Fact Finding: False arrests, police violence and lack of housing rights in Rithala, Delhi
Delhi Police: ‘You will suffer the fate of the Palestinians.’
Fact-finding report on false arrests, police violence and lack of housing rights among migrant workers in Rithala, Delhi
This was a statement made by Budh Vihar S.H.O. Khemander Pal Singh, who led a police action in a jhuggi-jhopdi settlement in North West Delhi’s Rithala area on Tuesday, 2 November, 2021.
At around 10.30 pm that night, two Delhi Police buses and SUVs entered the area known to locals as Bangali Basti and took 52 male residents into custody. A F.I.R. has been registered against nine for rioting, unlawful assembly and damage to public property (see Annexure A).
Residents have stated on record that a team led by S.H.O. Singh lathi-charged the crowd which had gathered on hearing about the arrests, including two pregnant women and minors. They also allege that several of the police personnel, all of whom were male, were in an intoxicated state and used sexually-abusive language, referred to them as ‘Bangladeshis’ who would be removed by force.
Private hard-discs containing C.C.T.V. footage of the incident were forcibly taken away by police personnel, claiming that they contained evidence of stone pelting by local gang members after a raid on a satta (gambling) den in the area.
12 of the 52 taken into custody that night were minors and were let go the following morning. The remaining were detained illegally beyond 24 hours without being presented in court and were eventually produced before Rohini District Court (North West Delhi). It has been a week since but, as of the time of writing, Delhi Police’s delay in filing paperwork has held up the release of at least 18 residents.
Residents, including several senior citizens and minors, were showing visible injuries from the night when a team from Migrant Workers Solidarity Network visited two days after the incident. The area remained tense and several of the women we spoke to were unaware of the whereabouts of their male relatives.
This is the second time this year that arrests have been made in the locality on seemingly fabricated charges. The residents claim that they have faced constant harassment from dominant landowning groups in the area for the last several months and shared C.C.T.V. footage of a foiled arson attempt to burn the settlements earlier this year.
Our team found that the actions of the Budh Vihar S.H.O. were retributive, going beyond the S.O.P. for conducting search-and-seizure operations even if the rationale of busting a gambling racket were to be accepted. Our team found that this was not the actual motive for the police action. It appears to have been undertaken at the behest of a section of landowners to intimidate the migrant residents and clear off the jhuggi settlements.
About Bangali Basti
Bangali Basti is predominantly inhabited by a migrant Bengali population from Birbhum district in West Bengal. The majority of its residents are Muslim, involved in sorting garbage for recycling (kabadi) or paid domestic labour, while the surrounding areas are inhabited by landowning Thakurs.
The settlements are divided into two plots—the Lower and Upper Basti areas—the latter consists of roughly 2,200 gaz of which 1,000 gaz is registered in the name of one Asha, a.k.a. Mamoni, a local scrap vendor (see Annexure C for a copy of the title deed). Several residents and a local government officials stated that a strip at the frontal-end of the Lower Basti is government land on which public bathrooms have been constructed. There are over 450 jhuggi settlements in the area, housing a population of over 2,500 migrant workers.
Bangali Basti is at least two decades old. Several residents have been born in Delhi, are registered voters and PDS beneficiaries in the city. Many of them migrated here after demolition drives in surrounding areas. Only single home in the Lower Basti has a registered electricity connection.
A former elected ward councillor told a researcher that the settlements were built on lal dora land which was earlier slated by the Government of Delhi for consolidation. This was resisted by villagers and could not succeed.
When the Rithala extension was planned, landowning villagers had settled migrant workers in the area to stop the government from acquiring the land. Now, with no threat of government acquisition, locals are eyeing lucrative benefits from clearing the settlement and handing over the land to real estate sharks—several major sky-scrapers have come up adjacent to Bangali Basti in the last decade. It was being openly said among the landowners even back in 2014 that the basti would be set on fire to clear off the residents.
In December, 2016, a major fire razed all the jhuggis in the Lover Basti area (pictures in Annexure D). Residents claimed that they had been assured by the newly-elected Aam Aadmi Party government representatives in Delhi that the land they were on would be regularised and they would be provided access to basic civic amenities. After the fire drew political attention to the area, they stopped paying ‘rent’ to Ajit Babu, a Thakur strongman who use to extort the residents earlier.
2 November, 2021
Allahrakkha, a.k.a. Basirul, a garbage collector and vendor who lives in the Lower Basti zone was arrested from the mouth of the main road leading up to Bangali Basti in the evening of 2 November. Delhi Police later told reporters that he had been selling illicit alcohol and running a gambling racket.
This is the second time Allahrakkha has been arrested by the Delhi Police. In August, he was taken for questioning with two others and later released on bail.
When neighbours went to Budh Vihar P.S., two kilometres west of Bangali Basti, to demand his release on the evening of 2 November, they were abused for being illiterate and turned away. A few hours later, around 10.30 pm, a police contingent entered the area and began a lathi-charge during which pregnant women and children were also beaten up. The police also forcibly entered Allahrakkha’s home and seized a D.V.R. containing footage of the incident. At least three calls were made to the 100 police helpline at the time but no protection was provided to the women callers.
In total, 52 people were taken in by the police that night of which 12 minors were released the following day.
In the police’s version, it is denied that Allarakkha was arrested in the evening and was not present during the lathi-charge. A F.I.R. recorded on the morning of 3 November states that a contingent from Budh Vihar P.S. had gone to the area for the first time at 10.30 pm acting on information provided by locals from Rithala village that Allahrakkha’s house contained large quantities of illicit liquor. During the search operation, Delhi Police has claimed that they were surrounded by a mob which included several women and who were being incited by Allahrakkha and Asha, a garbage contractor who owns of a plot in the Upper Basti, to start pelting stones on the police personnel and vehicles. Thus, they were compelled to use force to bring the situation under control and arrested Allahrakkha and eight other slum-dwellers for the attack.
It is to be noted that the illicit alcohol allegedly seized has not been produced yet. It is said in the F.I.R. that a separate investigation report will be produced later regarding the seizures. Moreover, the C.C.T.V. tapes from the time of the incident have not been returned after making copies as per due procedure.
In a counter-complaint filed by Asha, she claims that she was not present at the spot on the night of 2 November and names witnesses who can attest to her alibi (see Annexure B).
The following day, 3 November, Asha went with some of the injured women and children for treatment to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Hospital in Rohini Sector-6. As per her complaint, they were turned away and no M.L.C. was recorded citing lack of ‘police permission’. They approached the Budh Vihar S.H.O. to allow treatment in a government hospital along with a representative of the Delhi Commission for Women but were again shown the door.
Allahrakkha’s wife claims that the family has been under pressure to vacate their home and withdraw a petition in court for regularising the land on which it is built. Several of his female relatives spoke of the harassment they have faced from local strongmen.
On 29 August, earlier this year, four men had been caught trying to set fire to the homes of Allahrakkha and two others. Instead of taking action against those identified, the three residents of Bangali Basti were called to the Budh Vihar P.S. for questioning and suffered custodial torture.
Asha’s complaint alleges that when releasing the three men after locals gathered outside the police station, S.H.O. Khemander Pal Singh had said:
‘I am letting them go now but if you do not vacate the jhuggis, we will frame them in another false case and send them to jail… You have captured the land of Thakurs and if you do not leave now, you will suffer the fate of the Palestinians.’
It may be noted that S.H.O. Singh has a prior history of using custodial violence. He has been suspended from service without pay for a year earlier and his appeal before the Delhi H.C. was dismissed in 2006.
The incident in Bangali Basti on 2 November shows that Delhi Police has been working at the behest of dominant local landowners to clear off the Bengali migrant workers living in the area.
At least nine migrant workers from the area, including six Muslims and three Hindus, face lengthy incarceration on fabricated charges and 52 were arrested without cause. Moreover, women residents have been subjected to police violence under the influence of alcohol during duty. Misogynistic and anti-Muslim slurs were used by the Delhi Police in the absence female personnel.
It is urgent that the C.C.T.V. evidence of the incident seized by Budh Vihar P.S. be taken over and preserved for further investigation by the Vigilance Department. Moreover, the false F.I.R. filed to intimidate the residents of Bangali Basti must be quashed immediately and disciplinary action must be initiated against S.H.O. Khemander Pal Singh and other police personnel involved in using undue violence and fabricating this case.
Rithala is the constituency of the former Bharatiya Janata Party state vice-president and three-time M.L.A. Kulwant Rana. The flaming of religious chauvinism by senior B.J.P. leaders particularly targets Muslims, painting all Bengali Muslims in low-paying jobs as ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’. A communal flare-up between landowning Thakurs and predominantly Muslim migrant workers in the region will serve their political interests against the A.A.P incumbent. The actions of the Delhi Police show that it may have been used as a tool for such a political polarisation.
Unfortunately, such violations of the basic citizenship rights of migrant workers are not uncommon. Their vulnerability to police harassment arises from a political-economy where migrant workers are kept perennially insecure, forced into employment on terms that would not be acceptable to locals. The incidents leading up to the 2 November police violence were a result of precarious land and housing rights among migrant workers, arising from the Delhi Government’s unwillingness to ensure dignified housing to the city’s most low-paid and marginalised working population. Given the lack of public intervention in housing historically, corporate real estate lobbies and locally-dominant power groups organised along the lines of caste, religion and language have squeezed slum-dwellers to wrest control over the use of land. The actions of Delhi Police cannot be separated from their interests.
Even after staying in a city for decades and doing essential work, migrant workers are kept as ‘illegals’ and ‘outsiders’ who are driven into contradiction with the local populace. Only by securing rights-based civic, legal, political, cultural and economic protections for migrant workers can such police excess be prevented in the future. 
on behalf of M.W.S.N.
14 November, 2021
Dr. Dana Kornberg, Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara (U.S.), shared her field notes and images taken while researching on migrant waste-pickers in Bangali Basti, Rithala. M.W.S.N. is grateful to Dr. Kornberg for bringing attention to the incidents covered in this fact-finding report.
* Note: Please refer to PDF below for Annexures.
 Under colonial land revenue laws, lal dora (red tape) lands demarcated rural settlements from that for agricultural use. A Municipal Corporation of Delhi (M.C.D.) notification in 1963 allowed construction on lal dora lands in the six villages that came within the Delhi perimeter to proceed without sanction from other governmental agencies.
 See news report in India Today (5 December, 2016). ‘Delhi: Massive fire breaks out in Rithala slums, angry residents pelt stones at fire tenders’. Can be accessed on https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/delhi-massive-fire-rithala-slums-shanties-gutted-fire-tenders-355647-2016-12-05 (last accessed: 13 November, 2021).
 For the police’s version of events, see news report in Dainik Jagran (4 November, 2021). ‘शराब तस्कर को पकड़ने गई पुलिस टीम पर पथराव’. https://www.jagran.com/delhi/new-delhi-city-ncr-stone-pelting-on-the-police-team-that-went-to-catch-the-liquor-smuggler-22178049.html (last accessed: 13 November, 2021).
 See video report in The Quint (7 November, 2021). ‘'Police Assaulted Us, Broke CCTV Cams': Residents of North West Delhi Slum’. https://www.thequint.com/news/india/delhi-police-assaulted-us-called-bangladeshis-slum-dwellers-muslim (last accessed: 13 November, 2021).
 See Annexure B.