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Jahangirpuri: Even Some of Those Celebrating BJP’s Bulldozer Politics Faced the Axe

Despite the Supreme Court ruling status quo, North Delhi Municipal Corporation continued to demolish houses and shops in Jahangirpuri in the name of removing "encroachments".
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New Delhi: Ravi, a garbage collector, was busy taking out his belongings from his makeshift shanty on the roadside near CD Park at Jahangirpuri before an “anti-encroachment” drive was launched by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (North MCD) to bulldoze “illegal” shops and structures on April 20, just three days after the northwest Delhi’s neighbourhood was hit by communal violence.

He was also helping his neighbour Noor vacate his slum-like settlement early in the morning.

We asked him where he is going? “(I will go) wherever we get a place to live,” he replied, saying, “The world is very big.” “We have not come from Bangladesh. We originally belong to Haldia in West Bengal and are Indians,” he uttered.

“But we did not ask you about anything about your native place” we said.

Ravi said the media is declaring them Bangladeshis, Rohingyas, infiltrators, etc. “Therefore, it is necessary to tell the world loud and clear that we are not outsiders,” he said with visible rage on his face.

Both Ravi and Noor earn a living by collecting scraps and garbage. They said the policemen stationed there asked them to collect their belongings in the morning and go to some other place as the committee people (officials of the civic body are called committee in the local language) would demolish their makeshift houses and take away everything. They had to hurriedly move their belongings to another place with the help of cycle carts.

But most residents were not fortunate enough to safely shift their hard-earned assets to a safer place. Before they could react, the civic body officials, supported by a strong police force and officials from different departments, arrived and demolished whatever they found on both sides of Kushal Road, which had witnessed mayhem on the evening of April 16.

After that evening, normalcy had slowly returned to the locality, only to be disrupted by the demolition drive launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled (BJP) municipal corporation. The civic body requisitioned 400 policemen from the Delhi Police for the “encroachment removal programme” late on April 19.

Standing on the same stretch that leads to Kushal Chowk, 16-year-old Salima,  tears in her eyes, was helplessly watching her makeshift shop of biscuits, toffees and tobacco products being crushed and loaded into a truck. She told NewsClick that her father had been running the shop here for the last 35 years, which was their sole earning source.

Salima’s father is 60 years old. “For the last few years, their earnings had drastically gone down because of the two lockdowns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and skyrocketing prices. But the family expenses have increased manifold. That’s why my sister and I had to leave our studies to make goods at home. We used to earn a maximum of Rs 5,000 apart from the earnings from the shop,” she explained.

Bulldozers also ran at a juice shop owned by one Ganesh Kumar Gupta at Kushal Chowk, who claimed the shop was allotted by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 1977, and he had all the required documents to prove the same.

He kept screaming and shouting, holding a file full of papers, but was not heard out. The bulldozer moved its paw, and the shop was razed to the ground in no time.

A migrant from Bihar, Gupta said, “...All these so-called illegal shops were set up by the municipal corporation and the police to earn illegally from us. Now, they have snatched our livelihood by creating a conflict between Hindus and Muslims.”

Noor Alam lives with his family close to Kushal Road in a small, congested house. He used to sell fodder for cattle in a small shop on an 8X10 feet wide drain in front of his house. The civic body officials razed the shop and removed a stone slab put on the drain to serve as a way for people living on its other side. Alam told NewsClick that he used to collect leftover bread from households all over the area and sell them to dairies. The dairy owners used to buy it to feed their cows. He said he was not served any eviction notice by any concerned authority.

Standing next to him was Akbar, who had a used clothes shop on the same drain.

“They demolished the shop and took away everything with them. Now, I am left with no source of livelihood. How will I sustain my family? The politics of hatred is snatching our source of butter and bread from us. Do whatever you want with those involved in the violence, but why are you ruining us?” he asked.

Hussain had a small shop of refreshments that was turned into debris. Cold drinks, packed juices, toffees, biscuits and other items, and two fridges were lying scattered on the ground. The shop was in a temporary structure on the roadside while he lives with his family in B block.

“We had recently got the fridge financed, and its EMI (easy monthly instalment) is due in the days to come. How will we pay it now? They ruined us. We had no celebrations in the past two years because of the fund crunch. Corona (virus) had destroyed our businesses. As normalcy was limping back and the business was coming back on track, we had plans to celebrate Eid this year with fun and frolic. But the municipal corporation destroyed us,” his inconsolable wife said, while Hussain and his son were busy collecting coins and leftover items from the debris.

A short distance away from Hussain’s shop, Ranju Jha and Raman Jha were also looking for leftovers from the remains of their shop.

Migrants from Bihar, the Jhas, had a paan (betel leaves) shop at Kushal Chowk for the past 35 years. Apart from the shop, they used to earn a living by performing pujas (worships) in households across the locality. “We lost the main source of our little earning. What did we get from the conflict? It’s time to realise who won and lost,” he told us.

Raman Jha said he had that shop in a Muslim-concentrated locality for so long, but he never faced any problem.

“When I came here early this morning after learning about the planned demolition drive, I asked policemen if I should remove my shop. They told us nothing would happen here as the demolition today would be carried out in CD Park only. But see what happened,” he described his ordeal.

He also has authorisation certificates issued by the municipal corporation to run the shop on the footpath.

Similarly, Dilip’s shop, a little before the mosque, also faced the bulldozer’s wrath. The mosque stands on the C block side on the wide road cutting between C and D blocks in Jahangirpuri. About 15 shops away from the mosque is the local Kali Mandir.

Raising eyebrows, a corner of the mosque was demolished, but the temple on the same stretch was left untouched during the demolition drive. Both religious places had little encroachment on government land.

This angered people who asked if the demolition of the alleged encroachment or illegal construction is being done according to religion.

Bulldozers were sent to demolish homes of alleged rioters at Khargone in Madhya Pradesh and Khambhat in Gujarat in the past two weeks. Both states are ruled by BJP.

'Bulldozer politics' was introduced by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath when he decided to deliver instant justice by destroying homes and shops owned by alleged Muslim offenders even without waiting for the judiciary to declare them culprits.

Attempting to downplay the narrative that the demolitions in Delhi were inspired by the bulldozing of houses and shops belonging to Muslims in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to give the alleged rioters an economic blow, officials maintained that not a single house or shop belonging to those mentioned as accused of rioting in Jahangirpuri has been touched.

However, Delhi BJP President Adesh Gupta, in his letter to the North MCD Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh, wanted the “rioters” to get a message.

BULLDOZERS TEAR DOWN SC ORDER

To everyone’s utter disbelief, around an hour after the Supreme Court ruled status quo on the demolition drive, municipal authorities brought down a platform-like structure at the entrance gate of the mosque.

The so-called encroachment removal continued even after that, with officials saying they had not received the order — which was being telecast on almost all TV news channels.

The drive was halted for a moment. While retreating from the mosque, the bulldozers demolished verandahs, stairs and sheds of a few more shops and houses on the road.

Unfazed by the fact that the media was present in full strength and TV cameras were recording every act of defiance of the top court’s order, three bulldozers were pressed into service and razed a few more shops. This continued for another 15 minutes.

As the bulldozers were moving further, Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo member Brinda Karat arrived at the spot and blocked one of the bulldozers. She was escorted to a police tent where Special Commissioner of Police Dependra Pathak spoke to her, and the bulldozers finally retreated.

“I have come here for the implementation of the SC’s direction. The Special CP assured me that no demolition would take place in accordance with the Supreme Court order,” she told NewsClick, calling the demolition drive “unconstitutional”.

“The law and the Constitution have been bulldozed by illegal demolitions. At least the Supreme Court and its order should not be bulldozed,” she added and appealed to people to maintain peace and harmony.

As the municipal corporation ordered the demolition, public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind (JuH) in the apex court on April 20 morning to get a stay on the drive. The court heard the matter and ordered to stop it at 11 am till further orders.

The matter will be heard today (April 21).

INDIA IS OURS AS MUCH AS THEIRS

Following the communal disturbance in the area, it was alleged that the Bangla-speaking Muslims, who have lived in the alleys of Jahangirpuri for generations, are “illegal Bangladeshis” and “Rohingya” refugees from Myanmar. It appears to be a prelude to the demolition drive.

 Muslim residents of the area said declaring them outsiders hurts them the most. “India is ours as much as theirs. Like migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, we have shifted here from West Bengal. Speaking Bangla does not mean we are Bangladeshis or terrorists,” they said.

Most of them said they were born in Jahangirpuri to parents who had moved to the city searching for work from Haldia.

Angry with the popular narrative, a resident whose family settled in the locality in 1976, when the colony was set up, claimed his family arrived in the national capital in 1966.

“Bangladesh was created in 1971. So, how are we Bangladeshis?” he asked.

The Bangla-speaking Muslim residents of Jahangirpuri, said locals, migrated from West Bengal’s Midnapore and Haldia. “All political parties try to woo us during elections. At that time, we become Indians. And once the polls are over, our nationality changes to Bangladeshis. Isn’t it an irony?” they said.

They are upset with both BJP and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is ruling the national capital. Hours after the demolition drive, AAP leaders, while launching a scathing attack on BJP, also implied that Muslim residents of the area included  Bangladeshis and Rohingyas.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had alleged that BJP, in the last eight years of its rule at the Centre, helped settle Rohingyas and Bangladeshis in the country.

“I want to pose two questions to the BJP. For the last eight years, why did you get Rohingyas and Bangladeshis illegally settled across India? We want numbers of such people settled. If you cannot, then go and die,” Sisodia told reporters on April 20.

BJP, on the other hand, has been alleging that illegal Bangladeshi migrants and Rohingyas refugees were indulging in activities that are detrimental to the country. Soon after the violence in Jahangirpuri on Saturday, a section of BJP leaders claimed that illegal Bangladeshi migrants had swamped the locality, and they targeted the Hanuman Jayanti procession.

“The AAP patronising Rohingyas and Bangladeshis are nervous at their encroachments being removed. Mamata Banerjee allows Rohingyas and Bangladeshis to enter India while Kejriwal gives them freebies and shelter,” Delhi BJP chief Gupta alleged.

North East Delhi BJP MP Manoj Tiwari alleged that the AAP helped illegal Rohingyas and Bangladeshis to settle at Jahangirpuri and Okhla in Delhi but was now disowning the responsibility.

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