group were allowed to run riot,and was  unchecked by police. This is exactly what political scientist define as a ‘Pogrom’

Ashutosh Varshney, a professor of political science at Brown University who has extensively researched religious violence in India, observed that the Delhi riots was pogrom – much like the ones in 1984 and 2002.Pogroms happen, according to Prof Varshney, when the police do not act neutrally to stop riots, look on when mobs go on the rampage and sometimes “explicitly” help the perpetrators.

The strained relations post-violence has deeply influenced the social interaction between the communities, aggravating the already wide fault lines. The politics of fear and mistrust unfortunately motivated a plethora of Muslim families to shift from the neighbourhood’s where they had lived for generations. But it’s not just Delhi. In India, a Hindu-majority country, over 200 million Muslims are a ghettoized community, and incidents of communally motivated violence in past decades have further intensified the segregation and expedited the near-total alienation.

The Anti- Muslim violence of the last year in Delhi should be revisited to understand how Muslims bore the major brunt in any communal clash, riots and pogrom. Weak opposition, Bias police, xenophobic media and vulnerability of Muslims in electoral politics has enable the current regime in perpetuating the Supremacist agenda driven by the political conspiracy to bludgeon Muslims into submissions

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