Dead and Buried

Dead and Buried

Kapil Mishra, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, addresses a rally against Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party government in January 2019. Following the violence that swept northeast Delhi in February 2020, Mishra was accused in several complaints of inciting mobs and instigating a rampage against protesters opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

Just hours after Kapil Mishra delivered a speech near the Jaffrabad metro station in northeast Delhi, threatening to clear protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader led a rampage by an armed mob less than two kilometres away, in Kardampuri, according to two complaints lodged with the Delhi Police. The complaints noted that on the afternoon of 23 February, Mishra gave an incendiary speech in Kardampuri, calling upon a mob to attack Muslim and Dalit protesters in the area. One of the complainants accused Mishra of brandishing a gun as he instigated the crowd. A third complaint stated that on the morning after Mishra’s speech, police officials attacked protesters in Chand Bagh on his instructions. The complainant wrote that just before the police began their attack, she heard an assistant commissioner of police assure Mishra over the phone, “Don’t worry, we will strew the streets with their dead bodies such that it will be remembered for generations.”

Mishra, a former member of legislative assembly from Delhi’s Karawal Nagar constituency, is just one of several BJP leaders named in complaints that have been filed with the Delhi Police. The Caravan is in possession of numerous complaints filed in February and March by residents of northeast Delhi, who wrote that they witnessed violence perpetrated by or at the behest of BJP leaders. Several complaints were copied to the prime minister’s office, the ministry of home affairs, the Delhi lieutenant governor’s office and multiple police stations. Many of them bore the stamp of the office or station that received the complaint, sometimes bearing multiple receiving stamps. The other BJP leaders named in these complaints include Satya Pal Singh, a member of parliament from Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat constituency who previously served as the commissioner of police in Mumbai; Nand Kishore Gujjar, UP’s MLA from Loni; Mohan Singh Bisht, the MLA from Delhi’s Karawal Nagar constituency; and Jagdish Pradhan, a former Delhi MLA from the Mustafabad constituency, who was defeated in the assembly elections held weeks before the violence broke out.

One of the complaints, stamped as received by the office of Delhi’s commissioner of police, the MHA, the PMO and the LG’s office, was filed on 24 February, the day after Mishra’s speech. The complainant, Mohammad Jami Rizvi, a resident of northeast Delhi’s Yamuna Vihar neighbourhood, wrote that at around 2 pm on 23 February, a crowd of around twenty five people encouraged Mishra to attack minorities in Kardampuri. The area was one of several sites where sit-in protests against the National Register of Citizens and the CAA were ongoing at the time. That day, the site witnessed greater participation on account of a Bharat Bandh, or all-India strike, protesting a Supreme Court judgment denying reservations in promotions for public posts as a fundamental right. Rizvi wrote that the crowd standing with Mishra shouted provocative slogans:

Kapil Mishra tum lathh bajao, hum tumhare saath hai
Lambe-lambe latth bajao, hum tumhare saath hai
Kheech-kheech ke latth bajao, hum tumhare saath hai
Mullo par tum lath bajao, hum tumhare saath hai
Chamaaro par tum latth bajao, hum tumhare saath hai

(Kapil Mishra, you beat them with sticks, we are with you
Beat them with long sticks, we are with you
Beat them with full force, we are with you
Beat the Muslims, we are with you
Beat the Dalits, we are with you)

Rizvi added that Mishra then went on to address the crowd with similarly hateful rhetoric. “Kapil Mishra and his accomplices, who were carrying guns, swords and tridents, spears, sticks, stones and glass bottles et cetera, were chanting casteist and communal slogans,” and walking towards the protest site, he wrote. “Mishra then addressed the crowd, ‘Those who clean the toilets of our homes, should we now place them on a pedestal?’ His accomplices shouted in response, ‘Absolutely not.’ Then Kapil Mishra said, ‘These Muslims were first protesting CAA and NRC, and now they even started protesting for reservation. Now we will have to teach them a lesson.’”

Immediately upon hearing this, Rizvi wrote, Mishra’s accomplices began throwing stones at protestors in Kardampuri. “After this, in the presence of the police, they began stopping cars on the road. They identified the vehicles of Muslims and Dalits, and while abusing them and calling them anti-nationals, mullahs, and using casteist words against the Dalits, they beat them up and destroyed their cars.”  Rizvi added, “Kapil Mishra was brandishing his gun in the air and telling all the attackers, “Don’t leave these fuckers. Today we will teach them such a lesson that they will forget how to protest.”

Despite the gravity of the accusations against Mishra, no action was taken against the BJP leader. It is a settled principle of criminal procedure that upon receiving any complaint that prima facie constitutes a cognisable offence, the police must register an FIR. The complaints seen by The Caravan contained accusations ranging from incitement to violence, to eyewitnesses recounting cold-blooded murder, to police officials looting a mosque and directing their subordinates to send the money to the MP Satya Pal Singh. Many of these complaints bear the stamps of the office of the commissioner of police and the Dayalpur police stations. Yet, the police did not register them as FIRs.

For all intents and purposes, the Delhi Police appears to have buried these complaints. Most of the complainants told me that in the aftermath of the violence, the police refused to record any complaints. They said they were finally able to lodge their complaints in mid March, at a police help desk that was set up at a relief camp for displaced survivors of the violence in Mustafabad’s Eidgah grounds. Many of these complaints specifically named and identified the perpetrators of the violence. Rubina Bano, a resident of Chand Bagh and among those who named Mishra in the complaints, told me, “I am now getting threats directly from the policemen who often knock at my doors.”

The Delhi Police did not respond to emails about the allegations against them in the complaints. This story will be updated if and when they respond.

That Mishra enjoyed the partisan support of the Delhi Police was clear from his widely televised and reported speech from later that day. On the afternoon of 23 February, Mishra had made his way to the Jaffrabad metro station, near a site of an anti-CAA protests in the region. With Ved Prakash Surya, the deputy commissioner of police for North East Delhi standing beside him, Mishra warned that if the sit-in protest at Jaffrabad was not cleared within three days, the matter would be taken out of the Delhi Police’s hands. But it appeared that Mishra did not need to worry—the complaints suggest that the Delhi Police did not stand in his way  when he led an armed mob, not during the violence that followed his speech, and not by acting on the complaints against him.

One complainant, a resident of Chand Bagh who requested not to be identified, was among those who named Mishra in her complaint, which was received at the police help desk at the Eidgah grounds on 19 March, and bearing the stamp of the Gokulpuri police station. She wrote that she was at the anti-CAA protest site in Chand Bagh on 23 February, when at 4 pm, “Kapil Mishra and his goons came chanting slogans and raising weapons in the air.” She continued, “The police officers lathi charged the protesters soon thereafter, which made all the protesters run away. Then Kapil Mishra and his goons came near the area of C-Block Diamond School with their weapons and continued chanting their slogans.”

Rehmat, another resident of Chand Bagh, had filed a complaint on the same day that confirmed the account. “For the past two months, I have been participating in the protests against the CAA and NRC,” Rehmat wrote. “I fell sick several times in the cold, but I used to go for the protests because it was a matter of saving the nation.” After opening her complaint in this manner, Rehmat proceeded to narrate what she said she witnessed at the Chand Bagh protest site that day.

“At around 4 pm on 23 February, Kapil Mishra came to the site with DCP Ved Prakash Surya and his goons, who were carrying swords, guns, sticks, tridents, spears, and stones, and the police were walking along with them,” Rehmat wrote. “As soon as he came, Kapil Mishra started chanting slogans loudly, ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalo ko’; ‘Jai Shri Ram’; ‘Kattue Murdabad’”—Shoot the traitors of this nation; Hail Lord Ram; Down with Muslims. Rehmat’s complaint accused Mishra of using the word “kattue” to describe Muslims, which translates to circumcised and is used a slur against the community. The police then lathi charged the protesters, Rehmat wrote. “At night, the owner of Mohan Nursing Home, his staff, Kapil Mishra, and his associates starting firing at the protesters and attacking them with lathis, sticks and swords. Many people were injured. I left for home by midnight.” Rehmat’s complaint bore the stamp of the Dayalpur police station.

Mohammed Ilyas, a resident of Yamuna Vihar, also named Mishra. He, too, accused the BJP leader of leading the violence in Kardampuri. Ilyas managed to lodge his complaint only on 17 March, at the Eidgah relief camp, and received a stamp of the Dayalpur police station. “On the afternoon of 23 February 2020, Kapil Mishra and his accomplices stopped the cars of Muslims and Dalits on Kardampuri road and started destroying them,” Ilyas wrote. “The police officers stood there and assisted them, after which the atmosphere in the area took a turn for the worse. After this, the DCP Ved Prakash Surya entered different lanes and warned the protestors, ‘If you do not end this protest, then there will be such violent riots here that all of you will be killed.’”

The next day, as northeast Delhi erupted into violence that targeted Muslim neighbourhoods and sites of anti-CAA protests, the police appeared to be carrying out Surya’s threat. Bano wrote about the events that transpired on the morning of 24 February at the protest site in Chand Bagh. The sit-in protest at Chand Bagh, as many other protests across the country, was led by women residents of the area. They had been holding a peaceful demonstration that comprised staging a sit-in at a tent where they would host speeches and raise slogans against the discriminatory law. She began her complaint, “I am three months pregnant and despite that I have been attending the protests in Chand Bagh, to save the constitution of this country and protect the future of my children against the unconstitutional and illegal laws of this country.”

Bano wrote that she reached the protest site at around 11 am that day to discover the area filled with police personnel, including senior officers such as Anuj Kumar, the assistant commissioner of the Gokulpuri police station, and Tarkeshwar Singh, who was then the station house officer of Dayalpur police station. She added that the police were arguing with the women, using abusive language and warning them that they would be killed if they continued their protest. Bano also noted that there were several other civilians standing with the police officers, “who had cloths tied around their necks and were armed with lathis, sticks, swords, stones, guns and bombs.”

“We are peacefully protesting here, so why are you addressing us in this manner?” Bano asked the ACP Kumar, according to her complaint. “He responded with abuses and said, ‘Kapil Mishra and his associates will free you from your life,’” she stated in her complaint. At that time, she wrote, Tarkeshwar rushed to Kumar to hand him a phone and said that Mishra was on the line. “The ACP was saying ‘ji, ji’ while talking to Mishra and then as he was cutting the call he said, ‘Don’t worry, we will strew the streets with their dead bodies such that it will be remembered for generations.’” Bano wrote that as soon as he cut the call, Kumar turned to Tarkeshwar and other police personnel and commanded, “Maaro saalo ko”—Beat the fuckers.

Brutal, one-sided violence ensued. “The police and the mob began attacking the women,” Bano wrote. “They entered the pandal”—referring to the tent where the sit-in protest was held—“abusing the protesters and said, ‘You wanted freedom, now we will beat the Jai Bhim out of you.’” The attackers were referring to the chant “Jai Bhim,” which invokes Bhimrao Ambedkar and had become a popular slogan during the anti-CAA protests. According to Bano, they tore down the posters of Ambedkar, Mohandas Gandhi, Savitribai Phule and others that were put up at the site.

Simultaneously, from the roof of the nearby Mohan Nursing Home, people began throwing stones, bombs and shooting at the protesters below. She noted that as the women fled for their lives, the rioters began targeting and molesting young women. As the men among the protesters rushed to help the women, Bano wrote, “They were attacked with sticks, lathis and swords, and even the police began shooting the men.” She added that as this was going on, some of the rioters threw a petrol bomb into the pandal and burnt it down.

Another complaint confirmed Bano’s account. The complainant, a resident of New Mustafabad who also requested not to be identified, lodged her complaint at the Eidgah police help desk on 11 March. Four days later, it was duly registered at the Dayalpur police station as the entry number 53 in the station’s daily diary. The complaint also bore the stamps of the police commissioner and lieutenant governor’s offices. She, too, was at the Chand Bagh protest site on the morning of 24 February. “When our pandal caught fire in the attack and some 40-50 women ran for their lives into a cement godown, I saw ACP Dinesh Sharma shouting at the mob, ‘Satpal sansad ji ne jo kaha tha aaj woh karke dikhana hai’”—The parliamentarian Satpal had said that today we have to show our strength through actions, the complainant wrote. Dinesh Kumar Sharma is the ACP of the Bhajanpura police station. She stated that Sharma continued, “Aage badho, daro mat, police tumhare saath hai, ek ek ko chun kar zindagi se azadi deni hai”—Proceed forward, don’t fear, the police is with you, pick them one by one and give them freedom from their lives.

Bano named another BJP leader in her complaint—Bisht, the party’s MLA from Delhi’s Karawal Nagar constituency. She noted that the mob included persons she had seen campaigning with Bisht ahead of the assembly elections held earlier that month. Ilyas, too, named Bisht in his complaint. He wrote that he had come to know that on the evening of 25 February, around the time that residents of Mustafabad’s Brijpuri area were getting ready for the Maghrib namaz—the evening prayer—the police, a local mob, Bisht and Jagdish Pradhan attacked the neighbourhood. “A lot of people were killed and the masjid was set on fire,” Ilyas stated, referring to the Farooqia Masjid in Brijpuri. “The imam and others were left in a very bad condition. As news of the attack spread, the entire Muslim community in the area was living under an atmosphere of fear. Everyone spent the entire night praying.”

The next morning, Ilyas wrote, he went to the Farooqia Masjid to examine its condition after the fire. He saw that a bunch of police officials, including the former Dayalpur SHO Tarkeshwar, as well as one “Chawla,” identified as the owner of a local general store and a powerful figure in the locality, were already present at the scene. According to Ilyas’s complaint, the police officials and Chawla’s associates began destroying the CCTV cameras in the area, and ransacking the mosque and a madrasa adjacent to it. Ilyas wrote that he pleaded with Tarkeshwar to intervene, but the former SHO declined and responded, “I told you so many times to put a stop to your protests but then you didn’t listen.”

Just then, Ilyas stated, Chawla approached Tarkeshwar with a phone and told him that there was a call for him from the MP Satya Pal Singh, who joined the BJP after resigning as Mumbai’s commissioner of police in 2014. After speaking on the phone for a while, Tarkeshwar put the phone down and instructed Chawla to take all the money they had collected from the mosque and the madrasa and take it to the parliamentarian’s house in Baghpat. “Chawla put all the money from the almirahs into one bag. The bag was filled to the brim and the cash could be seen at the top.” Ilyas added that the police then set the madrasa on fire.

One of the most chilling complaints lodged with the police named Pradhan, the former MLA from Mustafabad, and Gujjar, the current MLA from Loni. Iqrar, a resident of New Seelampur, filed his complaint at the Bhajanpura police station on 8 March. On 25 February, Iqrar, like many other complainants, barely escaped with his life as a group of assailants tried to murder him, he wrote in his complaint.

That evening, as Iqrar was crossing Delhi’s Gonda Chowk on his scooter, he was stopped by eight–ten men who were standing with a group of around 15–20 police personnel. According to the complaint, the civilians and the police were armed with swords, sticks and guns. He wrote that even though he told them his name was Raju, and joined them in raising slogans of “Jai Shri Ram,” Iqrar was unable to hide his Muslim identity. He stated that the group forcefully removed his wallet from his pocket, and as soon as they saw his name, they began thrashing him with their sticks and swords. Iqrar wrote, “When they were beating me, the police were saying, ‘Give this one his full freedom too.’”

Then suddenly, Iqrar added, one of the men who appeared to be their leader stopped the rest and prevented them from killing him. “Nand Kishore Gujjar ji had said to make videos of two–four of them being burnt alive,” the leader said, according to the complaint. “One of the others then pointed to a group of four or five dead bodies covered in blood and said, ‘Let’s cut him up like those four.’” But Iqrar noted that the leader disagreed. “He is well built. A video of him burning would last longer.” He wrote in the complaint that the leader then sent two of the men to go get petrol.

As they waited for the petrol, the leader instructed one of the remaining men to phone Gujjar, while the other men slapped, punched and kicked Iqrar, according to the complaint. The man who was calling the MLA informed the leader that the call was not getting connected. The man clarified, Iqrar wrote, “I am calling on the other number that sahib had given but it’s not getting connected.” The leader then told another man to call Pradhan instead. Iqrar stated that the call got connected and the leader spoke to him, “Jagdish bhai, we’ve caught one well-built kattua. We cut the fucker down but he’s still got a lot of life left in him. I’ve called for petrol, the camera is ready, I will send the full video on your other number.”

Around this point, Iqrar continued, the group of men saw two men with beards on a bike, and they rushed towards them with their swords raised. Using this opportunity, he wrote, he somehow managed to escape and flee for his life.

Iqrar’s case appears to be a rare example where an FIR was registered, but it was not done on a complaint filed by him. Iqrar wrote that his brother informed him that an FIR had been registered at the Bhajanpura police station, and that an inquiry into the case was pending because the police had not been able to record his statement. Iqrar noted that he had recovered enough by 8 March to be able to speak, so he had gotten a statement typed and then signed it and added his thumb print. “Please add this statement to the FIR and conduct a criminal investigation against the perpetrators,” he wrote.

Naeem Ali, a sub-inspector at the Bhajanpura police station and the investigating officer in the FIR, confirmed that Iqrar’s complaint had been “annexed in the file.” When I asked him about the status of the investigation, he said, “There was the lockdown and then I was sick.” Ali said he would be returning to duty after a long sick leave on 21 June.

Pradhan and Gujjar featured in other complaints as well. Sabir Ali, a resident of Chand Bagh, while describing the attacks on the protesters in the area on the morning of 24 February, wrote, “In front of the crowd with the police officers were the men I had frequently seen with Jagdish Pradhan during elections.” In another complaint, Salim Kassar, a resident of Prem Vihar, wrote that rioters armed with “iron rods, petrol bombs, swords and other weapons” attacked his shop on 25 February. He added, “These people were saying that Nand Kishore Gujjar has told them that the police are with them and there is no reason to be afraid.”

The BJP leaders have been escaping judicial scrutiny as well, aided by the Delhi Police and the solicitor general, Tushar Mehta. On 26 February, a Delhi High Court bench comprising S Muralidhar and Talwant Singh heard a petition by the social activists Harsh Mander and Farah Naqvi, seeking the registration of FIRs against Mishra and other BJP leaders for making hate speeches inciting violence. The case was originally listed before the chief justice’s court, but since the chief was on leave that day, it was mentioned before Muralidhar’s court for an urgent hearing by Mander’s counsel, Colin Gonsalves. The hearing saw a heated exchange between the bench and the solicitor general.

Muralidhar came down strongly upon Mehta and the Delhi Police officials in court for not having seen the videos of the speeches. “I’m really appalled by the state of affairs of the Delhi Police,” Muralidhar said. The bench then played speeches by four BJP leaders in open court for Mehta and the Delhi Police—delivered by Mishra; Parvesh Verma, the MP from West Delhi; Abhay Verma, the MLA from West Delhi; and Anurag Thakur, the union minister of state for finance. Parvesh had stated during public speeches and in an interview to the news agency Asian News International that protesters at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh site were “rapists and murderers.” Abhay and Thakur had both used the provocative slogan that calls for violence, “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalo ko”—Shoot the traitors of this nation. But the Delhi Police did not initiate action against any of them.

Mehta was emphatic that there was no need to register an FIR against the BJP leaders. Curiously, the union government was not a party to Mander and Naqvi’s case, but Mehta appeared in the case and stated that he had been authorised by the lieutenant governor to represent Delhi’s commissioner of police. At the outset, Mehta sought the matter to be listed the next day and argued that there was no urgency in the matter. “FIRs will be registered at the appropriate time,” Mehta said in court.

“What’s the appropriate time, Mr Mehta? The city is burning.” Muralidhar responded. “How many more lives have to be lost? How many properties have to be destroyed?”

“It will be registered when the situation is conducive,” Mehta replied, asking the court not to get “angry.”

“This is not anger, this is anguish,” Muralidhar shot back. He reiterated the point later in the hearing, “This is the anguish of a constitutional court. Why are you not showing alacrity when it comes to registration of FIRs in these cases?”

Muralidhar added, “This city has seen enough violence. Let us not repeat 1984,” referring to the anti-Sikh pogrom that swept the national capital that year. But as in 1984, which saw the Delhi Police and senior Congress leaders escape culpability for the violence they perpetrated and orchestrated, the BJP leaders accused in the Delhi violence have also escaped any investigation into their role.

The bench finally directed the Delhi Police to “take a conscious decision” about the registration of FIRs and inform the court the next day. Late that night, the central government issued an order transferring Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The next day, the matter was once again listed before the chief justice’s court. DN Patel, the Delhi High Court chief justice, appeared to treat the matter with the lack of urgency that Mehta had sought. Patel first impleaded the union government as a party to the case, and then granted the centre four weeks to file a reply. It was listed to be next heard on 13 April.

In early March, Gonsalves also represented a different petitioner, Shaikh Mujtaba Farooq,  before the Supreme Court, in another petition seeking the registration of FIRs against the same four BJP leaders for various offences, including murder. But the Supreme Court remitted the matter to the high court, and it was tagged with Mander and Naqvi’s petition. The high court is yet to hold another hearing on the issue of registration of FIRs. “The matter is at a standstill with no date of hearing, due to the lockdown, perhaps,” Gonsalves told me.

In the first week of June, the Delhi Police filed four chargesheets in the FIRs it had registered in relation to the Delhi violence. One of these was registered at the Dayalpur police station, on 26 February, into the murder of Ankit Sharma, an Intelligence Bureau staffer who was killed in the violence. The chargesheet in the case contained a section titled, “Chronology Of Events Leading To Riots In North-East, Delhi,” which did not include Mishra’s speech, or those by the three other leaders identified in the cases before the high court. By all indications, the Delhi Police appears to be making fervent efforts to whitewash the role of Kapil Mishra in the carnage that swept northeast Delhi.

I contacted all the BJP leaders named in this story to inquire whether the police had ever reached out to them as part of an investigation into these complaints. Pradhan said the police had not contacted him for any investigation, and added that “the police played a positive role in bringing peace.” Bisht, too, told me that he had not received any notice from the police. “The BJP has no role in it,” he added, referring to the February violence. Gujjar insisted that there was no violence in his constituency, in Loni, and that he had no relation to the Delhi violence. He also denied that anyone from the mob would have chanted slogans in his praise, noting that “there may have been some false slogan” and that someone else may share his name. Satya Pal, the Baghpat MP, did not respond to calls and messages.

Mishra declined to comment on the story. He wrote in response, “After receiving your whatsapp message, I just checked your website to see who are you and what ‘the caravan magazine’ is. I saw your magazine website showing a quote from Arundhati Roy as proof of  journalism. I think this is more than enough to know and understand your magazine, it’s intention and it’s Anti India, Anti Hindu bias. I am not interested in talking to ‘the carvan magazine.’”

While the BJP leaders appear to be comfortably escaping culpability, the complainants said they continue facing threats on their lives and that of their families for attempting to pursue their complaints. Mehmood Pracha, an advocate who helped the residents file their complaints, said his main concern now was the security of the complainants. “The police is openly knocking at their doors, threatening them not to pursue” the complaints, he said.

I met these complainants with Shahid Tantray, a photojournalist working at The Caravan, and recorded their testimonies on video. Not one of the complainants retracted the accusations in their complaint, though several of them expressed concerns for their safety. Rizvi, for instance, initially expressed his reluctance at being photographed, but ultimately permitted it, noting that he had sent copies of the complaint to the top government offices.

“It is an open complaint now, duly received by the offices of high ups like the prime minister and the home minister, besides lying in the office of the police commissioner,” he said. Still, that did not stop him from being worried for his family. “I have shifted my family to UP, and living alone here now,” he told me, pausing cautiously to think before every sentence. “I remember 1984, and it was the same situation” during the Delhi violence, he said. “We all were scared, especially during the nights when the provocative slogans echoed in the streets, ‘Kapil Mishra zindabad’ or ‘We will send Muslims to Pakistan.’”

Bano told me that the police had begun patrolling the streets in Chand Bagh again since 21 May. “Terrorised by this, people have stopped stepping out of their homes,” she said. Bano added that the police have threatened the locals, “Let the lockdown get over, after that we will show you how boys and women are picked up.” “I won’t fear them,” she told me. “After I was beaten by the police, all my fear has gone.”

Bano said that the police have been trying to intimidate her into withdrawing her complaint. “They will keep doing it but I will not back down,” she told me. “If I step back today, I might be pushed too far back. It is not just for me, it is for my children and for the public, for my Muslim brothers and sisters. Only men and women like myself can bring them justice.”

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