Ismat Ara

Messages boasting of fearsome violence leavened with warnings about a Muslim conspiracy and praise for BJP leaders. 

New Delhi: At 11:44 pm on February 26, a message sent on a WhatsApp group boasted of the murders of two men. It read: “Tumhare Bhai ne abhi 9 bje k krib b.vihar m 2 mulla mare hai (Your buddy has just killed two mullahs [derogatory word used for Muslims] in Bhagrirathi Vihar at around 9 pm).”

On the morning of February 27, the lifeless bodies of two brothers – Mohammad Aamir and Hashim Ali, aged 30 and 16 – were found in a drain in Bhagirathi Vihar, covered with gory wounds.

The night before, Asghari, their mother, had received a phone call from Aamir. “Paanch minute mein ghar pahunch jayengey (We will be home in five minutes),” he had told her. But he never came home. Neither did his brother. There were communal riots in Delhi at the time. Aamir and Hashim were two among the more than 50 victims of the violence.

Aamir’s eight months pregnant wife and two daughters are now alone. She is still observing her iddat (Islamic period of waiting after being widowed or divorced) and prays all day, every day for justice for Aamir.

Months after the riots, many of the killings which took place are still being investigated. While the police say the riots are a conspiracy hatched by students and activists involved in the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protest to discredit the Modi government and have arrested several of them under stringent anti-terrorism laws, a chargesheet filed in June has revealed for the first time the involvement of a WhatsApp group of Hindutva extremists in mobilising crowds and organising deadly acts of violence during the riots.

In a statement, Delhi Police Additional PRO Anil Mittal said: “During the investigation of these cases, it was found that during the peak rioting, a ‘Whatsapp’ group was created in the intervening night of 25/26.02.2020, which had 125 members. Two active members of this ‘Whatsapp’ group were located and joined in the investigation. During the investigation, their mobile phones were scanned and the specific ‘Whatsapp’ group created on 25.02 was also identified. During the further investigation, it was revealed that while some members of these groups were only sending and receiving chats, few others were involved in active rioting (sic).”

In February and March, at least 11 bodies were fished out of the drains in North East Delhi’s riot-affected areas. Officially, 53 people were killed in the riots and there was massive damage to property and shops owned by people from both the Hindu and the Muslim communities. In addition, a number of mosques and mausoleums were attacked or defiled.

By March 8, 47 members had exited the WhatsApp group, according to the police.

The WhatsApp Group was first named ‘Kattar Hindut Ekta (a misspelling of ‘Kattar Hindu Ekta’). This was later changed to ‘Hindu Ekta Zindabad.’ The name was changed at least four times to such titles as ‘Hindu Unity’ and ‘Hindu Ekta Group.’

However, the nature of conversation on this group remained the same – it was a group meant to mobilise rioters, keep an eye on their respective neighbourhoods, kill “Mullahs” and share arms and ammunition.

The Wire accessed about a hundred pages’ worth of WhatsApp chats in this group, all sent between February 25 and March 8. The messages make it clear that the group was used by its members to mobilise crowds, identify Muslims, stay updated about the situation in their neighbourhoods and pump up the members’ morale.

Boasting murder, burning madrasas
In the about 1,000 ‘Kattar Hindut Unity’ WhatsApp group chat posts available with The Wire, messages of violence and murder were often posted with a strong sense of pride.

For instance, on February 25, messages included, “Ganga Vihar, Gokul Puri, Jhoripur, In sab jagha gumha Hu. Or 23 mullao k sir faade hai (I have been to Ganga Vihar, Gokul Puri, Jhoripur. And burst open 23 mullahs’ heads.)”

The person who sent this message then requested the group members to cooperate with the boys [rioters] who were out on the streets.

The same day at 8:14 pm, a message boasted about burning down a madrasa, an Islamic institution for Islamic studies.

At 10:47 pm on February 26, a message on the group read, “Bhagirathi Vihar gali no. 4 me bhi mullon ki ghusne ki khabar aa rahi hai kripya sabhi Hindu bhaiyon se anurodh hai ki bilkul tayyar rahein aur apni safety ka poora intazam rakhein aur inn mullon ki gaand phaad dengey (We heard that mullahs are now entering lane number four, Bhagirathi Vihar. I request all Hindu brothers to be prepared, take full precautions and tear them apart).”

On February 27 at 1:50 am, a message on the group read: “Bhai sonu mulla nm h jise pkda h (The mullah we have caught here is named Sonu).”

The replies to this message read, “Ye saale naam bhi Hindu hi rakhte hain,” and “First identify karlo.” (“These bastards use Hindu names, first identify them.”)

At 4:05 am the same day, another message said, “Or agr kuch hota h to Jai shree ram ka Nara lagai (If something happens, chant Jai Shree Ram)” and “Shak ho to check kre sb (If you have doubts [about the religious identity of the people you catch] – check them).”

On February 28 at 3:24 pm, a message said: “Aaj hmne Bhagirathi Vihar Gali No. 1 me Namaz nhi padne Di Bhaga Diya Mullo ki (Today, we didn’t let Mullahs offer namaz in Bhagirathi Vihar’s Lane no. 1).”

Repeated references to Kapil Mishra, Modi
On February 23, before the riots had broken out in North East Delhi, Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, had called for the police to clear the anti-CAA protest site at Jaffrabad, a neighbourhood in North-East Delhi, failing which he threatened to gather his supporters and clear the roads himself.

Passed by parliament in December 2019, the CAA controversially makes religion the basis on which India will give citizenship to persecuted minorities from several countries. People of all religions except Islam are the beneficiaries of this Act. The CAA has been criticised as discriminatory by the UN’s human rights experts.

The passing of the Act in December 2019 led to protests all over India. Delhi saw sit-down protests in several areas, which went on for around two months. While the protestors were peaceful, they were threatened with attacks. On two occasions, lone gunmen fired at them, though without causing any casualties.  But in the third week of February, as the protests spread, there was a sharpening of the rhetoric BJP leaders used against them. The riots took place soon after.

More than 700 criminal cases were registered in the aftermath of the violence. Over the last month, the Delhi police have also filed multiple chargesheets. Kapil Mishra has not been named in any of the chargesheets so far.

A video of Mishra’s speech was repeatedly posted on the Kattar Hindut Ekta WhatsApp group with the caption: “Kapil Mishra ki iss video ko sunein, samjhein, aur bahut mehnat karke poore Hindustan me bhejein kyun ki ye bahut sahi hai hundred percent desh hith me hai, itna toh kar hi sakte hain mere dost (Listen to Kapil Mishra on this video, understand it and make the effort to send it across India because it is in favour of the nation. Friends, you can do this much at least).”

One of the early messages on the WhatsApp group, sent on February 25 at 9:13 pm, defended Mishra. It said, “I noticed that many intellectual people are writing to say Kapil Mishra is guilty. How is he guilty? All he said was that if the road blockade isn’t lifted, CAA supporters will also come out onto the streets. This is completely constitutional.”

Another message on the group said, “Jaisey hi Kapil Mishra ne kaha ki har jagah Shaheen Bagh nahin banne dengey aur teen din me sadak khaali karo kyun ki mujhey apney desh sey pyaar hai turant aisa danga bhadka ki sabb aisey pagla gaye ki Kapil Mishra ko turant danga bhadkaane waale kehne lage. Sabne aapa khol diya…” (As soon as Kapil Mishra said I will not let another Shaheen Bagh be created everywhere, vacate the roads because I love my country … immediately, riots started and everybody started calling him an inciter of riots. Everybody lost their minds).”

A forwarded message on the group talks about how jihad is spread. Luring Hindu women into marrying Muslim men is among the many ways jihad is used, it says. “Wo apney chetra me ladies tailor ki dukaan kholengey ya chudi bechengey, aisey kaam karengey jissey mahilaaon sey unka sampark badh sake aur love jihad ko badhaya jaa sake,” one of the points read. (“They will open up tailor shops in our areas or sell bangles, they will do such jobs that will ensure that they talk more to our [Hindu] women and love jihad [Based on the assumption that Muslim men seek to marry Hindu women with the intent to convert them to Islam] can be increased.”)

The chant of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ was invoked over 70 times in the messages on this group, while Kapil Mishra was mentioned more than 15 times in the chat details available with The Wire and Prime Minister Narendra Modi featured nearly 20 times, mostly in forwarded messages.

The words ‘Azadi’ and ‘Shaheen Bagh’ also featured in the messages, each occurring more than five times. A message on February 15 at 8:12 PM asked Hindu ‘brothers’ to give them [Muslims] ‘Azadi (freedom).’ “Bahut hua inka randi rona. Inko koi azadi nhi de payga ab Hindu bhaiyo ko deni hogi enko azadi (They have been crying for freedom for a long time and nobody has been able to give it to them. Now it is upon us [Hindu] brothers to give them azadi).”

Replies to this message included: “Inke Masjid me aag laga di hai (We burnt their mosques),” “Haan bhai shi h rnki ma chodni h ab (Yes, brother, very good, now we have to rape their mothers).”

Target coordination, communal slurs and ‘morale building’
A message sent on the group on February 25 at 11:44 am, said: “Bhaiyo bagriti vihar m aao jaldi, gali no. 3 (Come quickly to Bhagirathi Vihar, lane No. 3).” Replies were prompt. Some said they would be there within five minutes.

Many times, messages claimed that a “riot” had started in a particular area and that others should get there as soon as possible. In response, group members would ask for locations to be posted on the group. Group members also sought the support of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and Bajrang Dal, asking each other on the group to “contact them for help.”

On February 25 at 8 pm, one message read: “Brothers, people from RSS have come here to support us in Brijpuri.” Another message read: “Aur 9 mullo ko maar diya gya hai Brijpuri puliya pr (Nine more Muslims have been killed on the Brijpuri bridge).”

Muslims were identified with slurs. Sometimes, group members even called for direct violence, especially against women. Messages read: “Masjidon ki maa chodo,” (F**k Mosques), “Jo bahar baithi thi…mullani unhe chodo (The Mullanis [slur used for Muslim women] sitting outside the mosque…rape them).”

A similar set of messages was sent on February 25 at 9:08 pm. “Are sabki maa chodo (Rape their mothers),” “Dekha jaega (We will see),” “Dekho bhaiyo jo hoga ab bo to hoga hi par kisi mulle ko chordna mat sale ko jane se marna (Now whatever has to happen, will happen. But don’t leave any Mullahs – kill them).”

Members who left the group were often called “impotent” and “cowardly.”

‘Hindu khatre mein hai’ forwards bind rioters
One forward on the group says: “A Mathematical Sum If you know Math, then tell me! Between 1947-2017, if the population of Muslims who stayed behind in India [instead of going to Pakistan after independence] has become ten times more, what will be their population during our sons’ lifespan in the next 70 years?” The answer lies in the same WhatsApp message: “Ten times, again, meaning 300 crores…”

The message continued: “And think what will happen then. What will happen to our savings, our occupations, our work, our temples, our daughter who goes to school, our constitution, our caste pride, our reservation, our leaders and the people of our caste? Is that when our selfish minds will be able to come up with a solution?”

It added: “Then what happened with Kashmiri pandits will be repeated. They still had India to take refuge in. What will you [Hindus] have?”

Some messages on the group demanded a ban on loudspeakers for azaan (call for prayer), while some talked about creating a deep-seated fear among Muslims. One such message reads: “Banao saalon ke andar khauf (Create a fear among Muslims).”

Other messages suggest that this was not the only group of its kind on WhatsApp at the time of the riots. For instance, a set of messages on the group talk about a man who was videoed while setting a mausoleum on fire. When this video began to spread on social media, the group administrators told the members of the group to delete that video so the man could not be identified.

The group often also called for members to let go of caste divisions during the time and function as a Hindu unit. The messages often mentioned rioters being ready with weapons. Some even discussed the ‘right kind of bullets’ for their pistols, while others cheered them on.

Many forwards in the group repeatedly talked about a hypothetical Muslim domination in the future, where Hindu rights would be threatened. A forwarded message of this nature read: “In the times of need, we can learn from our enemies, too.”

It continued: “Look at the reasons: They [Muslims] called their relatives from other states, funds were collected, conspiracy was hatched, some leaders were selected, stones were collected, petrol bombs were made, acid was stored in packets, big slings were prepared, same colour helmets were bought in lakhs so they could identify their own people, they wrote ‘No NRC’ on their shops to save them from arson, Hindu areas were marked, Hindu houses and shops were marked, strategy was made for attack, and where to run from after the attack, no videos were made, victim card was used on social media, then they started talking about brotherhood, then wished for peace and sobbed in front of the media.”

There have been no credible reports of any of these things happening, yet the charge became a handy tool to present the group’s own violent mobilisation as a ‘response’.

The same message went on: “Now look within yourself – what did we [Hindus] do? Kapil Mishra is being used as a scapegoat [to implicate Hindus]. #I-STAND-WITH-KAPIL-MISHRA.”

Of the 53 people who officially lost their lives in the February 2020 Delhi riots, more than two-thirds were Muslims.

The police have, so far, seized the mobile phones of 12 members of this group. The messages on the group, according to the police will be considered voluntary confessions to be used in court.

The chargesheet filed in the case identifies 11 accused, nine of whom have been arrested. The names of the arrested are: Lokesh Solanki, 19, Pankaj Sharma, 31, Sumit Chaudhary, 23, Ankit Chaudhary, 23, Prince, 22, Jatin Sharma, 19, Himanshu Thakur, 19, Vikas Panchal, 20, and Rishab Chaudhary, 20. The nine men have been charged with murder, rioting with a deadly weapon and criminal conspiracy.

Courtesy The Wire