Chargesheets have begun to be filed in cases related to the February communal violence in Delhi, but the 751 first information reports registered in its aftermath remain unavailable. While FIRs are ordinarily supposed to be uploaded on the police website, certain FIRs are exempt from public scrutiny if the police think their contents are sensitive. Some FIRs may indeed prejudice investigation, if revealed fully. But the blanket withholding of all FIRs related to the Delhi communal violence invites concerns about whether the ‘sensitive’ exception is being applied correctly.
Even as more information about the investigation becomes public, without the FIRs, crucial questions remain unanswered: which crimes have been recognised by the state? Of the violence witnessed and documented in the week starting February 24, what made its way into the official record?
Past episodes of mass violence teach us to be particularly mindful of these questions. For instance, after the anti-Sikh violence of 1984, hundreds of FIRs were not registered till commissions of inquiry directed the police to do so in 1987, 1991 and as late as 1993. After the Bhagalpur communal violence of 1989, FIRs were not recorded for 628 of 982 deaths, many of which were deaths in police firings. Similar issues with the non-recording of FIRs were prevalent after Bombay 1993 and Gujarat 2002, particularly with cases of sexual assault and cases where the allegations were against influential leaders or the police themselves.