If you know the Delhi police’s narrative about the carnage in the capital, you can skip the book. It offers nothing new, except new bunkum. Some of the old falsehoods it peddles had already been debunked by this correspondent, who was on the ground during the violence.
If you have followed the fracas surrounding Delhi Riots 2020: An Untold Story on Twitter, it is time to stop being grim and grumpy about the book. It does have its funny moments. Leafing through a draft last evening, I came across a passage on page 32 that made me chuckle. The authors — Monika Arora, Prerna Malhotra and Sonali Chitalkar — are arguing how the arguments of anti-CAA protesters were not “verifiable” and “sustainable”.
“First, they argued that an anti-Muslim Act had been passed,” they say, but then add: “However, the fact is that the word ‘Muslim’ has not even once been used in the amended Act.”
That is awkward reasoning because the absence of that word was the primary grouse of the protesters. The Act, passed last December, said “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan” who had come to India before December 31, 2014 would not be treated as an “illegal migrant”.
The book’s title is its original sin. There is nothing in it that is untold about February’s carnage in Delhi’s northeast district. What it offers has been told over and over again – by the Delhi police, the spokespersons of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Hindu rightwing. The Delhi riots were an “urban warfare” against India and the Indian government, “engineered by radical Muslims and Urban Maoists” – that’s the book’s summary expounded over more than 100 tedious pages.
The book employs the wink-wink, nudge-nudge school of anti-Muslim bigotry. Even the one-sided information – I won’t say facts – that it does offer is outdated and does not incorporate any developments of the police’s investigation into the carnage. Scrutiny is reserved only for the critics and the political opponents of the governing BJP. Kapil Mishra’s infamous ultimatum is whitewashed and the authors dwell chiefly on casualties among the Hindus.
The backgrounds of the authors undermine any claim to fairness or objectivity. The main author, Monika Arora, is linked to the BJP. Journalist Radhika Ramaseshan’s column in Mumbai Mirror tells us that Arora emerged from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student affiliate of the Sangh Parivar. She had fought the 2003 Delhi Assembly election on a BJP ticket. Curiously, Arora was instrumental in pushing Penguin to withdraw American scholar Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism in 2014. (She seems to have had a change of heart since. “They cannot tolerate anyone who doesn’t agree with them,” she told the Indian Express on August 23.)
Arora is also the convener of a body called the Group of Academic and Intellectuals, on whose fact-finding report the book is based. A 2017 profile of the GIA on News18 claimed that many of its members were “associated with Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of the RSS”.
The actual event, the communal conflagration, is only limited to 10-15 pages in the book’s sixth chapter. The first 77 pages are dedicated to a defence of the CAA — no more robust than the specimen stated above — “The Theory of Urban Naxalism and Jihadism”, the Shaheen Bagh protests and the police crackdown in Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University in December 2019.
The book is replete with misinformation, distortions and exaggerations. The first piece appears in its foreword — the second page of the book, in fact — where former police officer P C Dogra attributes to Jawaharlal Nehru a quote that he was “by culture a Muslim and Hindu only by accident of birth”. Nehru never made this remark. It was falsely attributed to him by Hindu Mahasabha leader NB Khare in 1959.
There is more. On page 100, the authors claim that “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans were raised at Shaheen Bagh. The book doesn’t provide a reference for this claim – probably because there isn’t any. On page 37, they claim that slogans such as “Hinduon Se Azadi” were raised during the protests. This never happened. Activist Harsh Mander’s speech at Jamia is misquoted on page 60 to demonstrate his contempt for the Supreme Court. This was originally an Amit Malviya ploy that was later busted by fact checkers.
The book justifies the lathicharge on Jamia students in their library because, as it falsely claims on page 45, “it was proved that rioters had taken shelter in the university library which had led police to take action”. Talking about the AMU violence the same day, it says the police was “forced to use mild baton charge” to “disperse the violent crowd”. Nonsense. I was in AMU that day and reported how unsuspecting students were teargassed in their hostel rooms, stripped naked in police custody, and held to trees and caned by police personnel.
On page 74, the authors allege that 4,000 protesters took to the streets in South Delhi’s Hauz Rani on February 23 and raised “extremely provocative” slogans outside a Shiva temple (again, there is no reference for this, nor did the media report such an incident at the time). On page 78, they claim that this protest had 5,000 people.
This volley of falsity and fabrication against anti-CAA protesters, particularly Muslims, is complemented by crucial omissions of the BJP’s inflammatory rhetoric. There is no mention of the “Goli Maaro” provocations by BJP minister Anurag Thakur or the hatemongering statements by the party’s MP Parvesh Verma. We do not read about home minister Amit Shah’s nine election rallies in Northeast Delhi, where anti-Muslim dogwhistling was part of the menu. Or about that time Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ajay Bisht showed up in Karawal Nagar and told a bustling audience that “their ancestors broke this country apart”, meaning Muslims.
Kapil Mishra, the “guest of honour” at the launch of the book, comes across as a statesman. His ultimatum from February 23, when he stood atop a rock at Maujpur Chowk, beside a senior police officer, and threatened to disrupt law and order, is entirely whitewashed. “BJP leader Kapil Mishra was at the spot at 3 pm, as some people had gone to call him to diffuse the situation,” the book says on page 87. “Since he is a locally respected person, the police sought his help to talk to the people and help clear the place. Mishra asked the police to remove the anti-CAA protesters from the Jaffrabad Metro Station.”
Muslims – ”radical Muslims”, “Islamic radicals”, “jihadi elements”, “radicalised militant Muslims” – constitute a “murderous mob” in the book, but Hindus are “mobilised primarily due to anxieties generated by the total blockage of Jaffrabad Metro Station by the Muslim women on 23 February”.
The pages dedicated to the gruesome murder of Intelligence Bureau staffer Ankit Sharma – described as “another martyr” – are disgraceful. We see evocations of ISIS, Syria and Pakistan to needle the reader to associate his murderers with a sinister international conspiracy. And then there is this dog whistle on page 94: “It needs to be remembered that Ankit Sharma was not an individual but a representative of an institution – an institution which a section of the society loathes”. (Emphasis added.)
On February 25, the day Sharma was murdered, journalist Rahul Kotiyal from Dainik Bhaskar was in Chand Bagh. In his ground report, Kotiyal wrote that despite the ruckus created by Hindu mobs, the presence of CRPF and civilian pacifists in the area had paused the violence. “We are also helpless. We haven’t been told why we are deployed here when we don’t have orders to do anything. If we had orders, we would have tackled the rioters in 10 minutes and sent them home,” a CRPF man told the journalist. But at 3.30 pm, when the tension had hardly subsided, the CRPF personnel were mysteriously withdrawn, prompting Hindu and Muslim mobs to resume stone-pelting and arson.
“Almost half an hour after this, a Delhi police vehicle arrived,” Kotiyal wrote. “A Delhi police officer threw tear gas towards the group of Muslim residents. This prompted the Hindu group to start shouting ‘Delhi Police Zindabad’...It was an odd sight to see that Delhi police were taking clear sides in these riots.”
Why were the CRPF men not given direct orders to stop the violence? Why was the CRPF deployment withdrawn from a volatile Chand Bagh? Why did the Delhi police side with Hindu rioters? Since Sharma was murdered in the Chand Bagh-Khajoori Khas theatre of violence, these are important questions – but the book does not even pretend to ask them.
Sharma, we now know, was not the only victim who was murdered and dumped into a drain by the rioters. Aamir Khan, Hashim Ali, Hamza Khan, Bhure Ali, Aas Mohammad, Musharraf and Amin met the same fate. All of them were murdered by one mob over three days at the Johripur trisection near Gokulpuri. The Delhi police personnel were present on the culvert when these murders took place, but did nothing. Do the authors write even a word about these incidents, or question police inaction? Take a guess.
Lastly, the book does not state the most formidable fact of these riots: that of the 53 people who were killed, 40 were Muslim. It doesn’t state so because it belies its concocted hogwash of Jihadi-Naxal urban warfare that came close to being dignified under Bloomsbury India’s banner.
Despite its subsequent withdrawal from publishing the book, Bloomsbury can hardly escape criticism for agreeing to pour such a soup of lies on paper. The book is a shoddy piece of propaganda that pushes demonstrable falsehoods to not just malign Indian Muslims but also to reinforce the Narendra Modi regime’s “alternative facts” about the carnage.
Yet, journalists, who wouldn’t have published this trash had it been filed by their reporters, decried Bloomsbury’s decision to not publish it as an assault on free speech. One even compared it to the Satanic Verses episode. The only thing common between Salman Rushdie’s novel and this pamphlet is that they are both fiction – though the latter claims otherwise. Gautam Chikermane of the Observer Research Foundation said that the withdrawal “will set a new low in publishing standards”. Had Chikermane actually read the book — and he should since he heads a think tank — it might have dawned on him that publishing the book would have set the ultimate low in publishing standards.
The central issue here is not free speech, but editorial standards. Bloomsbury neglected these standards to publish the very first tome on the riots, catering to a growing constituency of readers sympathetic to the illiberalism of Hindutva. It probably thought, like Facebook, that state power in India today would shield it from any misadventure. But when the clamour became international, it had to withdraw.
After all, despite all the pieties about free speech, would Bloomsbury’s London office commission, say, distinguished racist Katie Hopkins to write a book on how immigration from Africa and West Asia was a jihadi ploy to introduce sharia in Europe? It wouldn’t dare. But somehow, in India, it was acceptable to push conspiracy theories about a real event that cost real lives.
Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story would have never made the cut in an editorial process where facts and reason are taken seriously. Bloomsbury might have embarrassed itself by clearing the book, but it preserved its dignity by timely throwing the trash out the window.
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