They are identified in court documents only as X and Y — two mystery witnesses Delhi Police claim have come forward to depose against activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Umar Khalid, who have been charged with involvement in the February communal riots in the Capital’s north-east district.
X and Y, now in protective custody, made statements before metropolitan magistrate Fahad Uddin last month, claiming they were part of protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, alongside Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage, a collective of women students) members and Jawaharlal Nehru University students Narwal and Kalita.
A statement made before a judge is admissible evidence during trial, and the testimony of X and Y could form the mainstay of the state’s case against Narwal, Kalita and Khalid if the witnesses don’t turn hostile.
Kalita and Narwal were arrested on May 24 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, an anti-terror law, for alleged involvement in the late February Delhi riots, which started as a clash between anti-CAA and pro-CAA protestors before becoming a full-blown communal riot. They have both denied involvement in the riots, which left 53 people dead and around 400 injured.
Also read: Delhi Police file charge sheet in riots conspiracy against 15 accused
Police have charged at least 11 persons for orchestrating the riots, which include former AAP leader Tahir Hussain, and student activists Safoora Zargar and Meeran Haider.
Khalid, a former JNU student leader, was arrested on Sunday night under UAPA. He, too, has denied involvement; and his lawyer has told the court. While Narwal and Kalita have been charged, Khalid is yet to be named in the charge sheet.
Delhi Police has so far filed over 200 charge sheets in the riots case, identifying at least 21 people who allegedly conspired and orchestrated the violence. On Wednesday, it filed another charge sheet, naming 15 accused, including Pinjra Tod members Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and politician Tahir Hussain.
A statement of one of the accused persons arrested in the riots, which was attached in the charge sheet had the names of political leaders and academicians such as Sitaram Yechury and Yogendra Yadav, Apoorvanand and Jayati Ghosh, and has become controversial although police say they have not been charged or named as accused.
At the same time, several people — including politicians, civil society members and former IPS officers — have criticised the police for the lack of police action against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra, who was seen giving an inflammatory speech in north-east Delhi a day before the violence broke out on February 24.
Mishra, who denies all charges, on Monday released a video congratulating the police for arresting Khalid and “people like him”, and likened the riots with the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
According to court papers seen by HT, Delhi Police found X and Y during their investigation of the riots and the two agreed to testify as witnesses for the state; they claimed to have observed Narwal, Kalita and Khalid closely during the alleged planning of the riots at the anti-CAA protest sites since January. .
On August 14, the police approached the metropolitan magistrate at Karkardooma court requesting that the two main witnesses be placed in protective custody because they feared for their lives after making the statements against the three activists. In their application before the court, the police said that the two persons were witnesses to the planning of the riots.
The police also attached to the application the cell phone locations of the two witnesses and matched them with those of Narwal, Kalita and Khalid to claim that X and Y had been at the same places in north-east Delhi as the three activists at different times since January.
“They used code words within their group members to convey secret messages regarding further line of their protest/riot in front of common people. They also gave hate speeches at Jafrabad Metro Station and continuously were present there till last,” read the police’s submission on the three accused, quoting one of the witnesses.
According to the police, the second witness, Y, said that in the last week of January, Khalid held a private meeting at the anti-CAA protesters’ makeshift office near the old bus stand in Seelampur during which he allegedly said “speeches were not sufficient now because the government was against Muslims”.
Police have quoted Khalid’s alleged words: “Khoon bahana padega aise nahi chalega chakka jaam hi aakhri rasta hai hame sarkar ko ghutno ke bal laana hi hoga sanghiyon ki sarkar aise nahi maanegi. (Blood must be spilled. Road blockade is the last resort. We have to bring the government on its knees or else this right-wing government will not understand.)”
HT contacted the lawyers of Kalita, Narwal and Khalid for their responses. Kalita and Narwal’s counsel refused to make comments and said they would respond before the court. Khalid’s counsel did not respond until Wednesday night.
Also read: Delhi Police targeting CAA-NRC critics, says Umar Khalid in video recorded before arrest
The statement of the two witnesses may be admissible evidence, but the context and the meaning of the words allegedly used by Khalid and the veracity of the two witnesses can be contested during trial.
Khalid’s arrest has also been criticised by politicians, activists and academicians as an attempt to muzzle anti-government voices.
Advocate and social activist Prashant Bhushan on Wednesday said, “It is a conspiracy to let off those against whom unimpeachable evidence is available to show their involvement in these riots.”
Nine retired Indian Police Service officers on Monday wrote to Delhi’s police commissioner SN Srivastava, saying they were “pained” at the police implicating anti-CAA protesters while “letting off the hook all those who instigated violence and are associated by the ruling party”. Though the letter did not mention any names, BJP leaders Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma were criticised at the time for speeches and slogans ahead of the Delhi elections in February.
Khalid’s counsel Trideep Pais told the court on Monday that his client was against the Citizenship Amendment Act; he was unashamed of this fact, was not in Delhi at the time of the riots, and was not involved in any violence, the lawyer added.
Narwal and Kalita have also told the court before that although they were prominent voices of the anti-CAA protests, the police’s allegations that they orchestrated the violence were false. Their counsel also told the court in case hearings that police did not possess any video or audio recording in which they are heard inciting violence.
Delhi police officers did not offer to comment about the two witnesses. Senior police officers, who are authorised to be quoted, said they have already made their submission in court.