Fear stalks Delhi’s Muslim-majority areas with BJP-led civic bodies intent on using bulldozers to harass them

Delhi BJP chief Adesh Gupta wrote to mayors of south and east Delhi on April 20 to conduct drives in their areas to end the “encroachment of government land by anti-social elements”

JCB machines being used to demolish encroachments in Jahangirpuri
JCB machines being used to demolish encroachments in Jahangirpuri
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Ashlin Mathew

There is apprehension and fear in several Muslim-majority neighbourhoods in the national Capital ever since an anti-encroachment drive was carried out in north-west Delhi’s Jahangirpuri on April 19, 2022, soon after violence broke out between a Hindutva mob and Muslims there on April 16.

Adding to their worries, chief of Delhi unit of Bharatiya Janata Party Adesh Gupta wrote to the mayors of south and east Delhi on April 20 to conduct drives in their areas to end the “encroachment of government land by anti-social elements”.

The North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), under which Jahangirpuri falls, had launched the anti-encroachment drive following Gupta’s letter on the violence which erupted in the area during a Hanuman Jayanti procession.

This apprehension of demolition in their neighbourhood has led to several messages raising false alarms about bulldozers heading to south Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh. There were messages which were circulated at night too stating the arrival of bulldozers in this Muslim-majority neighbourhood.

Articulating the fear, Jamia Nagar resident Shariq Husain said people who live in Okhla, Batla House and Jamia Nagar are extremely worried. “Those who earn a living selling goods on the roads here are the most distressed. They earn less than Rs 700 a day selling clothes, artificial jewellery, vegetables and fruits. Where will they go? In the name of anti-encroachment, all of their pushcarts and goods get destroyed during these drives. Is it a crime to be poor?” asked Husain.

Batla House resident Abid Shah said the poor have nowhere to go. The municipal officials are targeting certain areas in the name of anti-encroachment and demolition. “Most of the colonies, shops and hawkers in this area have not been legalised. But how is it the fault of the people? Governments are to blame for this. When they want votes, they all flock here and then they talk of destruction,” he said.

This feeling compounded after the South Delhi Municipal Corporation released a schedule stating that a special task force would address the issues pertaining to violations of building byelaws under the Master Plan for Delhi – 2021.

The notice said that programmes for removal of encroachments would be conducted in Govindpuri area on Monday, April 25; Jaitpur and Mettapur Chowk area on Tuesday, April 26; Nehru Nagar, Lajpat Nagar, Veer Savarkar Marg and Feroz Gandhi Marg on Wednesday, April 27; Sarita Vihar, Jasola areas on Thursday, April 28; and in Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Badarpur, Okhla Phase II on Friday, April 29.

In accordance with the procedure, the SDMC had requested the local police to provide staff to maintain law and order during the encroachment drives. The drive could not be done in Sarita Vihar on Thursday, April 28, as the local police station noted that they would need to be intimated at least 10 days in advance to be able to provide staff for such drives by SDMC.

Women's rights activist and a former member of the Planning Commission of India, Syeda Hameed said that the SDMC team along with mayor Mukesh Suryan had visited areas around Jamia College campus – parts of Sarita Vihar, Jaitpur and Madanpur Khadar – to warn people that there would be a drive on May 17. The pretext was that there were Bangladeshis and Rohingyas living in this area. They had also gone to Shaheen Bagh, Abul Fazal, and Pushta.

“The women in the area pointed out that they have been living and working there for decades. There is apprehension and worry as there is fear that many of their houses would be destroyed. What kind of Eid are people going to have after being served such news? This is such a travesty,” pointed out Hameed.

Journalist TS Firoz underscored that if the civic authorities were undertaking the drive to remove encroachments, it is acceptable; but it is shameful if they are doing it to target one community. “Delhi is mostly full of unauthorised colonies. The MCD, instead, should work on vehicles which are parked illegally on the road. The MCD should focus on making lives of people easier and not target poor people,” reiterated Firoz.

On Wednesday, Suryan said the survey of the civic body will continue as they have found large-scale illegal construction and encroachments along the Yamuna floodplains, where illegal immigrants have settled.

The tenure of the current civic bodies will end on May 18. “MCD elections are likely to be held soon and these civic authorities are destroying living areas where Muslims are in majority in the name of beautifying Delhi. Where are these people going to go? Many will rendered homeless and without a way to earn their living,” lamented Hameed.

Giving a voice to the disquiet within the community in Shaheen Bagh, the co-convenor of the Shaheen Bagh movement, Shoaib Jamai said, “There is a feeling of helplessness as we don’t have power. We are emotionally distressed and exhausted. We can only draw attention of the world to the atrocities being done against us. The mainstream media is trying to justify the illegal act of the BJP. The ruling party is deliberately trying to target areas of poor Muslims just to satisfy their voter base.”

Jamai wondered if the civic authorities would ever check the encroachment done by Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta. “The fascist forces can bulldoze structures in our areas, but they can’t bulldoze our courage and faith in the Constitution,” asserted Jamai bravely.

There is shock and many are questioning the stand of political parties. “Parts of this area come within Aam Aadmi Party MLA Atishi Marlena’s constituency. Instead being here to support the people, she has gone to present the Delhi model of governance. Is this the kind of governance that she is going to showcase?” asked Hameed.

In the first press conference after the Jahangirpuri violence, Gupta alleged that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had supported Rohingyas and Bangladeshis who were removed by the Uttar Pradesh government from its land in Yamuna Khadar last year.

AAP leaders, including Atishi Marlena and health Minister Satyendar Jain, attacked the BJP claiming that it was responsible for settling Rohingyas and Bangladeshis across the country.

Conflating Indian Muslims with Bangladeshi immigrants and Rohingyas has the latter community worried. “All the politicians use our name and then we get targeted. We don’t understand the agenda to shame our community,” said Ali Johar, co-director of Rohingya Human Rights Initiative.

Johar pointed out that last year, after a fire at the Rohingya refugee camp at Madanpur Khadar, the SDMC authorities had constructed emergency shelters, which is where most of the people are still living. He wondered why the civic body would destroy what they built.

“All those who live in the camp have UN refugee cards. None of us want Indian citizenship. We all want to go back to our country,” added Johar.

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