Social cost of Delhi riots: An environment of mistrust between communities

Even as violence in northeast Delhi died down, rumours flew thick and fast in other areas of the city. Hindus and Muslims who stayed together for years, have suddenly become suspicious of each other

Aftermath of Delhi violence. (PTI Photo)
Aftermath of Delhi violence. (PTI Photo)

Ashlin Mathew

“Can you please notify Delhi police? We are stuck at Tilak Nagar near Naraina where there is stone pelting and people are running amok. Riots are beginning in West Delhi too,” said Neil Alexander frantically at around 8 PM on Sunday, March 1.

In Zakir Nagar, Zainab ran into their third-floor house screaming, “People are running on the streets with batons in their hands; what will happen to us?” Soon male members of the family began to work the phones to assess the situation and a few others ran downstairs to lock the main gate.

A few streets down at Dr Nakhat’s Homeo Clinic, there were several women inside when a few people on the street were shouting, “They have attacked”. The doctor asked his staff to shut the gate, while a well-wisher of the doctor brought the shutter of the clinic down. But this also meant no one could get out. Eventually, a patient’s son came to open the shutter. When they opened it, they saw a crowd outside and all of them were wondering who had seen the armed Hindutva mob in the locality.

Then there was news of violence having broken out in Sarita Vihar where shops shut down after rumours of skirmishes in Alipur and Madanpur Khadar spread. Similar news came from Shaheen Bagh too.

All of them turned out to be rumours and the Delhi Police quelled them quickly. In Sarita Vihar, it was a fight between a few people because of personal enmity, while in Tilak Nagar it was because when police had apprehended members of an armed gambling ring; it had led to shots being fired in the locality.

The speed at which the rumours flew only pointed towards the level of mistrust between the two communities. The mistrust has increased after the pogrom in North-East Delhi localities such as Jaffarabad, Maujpura, Noor-e-Ilahi, Gokulpuri, Brijpuri Karawal Nagar, Mustafabad and Shiv Vihar. The violence had begun after a clash in Jaffarabad on February 23 evening between groups supporting and opposing the new Citizenship Amendment Act.

Hindus and Muslims, who have stayed together for years, have suddenly become suspicious of each other. “We have to show Muslims their place. Why have they been protesting for so many days? We will also get out on the street in support of the Act. The Muslims instigated the violence and now the Hindus have woken up from their slumber. Now, we will not sit quietly,” emphasised an iron-rod wielding Rajan. He had come from 4 kms away to help his Hindu ‘brothers’ and was joining the Hindutva mob under the Maujpura metro station.

Kartikey, who lives in Gali No. 6 at Shiv Vihar, insisted that Muslims knew that an attack would happen five days ago. He claimed that the Muslim men moved their women to safer localities and men stayed behind to pelt stones at Hindus. Kartikey insisted that even though many Muslim houses were burnt down, it was only done as an act of revenge.

“The Muslim men from across the road pelted stones. You will find catapults, bricks and Molotov cocktails on the roofs of several Muslim home. In retaliation, we burnt down the mosque in the next lane. We had to teach them a lesson. Aam Aadmi Party won in the state because people were greedy for free electricity and water. That is why true Hindus did not come to power in the state,” added Kartikey.

“We know which Muslims were part of the mob. But we cannot reveal names. How can we live with them? As you know Muslims keep big kitchen knives with them, but what do Hindus have? So, it is obvious who led the attack,” said Vivek, who lives in the predominantly Hindu area Bhajanpura.

But the Muslims had different stories to tell as most of their homes were targeted and attacked. In lane after lane, their homes were looted, vehicles burnt, and shops ransacked. “Most of them came wearing helmets, so we do not know who attacked our homes. We fled for our lives. We only pelted stones in self-defence; if we hadn’t, more people would have died. The mob would back off only when they were attacked. We don’t know if we will be safe anymore,” explained Mohsin Sheikh, a resident of Mustafabad and is now currently at the relief camp.

The apathy of Delhi Police

In most mixed localities, tempers and mistrust have been running high. That is what triggered the panic on Sunday night of riots having broken out in various parts of the Capital. Most WhatsApp messages asked for help to reach the police. But, unlike a week earlier when the Delhi Police had hardly responded to frantic calls of mob attacks, on Sunday where the rumours spread, the Delhi Police acted with uncharacteristic speed.

Several MLAs including Amanatullah of Okhla and Jarnail Singh of Tilak Nagar put out videos asking people to not panic. Then Delhi Police PRO MS Randhawa requested people to not heed to the rumours either as the city was peaceful. The swift responses ensured that the situation on the ground did not escalate

But the Delhi Police did not do so when the pogrom began on February 24. A few concerned citizens had approached Seelampur Police Station hoping the police personnel there would act, but to no avail. Nadeem Khan, Rahul Roy, and Saba Dewan had met the Joint Commissioner of Police Devesh Sharma, but he also wasted their time.

“We called both 100 and 112 on February 24 at least eight times, but no one answered the call. Our shop-cum-residence is the only one that has been targeted on this lane and that is because we are Muslims. There were at least 16 family members and we managed to escape through the roof,” said Bhoore Khan, whose fruit shop is the first one in Karawal Nagar.

“We were stuck in Shiv Vihar for hours as the mob raged around us. We locked ourselves up on the roof. Electricity in the area was cut off so that the mob could vandalise without any impunity. We called the police at least thrice. They answered the call but did not provide us any help. They kept saying police will come, but the police never came the entire night on February 25,” asserted Khadija Khatoon, who used to live in Shiv Vihar, but now has moved to the relief camp at Mustafabad.

“The Delhi police was instigating mobs near Noor-e-Ilahi and they were guided towards our homes. Hindutva mobs shot at least five people here on February 24, but the police did not even pretend to do their duties, instead they tried blocking our vehicles which were headed to hospitals nearby,” said Danish, who is a resident of Noor-e-Ilahi.

What has become clear between the two responses is that the Delhi Police chose to look the other way in North-East Delhi, but got its act together on March 1 when rumours of violence across the city fanned out.

“If there was political will, the violence could have been stemmed in a few hours. At least 10,000 people have been displaced as a result of the pogrom and most of them had dialled the police expecting them to act, but they faced hostility. Now, it has even come to light that one of the young Muslim men who were forced to chant the National anthem by the Delhi police has died. The force has no empathy,” said Waseem Ahmed, a local Congress politician in Mustafabad.

No political healing

Despite the Capital grappling with the worst communal violence in decades, no political overtures have been made to begin the healing process. Both Bharatiya Janata Party and Aam Aadmi Party state representatives remain mute spectators though they had all been elected less than a month ago.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal is yet to visit the riot-affected families, though deputy CM Manish Sisodia visited a few of the areas eight days after Hindu mobs swept through lanes targeting Muslim homes and business establishments. Kejriwal had claimed for three days that relief camps were set up in affected localities, but until the time of going to print, there was only one relief camp operational. Set up at the Eidgah in Mustafabad, the first relief camp has neither been set up by the Delhi government nor is it being monitored by them.

The relief camp is set up on the land owned by the Delhi Waqf Board and the tents were provided by the Delhi government. But the food is being prepared by local volunteers and ration is being brought in by civil society groups. There were no government-authorised doctors, child psychologists or gynaecologists at the camp. Clean clothes were also not being provided by the Delhi government, instead they were being supplied by NGOs and civil society groups to the affected persons. All the doctors on the site are from private hospitals.

To add insult to injury, BJP leader Kapil Mishra, whose inflammatory speech on February 23 had called for violence against those protesting the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act, held a ‘peace march’ from Jantar Mantar to Connaught Place.

Even though the march had no permission, the protestors were flanked by police personnel and at this ‘peace march’, chanted slogans such as ‘Kisi ko mat maaf karo, jihaadiyon ko saaf karo (Don’t spare anyone, wipe out jihadis)’ and ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko’. Mishra claimed that people who were walking with him were those Hindu men who had been injured in the orchestrated violence.

Despite the damning slogans, DCP (New Delhi) Eish Singhal said, “The march was peaceful, so no one was detained. No complaint has been received against the slogans at the march, so no FIR has been registered.”

With the chants of violence moving from the outskirts of Delhi to Central Delhi, hatred has begun to consume and overwhelm people of all communities. It is only a matter of time before another communal inferno breaks out in the Capital.

Okhla resident Pervez underscored, “I am not worried about myself but apprehensive about the lives my children will lead. Will they be able to live like me who had more non-Muslim friends then Muslims?”

With inputs from Syed Khurram

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Published: 05 Mar 2020, 9:30 AM