An eyewitness report from ground zero in north-east Delhi
Situation remained tense in areas like Jaffarabad, Maujpur, Noor-e-Ilahi, Ghonda, Bhajanpura and Chand Bagh as goons went about spewing hate and unleashing violence against anti-CAA protestors
“Are you a Muslim? What kind of name is this,” asked Raja, a Hindu Sena goon near Maujpur metro station in north-east Delhi where the situation continues to remain tense along with Jaffarabad, Maujpur, Noor-e-Ilahi, Ghonda, Bhajanpura and Chand Bagh.
A saffron tilak-sporting rioter armed with a lathi asked this question as I was walking from Maujpur to Noor-e-Ilahi, which is a couple of kilometres down the road. The question stumped me and before I could answer, a passer-by responded saying, “She is Hindustani”. It seemed to have caught the Raja also by surprise and he toned down his questioning, even though he was insistent on finding out my religion. I had to finally tell him ‘Christian’, which is when he decided to speak up. It was the first time my Christian identity had marked me safe.
“We Hindus have woken up. You people never report our side. We are surrounded by Pakistanis, so how can we ever be safe? If Muslims can sit for two months, why can’t we come out to support the Citizenship Amendment Act. Give your number so that I can give you our side of the protest,” stressed Raja, before moving away to let me walk off.
The entire stretch of the road beginning from Jaffarabad to Chand Bagh, which is a straight road under the metro of around 5 kilometre, has seen brutal violence with shops of mostly Muslims being vandalised. The entire stretch has been locked down intermittently by the Delhi Police with clearly defined Hindu and Muslim areas.
At the beginning of the road, just off Seelampur metro station, at Jaffarabad, predominantly Muslim women protestors have been sitting under a make-shift awning for more than 45 days. On Sunday, the protestors had blocked a portion of the road in support of the Bharat Bandh called by the Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad. The tension had been building up since Sunday but after BJP leader Kapil Sharma had come to Maujpur and threatened to clear the road in front of the Delhi Police, the situation flared up.
Several protest sites were vandalised, petrol bombs were thrown at the makeshift pandals to burn them down. On Monday, the women protestors at Jaffarabad seemed fazed and quite unsettled by the violence, which left more than five people, including a police constable dead.
Down the road, another group of women have decided to sit-in under the Jaffrabad metro station. With their numbers growing, the men were milling about to ensure that Hindutva goons did not instigate any mischief. Soon enough, a tilak-sporting young man was seen strutting through the crowd. He was immediately accosted, but he was not beaten up. Several Muslim men formed a band around him to remove him from the area and he was heard repeating that he was innocent.
“We constantly tell everyone that those who are rioting are not Indians. They are RSS goons. We have no issues with our Hindu brethren. If one of them get hurt, it is equal to the pain when one of us gets hurt. When a mob attacks, it ruins everything in its path,” insisted Imran, one of the protestors near Jaffarabad metro station.
The situation is in contrast to the raucous mood in Maujpur, a predominantly Hindu neighbourhood. Even late into the night, armed men were seen breaking shops, burning vehicles and screaming ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘Goli maaro Saalon ko’. The residents in the area knew what the mob was up to and they had cordoned off the area with the Delhi Police just watching the violence that was unfolding in front of them. Elders in the block warned us not to go on the main road as stones were being pelted, and tyres burnt as they realised we were journalists. They also reminded us that I should not take my phone out to record anything as the phone could be snatched away.
Despite Section 144, which prohibits unlawful assembly of more than four people, near the Shani Mandir and under the Maujpur metro station, more than 350 people had gathered and were listening to hate speeches calling for the arousal of the Hindu within amidst chants of ‘Vande Mataram’.
“There was stone pelting from both sides. Several of our sons have been injured. Why should we not come on the streets to take back what is ours. We live surrounded by Muslims and what right to they have to block roads. How can they dictate terms,” said Jyoti, who was sitting near the Shani Mandir at Maujpur.
Down the road at Vijay Park, an eerie calm prevails and then you realise it’s a mixed Hindu-Muslim locality with Muslims mostly in Noor-e-Ilahi. But in both the localities, men are on guard with the contrast being, in Hindu localities men are armed with baseball bats, metal roads, batons and thick sticks are roaming around the gallis screaming ‘Jai Shri Ram’. In Muslim localities, a few men can be seen carrying thin lathis, but mostly they are huddled around in the front of a few houses.
“The police have been helping the goons to throw stones at us. Some of them even threw stones at us. See the difference between the two areas. While the police wants us to remain at home, look at what is happening at Maujpur. They are allowed to congregate even with the police watching, but we have to be mindful of Section 144, which has been imposed in the whole area,” said Danish.
“The Hindu men has been threatening to remove the pants of men crossing the area to check if they are Hindus or Muslims. I heard they did that with a couple of men, but I can’t verify it. All of this happened under the watchful eyes of Delhi Police,” stressed Hussain, a resident of Noor-e-Ilahi.
“On the road, RSS goons climbed on top of the Priya Vastra Bhandar and shot at several of our men. At least five of them are injured and have been taken to the hospital. Will the Delhi police even help us? We have to listen to orders, but they do not have to. How long will we watch the Hindu Sena goons attack us for simply existing. They roamed about our streets, shooting at our men as we stood guard around the women. The Hindu Sena goons are climbing rooftops to shoot at us. They have broken several CCTVs so that there is no record of anything. Who is responsible,” asked an anguished Fahad, while pointing towards blood on the road. A man who has hit in the thigh had bled there; a few others were shot at on the arm, hand and stomach.
In Bhajanpura, where most of the violence erupted, there are numerous motorcycles, cars, buses and a truck lying about after being burnt by a riotous mob. Smoked continued to billow in the area late unto midnight and fire engines could be seen moving about trying to douse some of these fires.
No one here seemed willing to talk though they all wanted to advice against walking towards Chand Bagh and Khajuri, both of which were more than a kilometre away. Both are Muslim majority localities. “Why are you going that side? Those are Pakistanis there and you can never be safe there. At least here you are safe. Go to the Bhajanpura police station and stay there all night. Don’t go to Delhi as you will not be safe once you move out from this locality,” underscored a lathi-wielding man who simply stated that he was a Hindu.
Walking towards Chand Bagh, remnants of the protest site can be seen. The tents have been burnt and the people are fearful for their lives. The tension in the air is palpable as they are doubtful of anyone who reaches there. They do not believe the media and fear that journalists will never be fair. It is a question of their lives, no less.
“The media is on their side. The Supreme Court is on their side. The Delhi Police is on their side. We do not support violence against Hindus or Muslims, but who will stand for us,” said a woman near Khajuri who wanted to be identified as Shaheen Bagh. “We are all Shaheen Baghs. We don’t want to give our names. Please report accurately what you have seen here. We are all going home tonight as we are worried more violence will break out after midnight. We have to live to fight. If we are not alive, how can we protest.”