In Prayagraj’s Atala, Fear of Demolition Amid Near-Curfew Brings Life to a Halt
While Javed's residence rests in ruin, the tremors of demolition can now be clearly felt among residents of Atala
Mohammed Nasir, in his late 60s, has been helping his family members pack items from the cosmetic shop and put it into a carton placed on a hand-pulled cart parked in front of the shop in Atala area in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj district.
On 10 June, protests in Atala had turned violent leading to stone-pelting and arson. At least 90 people were arrested in the district in the police crackdown post violence.
As media personnel gather around the shop and shove mics in the faces of Nasir's family members, who are franticly gathering items, a sense of panic and urgency is writ large. The panic is believed to be triggered by demolition of Javed Mohammed's residence in Kareli area in the city, barely 2 kilometres from Atala.
Javed, as per police, is dubbed to be the main conspirator of the violence.
While Javed's residence now rests in ruin, the tremors of demolition can now be clearly felt in the panic and fear of residents of Atala. Several shopkeepers like Nasir have quietly begun relocating items from their shops to safer location as an unsaid curfew prevailed over the region.
Panic Over Police Crackdown Keeps Local Hawkers Away From Business
All the main entry and exit points to the locality have been barricaded by the local administration. Police officials and personnel from Rapid Action Force (RAF) and Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) have been manning these barricades. Entry is permitted only to media personnel who have proper credentials.
The main road with shops on both sides show no signs of life. Similar is the situation in the narrow lanes diverging from the main roads which wear a deserted look with frequent sightings of police personnel deployed at every important crossing in the locality. Blaring sirens of police vehicles occasionally tear into the prevailing uneasy calm in the area.
"We have not opened our shops since the violence. All the entry points have been barricaded and they are not allowing anyone inside the area. Even if they allow us to open shops, how are we going to run it like this?" a shopkeeper on the condition of anonymity said.
Despite Prayagraj administration issuing no orders to shut shops, the locals have stayed away from business. The panic over imminent police crackdown has kept the local shopkeepers guessing about when the normalcy would return.
"There is hardly any way to enter this area. There have been no guidelines on when we can reopen the shops and things would return to normal. Locals claim there were miscreants from outside who triggered the violence. I have my shop here for more than four years now and have never witnessed an incident like this," Amit Pandey, who owns a cyber-shop in Atala, said.
In the lane leading to the local mosque in the area, police crackdown is the talking point. Ahmad Ali, the Imam at the mosque, has also been arrested in connection to the violence.
"Jab ek paksh ki suni hi nhi jayegi to phir kaise hoga sabka saath sabka vikas (How can the government promise development for all when one side will not even be heard)? The Imam who was asking the people to disperse and requested them to return to their homes, was arrested. Javed Mohammed's house was demolished. Do you think that was fair?" asked Mohammed Ali, a resident of Atala area.
Demolition of Javed's House a Message to Dissenters?
Several personal belongings of the family, including welfare party of India membership receipt book, academic progress report card of Mohammad's daughter Sumaiya Fatima and a handmade card with "To dear Umam Bhai" "You are like flower" scribbled inside it, are among the things still trapped in the debris.
Some of the commuters pause, stare at debris for a while and move on. A group of women in veil, who had briefly stopped on the road began speaking in hushed tones while looking at the debris.
Didn't the locals object to this demolition?
"See for yourself what happens to people who raise their voice against this government," a woman told The Quint.
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