If one stands on the main road dividing Bhajanpura and Chand Bagh, there are clear black holes visible in the uneven vista. On the side of the road that is called Chand Bagh, your eyes will go to Noore Khan’s fruit shop and restaurant, once with green walls, now burnt and smeared in black soot. A few shops down, past Bengali Sweet House, is a bike shop, Zohan, now an empty shell. A Maruti showroom next to it with no clear named signage is black as well.
Down the lane, there are houses with graffiti on the walls. ‘Inqilab, No RSS, No CAA’.
A car outside has been burnt. There are remains of what looks like a sugarcane juice shop.
Young boys from the locality are scavenging through remains of a lorry truck parked on the road. It was carrying a consignment of candy. Close to Noore Khan’s shop, that has become a picturesque tragedy spot with bright oranges littered, is a mazaar. The outer structure is standing with little inside. On 27 February, like many localities in Northeast Delhi that witnessed carnage, it was being cleaned of charred remains. The hope, the less you see, the less you feel.
‘There Was a Mob Outside, Hitting the Shop With Stones & Petrol Bombs’
On the other side is Bhajanpura. It’s marker of tragedy is the Indian Oil Petrol pump, standing ghostly. The pump became a ball of fire. Everything was ripped out or preserved in the final gestures. A bike in queue, a car that may have come for servicing, all charred. “The pump belongs to a Sardar ji,” someone says. “No, he is a Maheshwari,” another one adds. No one has come to inspect the ruins, yet. Many from the lane, like Deepak Sharma who houses a restaurant (Captain Katora, burnt), Navneet Gupta, who runs a coaching academy (Horizon — partially damaged), Ravi Kumar, owner of a training institute (London Academy — partially damaged) talk about how, “a crowd (upwards of 500) armed with stones, petrol pumps, liquor bottles had been gathering numbers, building up across the road, since Monday morning (24 February). By noon, this crowd (of allegedly Muslim men) had set the petrol pump on fire and burnt vehicles,” they recount.
Next to the petrol pump is an e-rickshaw showroom whose board once said, Al-Zahoor & Co. The family, Sharif Ahmed, his brother Rais Mohd, have come to see the charred remains of their life’s earnings of 30-odd years.
About 18-20 vehicles, all ashen. “The pump was already burning. We just put our shutters down and went up to the terrace. There was a mob outside, hitting the shop with stones and petrol bombs,” Sharif Ahmed, says.
‘Delhi Police is Partial’
In the next few hours, a crowd of (allegedly Hindu men) burnt down the Zahoor establishment. They crossed the road and attacked the fruit shop of Noore Khan. “I saw this mob from my terrace, breaking the divider and charging towards us. It was all a matter of a few seconds. Bas kuch lamhon ke khel tha,” Khan says, breaking down several times on the very rooftop from where he and several family members escaped, jumping from one roof to another.
“I had heard in my childhood that the Uttar Pradesh police is one of the worst police forces in the country. They don’t help people, they are partial. In 48 years for the first time I think the Delhi Police is that partial,” he says.
“Why do you feel this way,” I nudge him to recount more.
“The rioters were with them (Hindu mob). Why are you dispersing this side (Muslim) first? First disperse them (Hindu mob), these guys will go on their own. You (Delhi Police) have kept them (Hindu mob) with you which is why this is happening,” Khan says also referring to how the same pattern was followed on 25th beyond the culvert.
‘They Were Armed With Stones, Lathis, Crude Bombs’
From any terrace on either side of the road, one will always be able to trace a temple top, or a mosque tomb and draw a straight visual line. The topography of this riot is important. But even more are signs of a precarious co-existence that can be seen along the entire axis of Jafrabad to Maujpur, and pockets of Bhajanpura, Khajuri Khas, Kachi Khajuri, Mustafabad, Moonga Nagar, Chand Bagh, Brijpuri. The names of these localities make the identities of these communities clear, but often they are separated by nothing more than a dirty drain, a culvert or just simple awareness.
“Yahan se unka ilaaka shuru, (their area starts from here)”, the president of the Residents Welfare Association of Brijpuri, Surinder Sharma, says of the area next to a culvert where the Farooqiya Mosque stands next to a battered anti NRC/CAA protest site with pictures of Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh hanging precariously.
Paramilitary forces now guard the area, but the Police were conspicuous by its absence as a pitched battle raged on 25 February continuing to 26 February.
By the time the Police came (followed by the RAF), the allegation was that the Arun Senior Secondary School and multiple establishments that stood on the same lane as the Farooqiya Mosque had been torched.
“They were armed with stones, lathis, crude bombs, inflammable material. They came from the side of the Farooqiya Masjid and jumped roofs. The school’s main office was reduced to ashes, library burnt, toilets vandalised, a school bus inside the premises was burnt,” many including Sharma, Satish Kaushik (owner of a refined oil distributorship), Neetu Choudhary (officially speaking for the lone watchman of the Arun Senior Sec School) recount.
‘When They Finally Came, the Delhi Police Chose a Side’
Criticism of slow, ineffective police response would have been an easier allegation to make. But the charge is graver and more insidious. When they finally came, the Delhi Police chose a side.
Sharma says it the most clearly.
“Uske baad scene badal gaya. Mein jhooth nahi boloonga, phir yahan ke ladkon ne (Hindu) us taraf (Muslim) dhava bola, (The scene changed after the Police camer. I won’t lie. Then our boys were strong, and they charged that side,” Sharma says.
38-year-old Kishwar Jahan saw this change unfold. She had a clear view of the mosque and the lane from her house window in Mustafabad (Ziaudin Pur).
“Jab police aayi to tassali hui, police ko dekh ke tassali hoti hain, lekin mamla bigad gaya (When the police comes one is reassured, but this became worse),” she says. “The masjid was attacked with stones, the CCTV camera was broken before they entered, arsoned the madrasa with petrol bombs. The police lathi charged us. It was shortly after the evening namaaz,” Kishwar Jahan, her husband Mohd Zahid and Mohd Mehtab who lives in the lane of the mosque recount how the mob (assisted by the police), entered the premises.
‘Police’s Inaction & Action Were a Breach of Social Contract’
The police’s inaction and action are the breach of a social contract that citizens (despite excesses and discrimination) have with a man in uniform. That contract has been violated, and ironically the only thing many are still clutching onto.
“We have asked the police to put some presence that side of the road and this side. They have done it,” Noore Khan says later adding. “Who does one blame. Rehna to inhi ke saath hai”.
It’s unclear to me now whether Khan was talking about the police or the mixed neighbourhoods of Chand Bagh, Moonga Nagar, Bhajanpura, all of whose lives intersect with each other, at least notionally if not emotionally.
“Most of our customer base is entirely Hindu,” Rais Mohd of Al-Zahoor says. “Look at the temples from here to Karawal Nagar, we have protected them,” he adds.
Several media reports from different parts of northeast Delhi have indicated this to be true. In Moonga Nagar though, residents, including the pandit of a small temple, Gokul Bhardwaj, show the damage caused by stones and sharp objects that came raining on the rooftop. The allegation is that in this pocket, a building occupied by AAP Municipal Councillor Tahir Hussain (since then expelled from the party pending inquiry) became a hotspot from where violence and arson – using petrol bombs, stones and even firing –took place leading to the possible death of Intelligence Bureau official Ankit Sharma.
‘Normal or Not? Hindu or Muslim? Temple or Mosque?’
Several companies of paramilitary forces (some of them coming straight from Trump duty) now man the affected areas. Municipal authorities are cleaning the burnt debris to bring the much famed ‘normalcy’ back on streets. Anchor men and women in bullet proof jackets, suits, and coiffured hair are standing on main roads after the violence had receded broadcasting mixed messages.
Normal or not?
Hindu or Muslim?
Temple or mosque?
A Waris Pathan or a Kapil Mishra?
Ankit Sharma or the 38 others.
It’s the conversation that’s happening in several small pockets in northeast Delhi. Mini debates being ignited and quelled immediately.
The unease with what’s happened and with each other is amply clear. No one comes forward on either side to say that they knew or recognised the men who may have helped cause the havoc. But there has been some writing on the wall.
Away from the Shaheen Bagh media spotlight, three (possibly more) anti CAA/NRC protests have continued in pockets for more than a month. The pillars holding the Delhi Metro line and the walls have graffiti and slogans. One can see the counter slogans being etched out by erasing the ‘No’ from ‘No NRC/CAA/RSS’ in several parts. There has been the inconvenience of traffic, but it would seem the politics and virulent campaign of the Delhi elections, further amplified by Kapil Mishra’s speech standing alongside a district police chief, has not been inert. The fault lines are clear, deep and if not paid heed to, could rupture again.
“Monday (24 February) belonged to them, Tuesday (25 February) belonged to us,” Ravi Kumar says in conclusion to our conversation of the two days of mayhem.
(Anubha Bhonsle is an independent journalist. She tweets @anubhabhonsle. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)