The Paradox of Lawlessness amidst Laws: A Report on Structural Violence impacting Communal Discourse in 2020

Irfan Engineer and Neha Dabhade

(Secular Perspective Jan 1-31, 2020)


Communal riots have been the most ubiquitous manifestation of communal violence in India for over decades. Some of the major riots like Nellie (1983), Delhi anti-Sikh riots (1984), Bhagalpur (1989), Bombay (1992), Gujarat (2002), Kandhamal (2008), Muzzafarnagar (2013) and recently riots in north east Delhi (2020) witnessed large losses of lives and property. However, since 2014, it appears that the number of communal riots on such large scale has reduced (Engineer, Dabhade, & Nair, Secular Perspective, 2020). In the past few years, while the communal riots have low intensity, there has been a rise in the number of mob lynching targeting the vulnerable groups like Muslims, Christians and Adivasis over the issues of cow slaughter/consumption, inter-faith relationships and child-lifting on one hand, and definite deepening of structural violence in terms of discriminatory laws and policies and communal identities. There is a drop in the number of cases of the mob lynching on the suspicion of child lifting given the state’s swift response in the form of adequate compensation and prosecution. In contrast, the cases of mob lynching based on cow vigilantism have continued unabated given the lack of justice in these cases where the victims themselves are criminalized.

In the year 2020 too, this trend was prominent. In 2020, there was lesser number of communal riots and mob lynching than 2019. In 2020, over ten (10) communal riots and over twenty (20) incidents of mob lynching as compared to 25 communal riots and 107 incidents of mob lynching in the year 2019 that took place in India according to the monitoring of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism based on media reportage (to be discussed in details in other sections of the report). However, there were a slew of legislations, discriminatory in nature and polarizing along religious line in 2020. Such legislations had a debilitating effect overall on the social fabric and polity of India. Such legislatures had wider impact than merely communal riots and were more pervasive, its impact percolated to the grassroots in the society. The implementation of these laws resulted in polarization along religious lines, hatred and heightening of communal differentiation. These laws sharpened communal identities and bonds constructed and consolidated on the foundation of hatred and exclusion of the other communities. This perhaps sums up the situation that has unfolded in the past year. Structural violence has taken deeper roots in the social fabric of India and used as legitimate weapon to further marginalization of religious minorities. Structural violence has achieved the same results or more far-reaching results than physical violence by sharpening polarization and institutionalizing discrimination which has percolated into inter-community relation marked by suspicion, distrust and hatred. While physical violence is more visible and thus attracts negative attention, structural violence is more invisible.

Some examples of the structural violence are the ordinances preventing religious conversion targeting inter-faith couples, the widespread derogatory narrative about Muslim community during the Covid pandemic translating into discrimination against them by state and non state actors and also the brutal action against protestors opposing Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Simultaneously, there is also a rise in hate crimes which include hate speeches by high ranking state officials and top leadership of political parties. These hate speeches have translated into a clear signal and impunity to lumpen non state actors to viciously target marginalized communities without fear of law or persecution. This has led to widespread violence at grassroots level. Collectively these forms of communal violence are leading to active widespread persecution of the vulnerable communities, putting them in a worse situation than that of second class citizens. In fact, in the recent Ujjain riots, the state administer was seen demolishing the house of one innocent Muslim resident under the pretext of stone pelting during the riot. Though it was confirmed that stone pelting didn’t take place from the victim’s house, the incident betrays the vindictiveness of the state in targeting the Muslim community. Religious minorities are being doubly victimized. They are being targeted in riots by rioters and also persecuted by the state. Their properties are destroyed and demolished viciously leaving them very vulnerable.

Section I

Structural violence:

Structural violence is discrimination, exclusion and inequality resulting from social, political and economical structures. The term was originally coined by Johan Galtung to point towards the hidden violence in our midst, built into the structure of society itself and therefore more difficult to pinpoint and eradicate. While direct, physical violence gets much more attention, the injustice that is built into almost all social systems can cause equal or greater harm. Some such structures or institutions are class, race, patriarchy. Structural violence has, at its root, some political or economic structure that disenfranchises a group of people or deprives them of equal opportunity.

CSSS in its report last year stated that structural violence in the year 2019 manifested in the forms of the Citizenship Amendment Act- its very definition and implication on the gambit of citizenship in India. The state action against protesting students at Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University marked a new low in Indian democracy and right to dissent in India. The anti-CAA/ NRC protests were preceded by the abrogation of article 370 in Kashmir. The centre imposed shutdown of internet and phone lines, thereby isolating the state. The courts have delayed in hearing the case and thereby denying justice to millions suffering from state action. Other forms of structural violence was huge funding of the Kumbh Mela by the Yogi Adityanath government in UP. In UP itself, government withdrew 75 cases related to the Muzaffarnagar riots that took place in 2013 (Engineer, Dabhade, & Nair, 2020).

In this section, CSSS will discuss in detail the laws or policies which have resulted into marginalization and persecution of religious minorities directly. Not only the laws, but their implementation has created an entire ecosystem which has systematically persecuted Muslims, Adivasis, Christians and women from the religious minorities. Since structural violence is largely invisible in nature, it is not recognized for its impact it is having. Besides, laws/ policies that have their source in the state enjoy a certain degree of legitimacy albeit being unconstitutional or bad in law. The following policies have had a far reaching impact on the political scenario in India and particularly on the social fabric.

1.      Ordinances for preventing religious conversions:

The state of Uttar Pradesh along with some other BJP ruled states have passed ordinances called “UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020” which is a law aiming at preventing religious conversions from Hinduism to other religions. Though, the argument to bring in this ordinance was cited as the conspiracy of the Muslim youth to “lure” or “seduce” Hindus women to marry them with an aim to converting them into Islam, there is no shred of evidence or data to support such conspiracy theories. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up in September to probe alleged cases of ‘love jihad’  ruled out any conspiracy angle in the 14 such cases it investigated and also found no evidence that the Muslim youths involved got any funding from abroad (Sahu, Indian Express, 2020). However, the lack of any evidence didn’t deter the state governments in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka to bring in this law which violates constitutional freedoms namely, freedom of religion and belief and right to life. In fact, different high courts have upheld these rights in different verdicts.

The Allahabad High Court has ruled in favour of an interfaith couple, underlining that the woman is an adult who “wants to live with her husband“, had the “right to live life on her terms (and) is free to move as per her choice without any restriction or hindrance being created by (a) third party“. The FIR in this case was filed by the father of the woman against her husband (Khan, NDTV, 2020).

In another verdict by the Allahabad High Court related to a case of inter-faith marriage, the Court said, “Article 25 provides that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion, subject to public order, morality and health and to other provisions of Part III of the Constitution (that covers fundamental rights).” Noting that in the pertinent case,  the woman concerned was an adult “who understands her well-being”, the court said, “She as well as the petitioner have a fundamental right to privacy and being grown-up adults… are aware of the consequences of their alleged relationship.” (, 2020)In a separate incident, Karnataka high court has said that the right of any adult to marry a person of their choice is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

The ordinance can be problematized on account of the following points:

1.      Vague definitions enabling easy conviction:

The Uttar Pradesh prohibition of Unlawful conversion of religion Ordinance, 2020 provides for prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or any other fraudulent means or by marriage and for matters connected therein or incidental thereto. It further states that no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or any other fraudulent means or by marriage nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion.

All these terms are so vaguely defined that there is a huge scope to misconstrue them and bring the most innocuous actions under the purview of the terms misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, convince etc. Almost any everyday harmless action can be misconstrued to mean any of the terms in this ordinance for the lack of clarity. This makes it easy for prosecution of the innocent couples.

2.      Gives power to family:

This ordinance is essentially anti-women. In spite of women being equal to men in the eyes of law and Indian Constitution and court verdicts which clear state that two willing adults consenting to marry each other and live with each other have a right not be interfered with, this ordinance gives right to family members to raise objection about the marriage. The ordinance that allows any aggrieved person, his/her brother, sister or any other person related to him/her by blood, and marriage or adoption may lodge a FIR report of such conversion. Thus, in effect this law disregards the will, desire and agency of the women and gives control of her marriage to her relatives and family. This is a very alarming precedent given that honor killings are so common in India where the girls are murdered in cold blood by their own families and relatives for marrying men from different castes or gotra against their wishes. The institution of family is strong in India steeped in the patriarchal notion of honor vested in the bodies of women. But now, with this ordinance, the vigilantes are getting a free hand to control Hindu women. It is documented how the vigilante groups are instigating parents of the Hindu women to file cases against the Muslim men. The organizations are also seen intimidating Hindu women to press charges and give statements.

3.      Imposing Hindu religion on Hindus:

The ordinance in letter is prohibiting religious conversion from one religion to another but in practice, it is essentially preventing religious conversion from Hinduism to any other religion. The underlying supremacist notion is that Hindu religion is the supreme religion and conversion to any other religion is to be condemned and prevented. Under this ordinance, if any person reconverts to his/her immediate previous religion, the same shall not be deemed to be conversion. This leaves the window open for “ghar wapasi” which will not be criminalized. Hindutva organizations believe that members of other religious communities were originally Hindus and fraudulently were converted to other religions. They believe that these “converts” have to be brought back to the Hindu fold by re-conversions.

Also this ordinance is in contravention of the article 25 of Indian Constitution which guarantees the freedom of religion to all. Why should this ordinance work as shackles to any adult Hindu who out of his/her own will want to convert to another religion? It is a right enshrined in the Constitution. Hindus equally have the right to convert out of Hindu religion keeping in with their own conscience. This ordinance is an imposition of Hindu religion on the Hindus.

4.      Burden of proof:

Another significant provision of this ordinance is that the burden of proof to prove that conversion was voluntary rests on the accused or the person who allegedly caused the conversion. This provision of burden of proof resting on the accused is bad in criminal jurisprudence, putting the onus to prove innocence unfairly on the accused and not on the one who alleges. This clause is a potent weapon to target the Muslim youth and implicate them into false cases. Until the Muslim youth don’t prove that their innocent of not converting the Hindu women for marriage before or after the marriage, the accused Muslim youth will remain incarcerated.

5.      Harsh Punishment:

The ordinance makes religious conversion a cognizable and non-bailable offence, inviting penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Violation of the provisions of the law would invite a jail term of not less than one year, extendable to five years, with a fine of INR 15,000. However, if a minor, a woman or person belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribes communities was converted through the said unlawful means, the jail term would be a minimum of three years and could be extended to 10 years with a fine of INR 25,000.The ordinance, passed by the State Cabinet, also lays down strict action against mass conversions, which would invite a jail term of not less than three years and up to 10 years and a fine of INR 50,000

Ironically, the disproportionately harsh punishments mentioned in the ordinance is commensurate to the punishment prescribed for heinous crimes like rape, dowry etc. While rape is violation of the woman’s body and an act without her consent, in dowry, the woman is harassed, demanding money or other objects against her will. Why should voluntary conversion or marriage between consenting adults be criminalized and punished with the same measure as rape and dowry? Thus, the real intention as was behind the criminalization of triple talaq was to criminalize Muslim men and prosecute them.

Actual implementation of the Ordinance:

The impact of this Ordinance is already seen clearly in targeting the Muslim community in particular and minorities in general. The ordinance primarily is a law for preventing conversions- in one direction- from Hinduism to other religion. The intent of the ordinance was to demonize the Muslim community by popularizing ludicrous myths and conspiracy theories against Muslim men on one hand and to scare the silent majority to have any find of friendship or relationships with the Muslims on the other. The ordinance is targeting even friendship or any contact between Hindu women and Muslim men. For instance, Sonu alias Saquib, aged 18, and a 16-year-old former classmate, a Dalit girl went for an outing where they ate pizza and had a soft drink. Before their outing was over, Saquib was arrested for trying to convert the girl under false promise of love! The father of the girl who filed an FIR accusing Saquib told that accused the local police of dictating the complaint to him. He added: “I had told police that I do not want to complain but they scolded me and said they may elope in the future and I must do it for my daughter. I do not understand much of how things work, so I agreed.(Bhardwaj, 2020)”.

Since the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, came into effect on November 28, records show that the UP Police has registered 14 cases and made 51 arrests, of whom 49 are in jail. Of these 14 cases, 13 involve Hindu women allegedly pressured to convert to Islam. In only two cases is the complainant the woman concerned herself — in the remaining 12, the complainants are her relatives (Sahu, 2020).

The law has assumed draconian and illogical proportions as is reflecting from the above statistics. Some stories emerging from UP have led people in the grip of fear of the arbitrariness of the law. The UP police have acted with discrimination- cases of the ordinance being applied in introspect, cases where Hindu men have been let go when the complaints have come from Muslim father while Muslim men have been singularly targeted in spite of the family giving testimonies that they approve of inter-faith marriages (Dabhade, 2020). Yet there were instances where weddings were stopped and couples arrested. One couple in Moradabad even lost their unborn child after the woman victim was sent to a shelter home, acting on the complaint by Bajrang Dal (The Wire, 2020). The role of Hindu organizations trying to instigate the parents of the Hindu women has been well documented in different cases as seen in the case above. In effect, this ordinance allows organized Hindu political outfits, vigilante groups and state to work together to persecute Muslims and make them easy target. The existence of the Muslim community becomes more insecure than second class citizens with no guarantees and active persecution.

Stopping state funding to Assam Madrassa:

In a controversial move, the ASSAM Assembly passed a Bill to convert state-run madrasas into regular schools — stripping them of the status of centres for religious education. The Assam Repealing Bill, 2020 was brought to repeal two existing Acts —The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation) Act, 1995 and The Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialisation of Services of Employees and Re-Organisation of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act, 2018. Interestingly, the bill was passed amidst the walk out staged by the opposition parties after their demand to send the bill to a Select Committee was rejected by the BJP ruled government. The government’s argument to strip off state funding to Madrassas was for the empowerment of the Muslim community and arguing that by converting them into general schools they will be encouraged to offer modern curriculum and “religious” education shouldn’t be supported by state money. However, the underlying presumption here is that the madrassas offer only education of the Quran and Arabic language. In reality, madrassas are centres of education offering study of the Quran as well as regular subjects like mathematics and science. This move reinforced the popular perception that madrassas are backward and den to inculcate fundamentalist ideology, further stigmatizing the Muslim community.

Denial to construct Museum at Kalakshetra:

The BJP government in Assam recently rejected the demand of constructing a museum based on the culture and heritage of the people living in char-chaporis, in Guwahati’s Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra. Char-chaporis are shifting riverine islands of the Brahmaputra and are primarily inhabited by the Muslims of Bengali-origin (pejoratively referred to as ‘Miyas’). Srimanta Sankaradev Kalakshetra commonly Kalakshetra is a cultural institution in Guwahati named after the medieval poet-playwright and reformer Srimanta Sankardeva. It includes a cultural museum, library and various facilities for preserving, demonstrating and performing cultural items, besides a children’s park reflecting the culture of Assam. There are deeper layers of meaning to this decision to be comprehended keeping in mind the historical context as well as current political scenario. Assam has faced human tragedy of unprecedented proportions after the National Register of Citizens process was carried out in the state resulting in leaving out millions of citizens out of the list, rendering them stateless. The primary assumption behind carrying out the process was to “weed out” illegal Bangladeshi migrants synonymous with Muslims. The state has spiraled into a cycle of violence and resulted in state discrimination after poor innocent citizens are taken away to detention centres and face uncertain fate. In this discourse and conflict, the miya culture is now popularly associated with the Muslims and also the Bengali culture. But the ruling party cant openly target the Bengali culture since it will have electoral repercussions in the state of West Bengal.

This move to not construct the museum at Kalakshetra of the Char-Chaporis strengthens the narrative that Muslims are “outsiders” and have no contribution to the Assamese culture. In fact it implies that Muslims are even unwanted and a threat to the Assamese culture. The residents of the char-chaporis (home also to Misings, Deoris, Kocharis, Nepalis) insist that they have a distinct culture including variety of songs (bhatiali related to the river, magangeet or harvest songs, noikhelorgeet or boat songs etc), instruments and equipment to catch fish, as well as different kinds of boats. But the BJP minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has maintained, “In my understanding, there is no separate identity and culture in Char Anchal of Assam as most of the people had migrated from Bangladesh. Obviously, in Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, which is the epitome of Assamese culture, we will not allow any distortion (Agarwal, 2020).” Thus, it is clear that the government views culture related to its Muslim population as distortion of Assamese culture.

Arrests of the Tablighi members- the scapegoats during the pandemic:

While the world was facing the perils of coronavirus- rising deaths, infections, stranded migrant workers, loss of livelihood, in India there was a massive witch hunt and scapegoating of Tablighi Jamaat members who were accused of being “super-spreaders” and spiking the number of cases of the virus. Tablighi Jamaat members from various parts of the world arrived for a congregation in Nizamuddin in New Delhi in March. The meeting was organized with the permission of the state and the police. The members were given valid visas to travel to India. Thus there was nothing illegal about this meeting or the members attending the gathering. Yet they were stigmatized and humiliated in the most outrageous manner. When the lockdown was announced, instead of helping the international members who were stranded in India, the state and the media put them through an ordeal.

Various conjectures were made in relation to the Tablighi members and eventually for common Muslims in India, calling them, “virus”, super spreaders of “coronajihad” and “irresponsible”. There was a trial by media declaring them guilty of worsening the pandemic situation in India albeit instances where there were other pilgrimages and other religious processions taking place but none of them condemned. For instance, the foundation laying ceremony of the Ayodhya temple which was attended by none other than the Prime Minister himself on the heels of news of some of the priests testing positive was reported, didn’t raise an eyebrow in the public discourse. For instance, on the occasion of Ram Navami on 2nd April, there were large crowds seen outside temples in Beliaghata and Maniktala in Kolkata. A huge puja was held at the Shirdi temple flouting all rules of the lockdown. There were also reports that the traditional ritual for a celestial wedding, Sita Rama Kalyanam at Sri Sita Ramachandraswamy temple in Bhadrachalam in Telangana was held (The Wire, 2020) On June 23rd, the Jagannath Puri temple in Odisha was flooded with devotees flouting all cautions of lockdown. A day earlier, the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land, gave permission for the annual Rath Yatra in Odisha to be held, but with certain restrictions. The BJP pushed for the Rath yatra (Das, 2020).  Thousands of people attended the funeral of a renowned spiritual leader, Dev Prabhakar Shastri, in Madhya Pradesh’s Katni despite lockdown rules. Hundreds of people are seen in social media videos walking in groups at the funeral procession (Dwary, 2020). The Tirupati temple too continued to open its gates to thousands of devotees during the lockdown. Not to forget, the mega event of Namaste Trump hosted in Ahmedabad in February where thousands poured on to the streets at the event much touted by the government itself.

However, what was more serious that the state arrested hundreds of Tablighi Jamaat members, forcefully incarcerating them or putting them in quarantine. Those arrested included national and international members of the Jamaat. They were treated as criminals and impression was created that they were evading the police or absconding and purposely spreading the virus by spitting in the hospitals and misbehaving. This Islamophobic propaganda in the popular imagination led to believe that common Muslims are solely responsible for the spread of the virus in India. 

In April, the Union home ministry directed state governments to initiate criminal action against the Tablighi Jamat members who had attended the congregation in New Delhi. Consequently, police in many parts of India began registering cases against foreign Tablighi Jamaat members. Various courts gave judgments acquitting the arrested. The Bombay High Court observed, “A political government tries to find the scapegoat when there is pandemic or calamity and the circumstances show that there is probability that these foreigners were chosen to make them scapegoats.” The court added, “The aforesaid circumstances and the latest figures of infection in India show that such action against present petitioners should not have been taken”(Thapar & Wahidi, 2020)

This islamophobic propaganda and state action coupled with the biased media reporting led to common Muslims in India facing socio-economic boycotts, discrimination in accessing medical facilities, hate crimes and general humiliation in public spaces and housing colonies. These will be dealt in details in other parts of this report.

CAA protests:

The passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2020 was a watershed in Indian history. It marked a shift from the guarantees of secular democracy promised in the Constitution and the determination of a vindictive government to plunge an entire nation in turmoil given the disastrous effects that NRC process unfolded in Assam. Outraged with the blatant contempt for constitutional democracy shown by the government, anti- CAA/NRC protests followed throughout the country. The movement was spearheaded by young university students, Muslim women and supported by intellectuals and other civil society actors. The state came down in the most visceral manner to quell dissent and protest by using the most brutal naked violence with no pretense of legal or constitutional propriety.

The BJP leaders, in fact, ministers instigated Hindu supremacists to indulge in violence against protestors. The ominous slogans given by Anurag Mishra, Union Minister, “desh ke gaddaron ko (traitors of this country), goli maro saalon ko” (shoot down the traitors) at a rally in Delhi were a cue which was followed by unleashing of deadly violence by Hindu supremacist groups. Obviously, Anurag Thakur’s hate speech was not investigated into or no punishment meted out to him for his role in instigating the violence that followed. Subsequently, shootings by supremacist youth were carried out at Rajghat, outside Jamia Milia Islamia, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, at Shaheen Baug injuring a score of innocent students and protestors. Ironically, recently Kapil Gujjar who shot at Shaheen Baug was given BJP Party membership, only to be withdrawn after a couple of hours after the move was criticized and condemned. In all these incidents of violence, the police were passive by standers and spectators leading to impression of their complicity or didn’t take adequate action to ensure justice.

Though these vicious and concerted attacks on students and universities were condemnable, the worst was to come in the form of communal riots in February 2020. The orchestrated attacks in the parts of Delhi against Muslims claimed over 50 lives with heart wrenching stories of merciless slaughter of Muslims by Hindu supremacists intoxicated and consumed by hatred for Muslims. Tombs of Mosques were torn down and saffron flags unfurled. Muslim youth were chased and murdered. All this, while the police chose to be mute spectator, failing abysmally in its duty to protect the innocent victim. Not only were they mere spectators but their role was alleged to be partisan and targeting the Muslims in this violence. “During the recent riots in Delhi the role of the police has been very reprehensible,” said SR Darapuri, a retired senior police officer from Uttar Pradesh. “They not only openly sided with the Hindu mobs attacking Muslims but also used brutal force against them. They purposely failed to respond to the SOS calls from the Muslims trapped in many violence-hit areas. Evidently, the role of the police has been communal, unethical and unprofessional.”(Ellis-Peterson & Shaikh, 2020)

The catalyst for the riots is widely acknowledged to have been a comment by Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, who on 23 February issued a public ultimatum declaring that if the police did not clear the streets of a protest against a new citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim, his supporters would be “forced to hit the streets” and “won’t listen to the police”. (The Indian Express, 2020). While there are testimonies after testimonies of the victims and even perpetrators who swear by the complicity of the police in aiding the attack, there is no justice done in the case of riots. The perpetrators, with a sense of impunity and emboldened by statements of the leaders went amok gutting down houses of the Muslims and killing them. It is sufficiently clear that the violence was anti-Muslim driven by revenge against the anti-CAA protests.

However, their victimization didn’t stop there. The UP government demanded that rioters pay damages or face the seizure of their properties even before their guilt was proven was against targeting the Muslim community. Random Muslim residents were implicated in cases with no evidence and notices sent to them. The UP administrators to completely humiliate and harass the protestors against CAA, put up the hoardings of their pictures and addresses in Lucknow. They are implicated in false cases of arson and vandalism. Eventually, the Allahabad High Court in March 2020 called this action as an unwarranted interference in the privacy of people” and asked for these hoardings to be removed.

In the present case, the cause is not about personal injury caused to the persons whose personal details are given in the banner but the injury caused to the precious constitutional value and its shameless depiction by the administration. The cause as such is undemocratic functioning of government agencies which are supposed to treat all members of the public with respect and courtesy and at all times should behave in a manner that upholds constitutional and democratic values,” the judgment read (Indian Express, 2020).

 Special Commissioner of Police Praveer Ranjan post the Delhi riots, issued a letter to chiefs of teams probing the Northeast Delhi riots, which stated that arrests of “some Hindu youth” from riot-hit areas has led to a “degree of resentment among the Hindu community”. The letter cautioned the chiefs about action against the Hindu youth hinting to go easy on them. He ordered, “Due care and precaution be taken while arresting any person. All evidences including direct and technical evidences be properly analysed and that all the arrests are backed by sufficient evidence be ensured. No arbitrary arrest should be made in any case and all evidences must be discussed with Special PPs (public prosecutors) assigned for each case,” it states, adding: “Supervisory officers ACPs/DCPs — SIT & Additional CP/Crime (Headquarters) may guide the IOs (investigating officers) suitably (Manral, 2020).” This blatant bias and move to influence the probe has raised doubts about the impartiality of the investigation led by the police and even made the courts question this order.


The role of police was the most shocking not only in the riots but also overall in quelling dissent in the anti-CAA protests- all in keeping with the policy laid out by their political bosses. The police stormed into Jamia Milia Islamia and arbitrarily beat up students in December 2019 leading to serious injuries to the students. Subsequently, teachers and students were brutally attacked in JNU by masked mob that roamed around freely for almost three hours in the campus, ransacking hostels and hitting students, teachers, and security guards with stones and iron rods. The students have alleged that police didn’t respond to their plea of help and protection, thereby allowing this brutal attack to continue. No arrests were made though an ABVP member was identified. While in JMI, the police entered the campus on its own accord citing the reason of controlling “rioters”, in the case of JNU, the police stalled and allowed the attack uninterrupted stating that they could not enter the campus without the administration’s permission. In November, 2020, a Delhi police fact-finding committee inquiring into the January 5th violence inside the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus has given a ‘clean chit’ to the force in their alleged role.

The Covid pandemic and lockdown was seized by the state as an opportunity to arrest protestors of the anti-CAA movement. These arrests included the arrest of the pregnant student, Safoora Zargar.  Over a 1000 feminists have demanded the release of anti-CAA Muslim women activists under the garb of the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown. They alleged that over 800 such protestors were arrested in the lockdown. “Media reports that over 800 anti-CAA protesters have been held or arrested since the COVID-19 lockdown, which means they have had little or no access to lawyers and legal aid, and their families given no information of their whereabouts for extended periods after they were in custody,” they said (The Hindu, 2020). The arrests are arbitrary with a sense of political vendetta while the likes of Anurag Thakur and Kapil Mishra have not been brought to justice.


The definite tilt of the state to far right and the policies it is pursuing accordingly are destroying the social fabric of India. The policies are institutionalizing inequality, discrimination and persecution against religious minorities. As mentioned earlier, unfortunately this structural violence is not perceived as violence but just innocuous policies. But these policies have had a far reaching impact as they are translating into hate crimes, hate speeches and hatred on the ground level. This is altering the social weave of India. 

Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

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