Interacting with rioters in Delhi

Published : February 28, 2020 17:26 IST

At Bhagirathi Vihar. Photo: Divya Trivedi

The huge swathe of North East Delhi that experienced unchecked communal violence for three days is made up of segregated neighbourhoods. In some places, Hindu and Muslim colonies are separated by a grill gate or a broad gutter, in other places by huge pipes or road dividers. There are several mixed neighbourhoods in between and around these localities.

Frontline visited the Hindu-majority area around Gokalpuri and spent some time with young boys who claimed to have participated in the chaos that was allowed to spiral by the authorities. All the Hindus verified the religion of this correspondent before opening up. This did not happen in the Muslim-dominated areas.

In Shiv Vihar, which witnessed a lot of violence, an old man declared that as a Hindu he was prepared to die if required. In Ganga Vihar, a predominantly Jat/ Gujjar area, a man proudly displayed burnt vehicles and said: “All these belong to Muslims. Why would a Hindu burn another Hindu’s vehicle? Hindus did not touch any Muslim but snatched their vehicles and belongings, torched them and threw them in the ditch.” He pointed to the locality beyond the line of drainage pipes, Bhagirathi Vihar, and explained that it was a mixed neighbourhood, full of katuas (derogatory slang for Muslims). To the right, behind the nehar (stream) was Johripur, from where the violence erupted. A crowd of onlookers had gathered around the man as he proudly pointed out the vehicles that were dumped in a wide ditch after being set on fire. He declared that he was not scared to step into the locality beyond the ditch anymore as “all the areas were now under the control of the Hindus”.

A little distance away, black smoke emanated from Ganga Vihar. The man said: “This must be a lone Muslim house in the Hindu locality.” He said this in a matter-of-fact tone. It was chilling and revealed how normalised violence had become.

As he began to walk towards the smoke to investigate its source, a young boy barely in his early twenties pounced on him, rained blows on his head and asked him in a threatening tone: “Why did you say that Hindus torched the vehicles?”

The man tried to defend himself, “But that is the truth, isn’t it?” That incensed the boy further and he slapped him harder until he cried out that it was the Muslims who had torched the vehicles. The boy, not satisfied with this, began dragging the man away to a secluded spot, at which point this correspondent intervened and asked him to let the man go. This angered the crowd and they all began to shout at once. This correspondent directly addressed the boy and asked him his name. This seemed to bring him back to the immediate reality and he let go of the man, accusing him of “being drunk so early in the day and babbling rubbish”.

All the way from Ganga Vihar to the main road in Gokalpuri, vehicles and shops of Muslims were selectively targeted and burnt. The Jamia Arabia Madinatul Uloom mosque in Gokalpuri appeared war-ravaged and covered in black soot. A Delhi Police official refused to allow this correspondent to approach the mosque. A little distance away, a Hindu temple stood untouched.

A group of young boys, defying Section 144 that had been imposed in the area, walked around with a swag. This correspondent spent some time with them and after ensuring that she was a non-Muslim, they said: “We have ensured that no Muslim ever steps foot in Gokalpuri again. If we see one, we will chop him and bury him.” One of them worked with Delhi Metro while the other said he worked in a corporate house. They said they had been protecting their homes ever since the violence started and not a single Hindu’s property had been harmed. They were unabashedly proud of what had happened but, at the same time, careful to not get into trouble as the Rapid Action Force had arrived to control the situation.