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Delhi Riots: An account of the ordeal faced by a law student in the midst of the violence

Adit Subramaniam Pujari

As we wake up today, the 25th of February, we hope, as we all should, that someone is going to take note of what has gone on over the past 48 hours in parts of Delhi.

Delhi has seen some of the most vile, violent, hateful, and divisive campaigns prior to an election. The wait is still on for the Delhi Police to register FIRs in relation to those involved with sloganeering that would be best described as a textbook explanation that could accompany Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code.

Section 153A IPC
Section 153A IPC

However, this article is not about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the protests, the provocative calls, or (in)actions of the police over the past month. This is just about yesterday, and this is about hoping that none of us are in the same position as a law student who contacted me last evening around 8pm was. What this law student - who is hiding for safety - faced, is inaction and apathy from PCR call handlers, and refusal to give information in relation to police responders.

I am writing about it here because, quite frankly, there is little else that one can hope to achieve over the course of the day, at least in terms of an efficacious direction to PCR call handlers.

Any application under Section 156(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) is only possible after compliance under Section 154(1) CrPC of writing to the Station House Officer (SHO) concerned, and under 154(3) CrPC of writing to senior police officers. Even if fast tracked to two days, the proposed application under 156(3) CrPC is likely going to await a week (if you’re an optimist), and months (if you’re not) of status reports citing “investigation at a crucial stage”/ “monitoring at the very highest level by the concerned DCP”.

Section 156 CrPC
Section 156 CrPC

Petitions are likely to be put through the scrutiny of urgent mentioning/listing/or hearing.

The police has faced a very tough day in office over the course of the past 48 hours, and a member of the force has been lost to violence yesterday. It appears that a gunman who was pictured firing rounds has also been identified.

But then, there still is hope. We have read about situations where the Supreme Court has taken cognizance on letters written, on newspaper reports, and on just oral mentionings of atrocities. Last year, a concerned bench of the Supreme Court issued urgent directions on a Saturday to safeguard the institution.

Today, there is another institution that needs safeguarding. That institution is right here, in our backyards, telling us that we are safe, and telling us that it is guarding us. That institution is the Delhi Police.

The Delhi Police is known across the country as having one of the most advanced PCR call responses across state police forces. PCR forms are routinely used to corroborate immediate circumstances surrounding an offence, as described by witnesses. It would be useful to obtain PCR form records over the course of yesterday to ascertain the calls received by the Delhi Police, and corresponding action thereupon.

The following would indicate the sheer helplessness that a fellow resident of Delhi, and hopefully a future member of the legal fraternity, went through since 2pm yesterday.

This gentleman (hereby John Doe), to prevent disclosure of his identity, contacted me sometime late last evening. He was referred to me by a fellow lawyer, because Doe was panicking, having allegedly been forced out of his home, and forced to take shelter in the house of a well-wisher. Doe’s responses are paraphrased and screenshots are attached without editing wherever required.

Even assuming that all is not as described by Doe, please listen to the recordings of PCR calls made by Doe, to understand the sheer helplessness that one of us may face if we repose our faith in the Delhi Police. Please note that the Whatsapp chat with Doe, and all advice to him, is to prepare material for a representation to the Police, or for pleadings in Court, so that there is less reliance on just his ipse dixit.

When Doe spoke with me for the first time, he told me that he had called the police helpline multiple times, but had seen no follow up action. He was requested to send screen shots of him having called the police. He was also asked to record his conversation with the persons on the other end of the PCR helpline, to follow up with PCR after the call, and to get details of police personnel who had been dispatched to attend to the call.

After this, Doe called me to indicate that an armed mob was still making communal slogans, rounding up persons, and generally making the area unsafe for members of a particular community. He indicated that some residents of his community had fled their homes, having returned to their village, or to the homes of other relatives for safe passage.

Since Doe told me that he was safe for the time being, having taken shelter in the home of an undisclosed well-wisher, along with his family, the only useful advice to him was to wait things out till the police contacts him.

Screenshots of the messages follow:

Delhi Riots: An account of the ordeal faced by a law student in the midst of the violence
Delhi Riots: An account of the ordeal faced by a law student in the midst of the violence
Delhi Riots: An account of the ordeal faced by a law student in the midst of the violence
Delhi Riots: An account of the ordeal faced by a law student in the midst of the violence
Delhi Riots: An account of the ordeal faced by a law student in the midst of the violence

Recordings of the PCR Calls:

From the various recordings of PCR calls by Doe, the following is evident:

  1. Multiple calls have been received by the Delhi Police PCR over the course of the day/evening relating to arson, violence, ad threats to life and limb;

  2. Police personnel were physically present in areas where violence was complained of. Whether such police personnel were adequately equipped to handle crowds, or were present in enough numbers, remains to be seen.

  3. Multiple members of the minority community were being targeted, and houses/ shops/establishments/owned by them were being torched.

  4. The response of the Delhi Police to callers, and follow-ups to complaints was abysmal;

  5. Communal mobs continue to run amok, and the response of local leaders to quell such agitation appears to be lacking;

  6. The personnel receiving PCR calls lacked sensitivity and empathy. They need to be able to assure the person asking for help that help is on the way, and to appropriately indicate who is on the job as a follow-up.

Doe asked for details on personnel sent as responders several times, and one such response sticks. When asked as to where Doe is, he states he is hiding at someone’s house, and that he does not want to disclose where he is. So he says “mujhe pata nahin kinka ghar hai” (I don't know whose house it is), at which point the lady at the other end asks him “unko pata hai?” (Do they know).

It appears that in times such as this, the police is apparently more concerned on investigating house trespass, as opposed to saving someone from an armed mob.

I just called Doe up to ask about his safety. He said he’s fine, but there’s still been no response. I could overhear loud chants of “Jai Shri Ram” in the background. He said that he and his family remain hidden inside a well-wisher’s house.

Doe ended our phone call by saying “Koi ummeed nahin baaki hai – kuch response nahin aaya hai aur police kuch karne bhi nahin waali hai” (I don't have any faith, I haven't received any response and the police are not going to do anything).

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