Delhi riots: When Dalits came to the rescue of beleaguered Muslims
In several areas of northeast Delhi, Dalits came forward to save their terrified Muslim neighbours from mob violence
At least a couple of cases of peace despite attempts to provoke violence have emerged out of riot-torn parts of northeast Delhi that have so far taken a toll of over 40 lives. This has been made possible because of a few good Samaritans belonging to the poor, humble and often despised Dalit community, who came forward to save their Muslim neighbours. These ‘saviours’ had to often shoo away troublemakers for the past few days, making the targetted community feel greatly reassured.
Raichand stays in Amar Colony at Gokulpuri. Soon after riots began in neighbouring areas, he found a group of slogan-shouting miscreants breaking the boundary wall of a nearby Muslim graveyard on Wazirabad-Ghaziabad road. They had damaged a part of the wall facing the road.
“I along with a few friends intervened by telling the attackers about the futility of their vengefulness. There were heated exchanges. Yet, we saw to it that the group attempting to incite violence had to retreat without harming the wall any further, or attempting to move inside the locality,” says Raichand.
According to him, the troublemakers were not from the same area and, thus, could not be identified. They were shouting provocative and communally-charged slogans. This scared Muslims. Some of them started leaving their homes. They are outnumbered in any case by the majority community in the area.
“We assured them of their safety. Yet, some of those who lived in rented accommodations preferred to move to their relatives living in what they thought to be safer places. This has not been so with those Muslims who live in their own houses in the colony. Soon we organised a vigil which continued through the night. Outsiders who came were met by us at Guru Sant Ravidas Temple in the colony and were convinced by us to go back without moving any further, or create trouble in our colony. The temple is fitted with CCTV cameras, which could have had a deterrent effect upon those wanting to enter the colony, and they did not venture any further,” recalls Raichand.
Similarly, in Ambedkar Basti which is a part of Maujpur in North-East Delhi, Dalits and Muslims have old ties, built through living together for years which served them good during the current trying times. A local Dalit resident, Deshraj, says that police that took out flag marches after days of rioting were nowhere to be seen. This was also so when gun shots and vicious sloganeering sent a chill through the air on the night of February 25. Muslims, scared since the beginning of the riots, were now practically shivering.
“We stood by them. And so did other Dalit neighbours of Muslims in the nearby mohallas like Vijaynagar, Gurudwara and Shiv Mandir. No untoward incident took place ever since last Sunday when the riots broke out almost everywhere. Now Muslims who had left have started coming back to their homes in these localities. I think that things are going to be normal soon though the tension that still lurks may take some more time to go,” says Deshraj.
Elsewhere, the level of threat among Muslims is so high that a resident of Yamuna Vihar, MA Khan, said on Thursday that he had not slept for the past three days in his house because he had to keep vigil throughout the night along with others amid fear of mob attack.
Yet, the warmth shown by Dalits towards hapless Muslims through the riots this time is somehow not confined to parts of Gokulpuri and Maujpur alone. This can also be found in pockets in nearby localities like Kardampuri, Brahmpuri, Brijpuri and Ghaunda too though these may not have been so lucky as to go completely unscathed by violence like in the case of the two localities described earlier.
And what is common through most parts facing the heat of communal attack now is the fact that these areas often have Dalits and Muslims living in large numbers. Somehow, they have come together at many places to face what has come to Muslims like a mortal threat. So much so that Dalits did not allow themselves to be co-opted during or after the violent assault on Muslims that palpably had the overtones of feudal politics of the past.
This is quite unlike the riots that had occurred through the winter after the demolition of Babari Masjid in 1992. Large parts of North-East Delhi like Seelampur, Welcome and Ghaunda had undergone through tragic riots following the Ayodhya incident. Dalits often were swayed by the majoritarian onslaught of those times.
So once seen in this backdrop, the riots this time have failed to set Dalits against Muslims. And since these have been unleashed soon after Delhi elections and months before polls are to take place in Bihar, the political dividend expected to be brought by riots may not be so easy to realise. This will amount to belying the fervent hope of the rioters to polarise Bihar via its large migrant workforce of North-East Delhi on communal lines and get the benefit when the eastern state goes to polls later in the year.