As tensions rose in northeast Delhi on February 23 following a rally by BJP’s Kapil Mishra to oppose anti-CAA protesters gathering at Jafrabad Metro station, members of both communities created several WhatsApp groups to circulate inflammatory texts, audio and video messages and rally the crowds, a police probe has found.
The bulk of WhatsApp groups were created between February 23 and 24. The Indian Express has learnt that several old videos, not linked to northeast Delhi, were forwarded as those of current incidents to inflame passions.
For instance, one video showed men taking out guns from boxes of ghee for distribution. Police later found that the video was from a press conference held by Delhi Police when they had arrested gun-runners last year.
The WhatsApp groups were also used to give real-time information on where to gather, and which shops and homes to target, it is learnt.
“We are in the process of ascertaining their involvement by checking phone locations when violence broke out. We have got some specific information about local criminals and their alleged role in connection with the murder cases,” a senior police officer said.
The interrogation reports of a few men who have been arrested revealed they had cases of snatching, robbery, pickpocketing registered against them.
“Ten men were arrested from Dayalpur police station area on February 24 on the charge of rioting. It was revealed during questioning that they were standing at Sherpur Chowk when they heard that homes of people from their community were attacked. They started pelting stones, damaged vehicles and set several shops on fire,” police sources said.
The men also looked at car accessories to ascertain the religion of vehicle owners. “Those arrested said that before setting a car on fire, they would check if there was a name on the car or if there was an idol placed inside,” an officer said.
These groups were formed by members of both communities on February 24 and several messages were sent on these groups. “In their messages, they asked everyone to come out of their homes to save their lives. Some audio messages were also posted on the group where people were heard discussing the damage in their area,” police sources said.
Police also found that local leaders from the area had called musclemen from neighbouring Loni and Ghaziabad on the night of February 24. “We have identified some of them and are trying to get more details after questioning local residents,” police sources said.
When these musclemen reached northeast Delhi, they were split into groups of 20-25 each. Two-three local men from the area were added to each group to help identify the community of those whose homes or shops were being targeted, police said.
The Special Investigation Team has asked all thirteen police stations in the district to provide a list of criminals of the area. “We are checking their roles after ascertaining mobile phone locations when violence broke out. We have so far lodged 436 FIRs in connection with the violence, 46 cases under the Arms Act. We have arrested 34 people and detained another 1427,” a senior police officer said.