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A year later, victims of riots in India say justice is still not done

NEW DELHI (AP) – The gunman shouted “Victory to Lord Ram”, the Hindu god, before pulling the trigger which sent a bullet into Muhammad Nasir Khan’s left eye.

Khan rested his shaking hand in his bloody socket and his fingers slid deep into the wound. At that point, Khan was sure he would die.

Khan eventually survived the violence that killed 53 other people, mostly Muslim compatriots, when it engulfed his neighborhood in the Indian capital 12 months ago.

But a year after India’s worst communal riots in decades, the 35-year-old is still shaken and his attacker still unpunished. Khan says he was unable to get justice due to a lack of police interest in his case.

“My only crime is that my name identifies my religion,” Khan said at his home in the North Ghonda neighborhood of New Delhi.

Many Muslim victims of last year’s bloody violence said they had repeatedly faced police refusal to investigate complaints against Hindu rioters. Some hope that the courts will continue to help them. But others now believe the justice system under the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stacked up against them.

Adding to the sense of injustice is that accounts from Muslim victims as well as reports from advocacy groups indicated that leaders of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party and the New Delhi police force tacitly supported the crowds. Hindus during the feverish violence.

New Delhi police did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but insisted last year that their investigation was fair and that nearly 1,750 people had been recorded in connection with the riots, including half were Hindus. The little Home Secretary, G. Kishan Reddy, also told parliament that the police acted swiftly and impartially.

But a letter that a senior police official sent to investigators five months after the riots seemed to suggest they be gentle with Hindus suspected of violence, which drew criticism from Delhi’s High Court.

Communal clashes in India are nothing new, with periodic violence erupting since the British partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. But over the past seven years, observers say, the religious polarization fueled by the Hindu nationalist base of the Modi’s party has further deepened the situation. fault lines and increased tensions.

Many believe that the catalyst for last year’s riots was a fiery speech by Kapil Mishra, a leader of Modi’s party. On February 23, 2020, he issued an ultimatum to the police, warning them to end a sit-in of protesters protesting a new citizenship law that Muslims deem discriminatory, otherwise he and his supporters would do it themselves. .

When his supporters moved in, it sparked street battles that quickly turned into riots. For the next three days, Hindu mobs ransacked the streets to hunt down Muslims – in some cases burn them alive in their homes – and torch entire neighborhoods, including shops and mosques.

Mishra rejects the idea that he is responsible for the riots, calling these claims “propaganda” to cover up the “pre-planned genocide of Hindus by Muslims”. On Monday, he said his party had no connection with the violence, but added: “What I did last year, I will do it again if necessary”, referring to his speech a few hours before the start. riots.

Many members of the Hindu community in the region accuse Muslims of having started the violence in an attempt to paint India badly.

A year later, many Muslim riot victims still fear further bloodshed. Hundreds of people left their destroyed homes and moved elsewhere. Those who chose to stay fortified their quarters with metal gates in case of further mob attacks. Many say they fear that those responsible will never be held to account.

“Everything has changed since the riots,” Khan said. “I think I am slowly losing all my hopes for justice.”

Khan spent 20 days recovering in hospital after being shot. Since then he has sought justice which he says has been hampered by police at every turn.

Khan’s official complaint to the police, seen by the Associated Press, named at least six Hindus in his neighborhood who he said participated in the violence.

“The defendants always come to my house and threaten to kill my whole family,” Khan said in the complaint, adding that he was ready to identify them in court.

His complaint was never officially accepted.

The police, however, filed a complaint on their own. This gave a different version of events and places Khan at least one kilometer (0.6 miles) from where he was shot, suggesting he was wounded in the crossfire between the two warring groups. He did not identify his attackers.

The stories of many other Muslim victims follow a similar pattern. Police and investigators have dismissed hundreds of complaints against Hindu rioters, citing a lack of evidence despite multiple eyewitness accounts.

They include a man who saw his brother fatally shot, the father of a 4-month-old baby who saw his house burned down, and a young boy who lost both of his arms after Hindu mobs threw a crass bomb on him.

Now, many make weekly trips to attorney Mehmood Pracha’s office, in the hope that justice will be served. Very few have seen their attackers put behind bars. Many more are still waiting for their cases to go to court.

Pracha, a Muslim, represents at least 100 riot victims free of charge. He said there were several cases in which the police had received videos of Hindu crowds, many of whom had ties to Modi’s party, “but it appears the police were keen to involve Muslims” in them. riots.

He said that in many cases Muslims were also “threatened with withdrawing their complaints”.

“The police acted as a partner in the crime,” Pracha said.

Several videos of the riots seen by the PA show police instigating Hindu mobs to throw stones at Muslims, destroying surveillance cameras and beating a group of Muslim men – one of whom later died.

Several independent fact-finding missions and rights groups documented the role of the police in the riots.

In June 2020, Human Rights Watch said that “the police did not respond adequately” during the riots and were sometimes “complicit” in attacks against Muslims. He said the authorities “failed to conduct an impartial and transparent investigation”.

Recently, Haroon, who has a name, said he was “always afraid to go out at night.”

He saw his brother Maroof shot and killed by his Hindu neighbors during the riots. The police never identified the accused in his complaint despite several eyewitnesses.

In turn, Haroon said, he was threatened by the police and the accused withdrew his complaint.

“We were alone then and we are alone now,” he said almost in tears as his late brother’s two children sat next to him.

Haroon looked at them and said, “I don’t know what to do.”

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