New Delhi: The brandishing of swords, knives, baseball bats and hockey sticks during the Hanuman Jayanti procession in northwest Delhi’s Jahangirpuri on April 16 portended an ominous turn of events—Govind Mishra had sensed it for he had never witnessed such a terrifying spectacle.
“I have been staying here for the past two decades and have witnessed several Hanuman Jayanti processions. But I have never seen such a huge crowd with a majority of the participants in the rallies wielding swords, knives, baseball bats and hockey sticks,” Mishra, a priest of Sheetla Mata Mandir, at D Block, who was busy performing the Sundarkand Paath on Saturday, told NewsClick.
“A few of them were also brandishing kattas (country-made pistols),” added Mishra, who belongs to Madhubani district of Bihar.
Initially reluctant to speak about the incident, Mishra opened up as the conversation progressed in Maithili language. “The atmosphere was charged. The procession was not properly guided and controlled by the organisers,” he said admitting that loudspeakers were blaring “highly objectionable and provocative” music.
The first two rallies went off peacefully after they weren’t allowed to pass through the mosque on Kushal Road. “Had the rallies not been diverted, violence would have occurred during daytime,” he added.
Trouble began when the procession was pelted with stones, Mishra claimed though he was not present at the spot. Video footage accessed and seen by Newsclick confirms Mishra’s earlier claim that several participants were armed. The third and final rally didn’t follow the prescribed route and reached Kushal Road crossing through B and C blocks. The entire neighbourhood is home to small traders, migrant workers and Bengali-speaking Muslim waste collectors.
The mixed working class area came to a boil after participants of the final rally allegedly attempted to trespass on the mosque and hoist saffron flags. Communally provocative lyrics and objectionable slogans are clearly audible in the purported videos.
“Could not these enthusiastic devotees find any temple to portray signs of their faith? What was the reason for the Hindus to forcibly enter a mosque during a festival?” asked a young Muslim owner of a readymade clothes shop at C Block’s DDA Market.
“The first rally crossed C Block to reach the main road around 1 pm. The second one also passed off peacefully around 4:30-5 pm. The two rallies avoided the mosque. But the third rally, organised by the Bajrang Dal, took the road leading to the mosque with the sole purpose of having a confrontation,” the shop owner alleged.
According to him, Muslims “maintained restraint despite the provocation. Some of the participants are my school friends and chanted anti-Muslim slogans. Only two policemen were accompanying the rally”. As the rally reached Kushal Road around 6.20 pm, “it turned toward the mosque, which was preparing for Iftar. The crowd moved ahead while playing loud indecent music and shouting slogans”, he said.
The shopkeeper alleged that a few people “suddenly entered the mosque and tried to hoist a saffron flag. The people inside the mosque strongly objected and chased them away, causing a veritable stampede. Subsequently, both groups started pelting stones and a few shots were also fired, one of which injured a policeman”. This reporter saw saffron flags and stones scattered at the entrance of the mosque after the incident.
Delhi police commissioner Rakesh Asthana, however, denied the allegation that attempts were made to break into the mosque. “It is baseless. The tension began following a verbal exchange between the two groups. An investigation is under way. The guilty won’t be spared,” he told the media during a press briefing on April 18. So far, 23 people have been arrested, he added. As per their medical records, 18 out of the arrested are Muslims.
Shankar Kumar, a Jahangirpuri resident enrolled at Delhi University, alleged that the riot was “well planned” by extremist Hindutva organisations like Bajrang Dal. “Blocks B and C are mostly inhabited by Muslims and D block has a majority Hindu population. The processions were deliberately taken out from Muslim-majority areas and the road adjoining the mosque,” he further alleged.
The procession “targeted” areas inhabited by very poor Muslims who make their living by selling vegetables in the nearby markets and picking up garbage, Kumar alleged. “The whole thing was planned in the same way as the unrest in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Chhattisgarh on Navratri and Ram Navami,” he further alleged.
Explaining the modus operandi of such Right-wing groups, Kumar said: “Organise processions, pass through Muslim-concentrated areas, halt near mosques and play objectionable songs and raise anti-Muslim slogans, provoke the community and cause violence.”
Asthana avoided questions about the objectionable songs played at the procession and the participants brandishing weapons. “It’s a matter of investigation. Probes are under way. CCTV and other video footages are being examined. We have not identified the persons carrying firearms during the procession,” he said without commenting on the communally provocative music and slogans.
During communal unrest, each side accuses the other of fuelling trouble. “Hindus never quarrel. They [Muslims] attacked us with full planning. Had they come to this side, their tongues would have been slit,” Jai Prakash, who sells chicken on the roadside near CD Park vegetable market, told Newsclick.
Without providing any evidence, Prakash alleged that polythene bags containing meat were hurled at the procession. “There are videos showing meat bags being thrown at the procession.” But neither Prakash nor more than a dozen Hindus Newsclick spoke to could show that alleged footage. They insisted that the procession was first attacked with stones by Muslims inside the mosque and the adjoining colony. “Our first two rallies were not allowed to proceed on the decided route. They ambushed us during the third rally,” he added.
The first information report (FIR No. 0440/2022) filed at the Jahangirpuri Police Station is apparently based on the version of events presented by some Hindu groups. The procession, it says, was “peaceful” until it reached the mosque, where “one Ansar along with four to five people started quarrelling” with the participants of the rally. “That led to the commotion with people from both sides pelting stones at each other,” the FIR mentions.
The FIR doesn’t mention the brandishing of swords, baseball bats and firearms, the playing of provocative songs and slogan shouting. It also does not explain why the permissible route was not followed, according to sources.
“If it was a fight between two sides, why have mostly Muslims been arrested?” asked Sheikh Sarwar, whose father Shiekh Saurabh, a sanitation worker with MCD, has been arrested.
Several Muslims have dubbed the police action as “partisan and biased.”
“Even if the police version is true, the cops stationed there could have stopped the two sides from indulging in heated exchanges. Why did they choose to be mute spectators?” asked Mohammad Tabrez, a social worker in the area. “There should have been heavy police deployment near the mosque. Everyone is aware of the situation in the country,” he added.
Ansar’s family is furious—with not only the police but the media as well. “Why doesn’t the media present the truth? Why are they running a one-sided story? Only Muslims are being shown as stone pelters, no one is playing the footage showing Bajrang Dal members carrying arms and provoking Muslims?” his relatives asked.
Ansar has been arrested as one of the conspirators. “We were waiting for the Azaan to break our fast. Suddenly, his mobile rang and he was called to defuse the situation at the mosque. He helped the police control the situation and rushed the injured policemen to the hospital. He came back exhausted around 8 pm,” his wife Sakina, a mother of five, told Newsclick.
“Around 11 pm, a few men in uniform took him to the spot, where he was made to sit for hours. I called him thrice but he said that the cops were not letting him go. When I called him around 3 am, he told me that he had been arrested,” Sakina added.
According to Sakina, Ansar is influential and often helps the residents in an emergency. “When they [Hindus] were dying during the pandemic, he arranged oxygen cylinders for them. He distributed thousands of ration kits to people who had lost their source of livelihood during the lockdown without religious discrimination. Now, we are being called outsiders, terrorists, Bangladeshis and even Rohingyas by the same thankless lot,” she added.
According to the police, Ansar was earlier involved in two cases of assault and had been repeatedly arrested under preventive sections and booked five times under the Public Gambling Act and the Arms Act. However, both Hindus and Muslims praised him. “They (Ansar and his family) have been living here (B-block) for the past 12 years and never indulged in any form of violence. He has always helped us,” said one of his neighbours.
A day after the incident, the locality appeared normal without any visible signs of the hatred that had engulfed it. Not too far from the scene of the violence, a community kitchen serving chole, puri and Rooh Afza was organised to mark Easter. Muslims blamed Right-wing forces for the unrest and said that they do not have any grudge against their Hindu neighbours, with whom they have been living amicably for so many years.