As earlier last week, violent clashes engulfed parts of Northeast Delhi, I was present in the capacity of a reporter on the ground throughout the week at different spots. It all started on February 23—when a Bharat Bandh was being observed following a call by Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Azad owing to its opposition to a recent judgement of the Supreme Court concerning reservation in promotions. Various organisations including the Left parties had decided to join the Bandh.
I had gone to the Chand Bagh area on Sunday. As part of the Bandh, the protesters at the Chand Bagh sit-in had decided to march to Raj Ghat to pay their homage to Mahatma Gandhi and then return to the protest site to proceed with routine activities. But the local police refused to allow this march. Miffed with this eleventh hour denial, the protesters blocked the road to register their protest. The entire area was packed with the police and paramilitary officials. After a long negotiation with the police, the protesters cleared the road.
Simultaneously, I was receiving unconfirmed reports about stone-pelting in Maujpur-Babarpur area. Once, the protesters from Chand Bagh returned to the site, I was told by locals to not to move towards Brij Puri, as stones were being thrown. I rushed to check if this information was correct. As I moved beyond the bus stop, I came across a group of twenty-something people who had blocked the road and were raising provocative slogans; however, I could not see any sign of violence. So, I filmed the group and moved away silently.
A few moments later, I found out that the traffic movement had stopped altogether. It was strange, as I had seen before that the traffic police were maintaining smooth flow of the vehicles to ease the traffic. Suddenly, I saw people running and shouting, “Do not go ahead, the situation is violent.” Nonetheless, I moved towards Brijpuri to check if everything was fine. I saw that the mob, holding hockey sticks, cricket bats and rods—which was raising provocative slogans—had swollen multifold. I moved stealthily only to see that stones were scattered all over the road. I could see that they had been used to vandalise vehicles—both government-owned and private.
Near the Brij Puri overbridge, I came across a group of women, who told me: “We were praying when a car came close to us. Four boys got off and before we could understand anything, they started pelting us with stones. When some people chased them, they abandoned the car and ran away. We want to ask the police why they allowed this vehicle to come close to us. Our protest is against the government. Why should it perturb anyone else? Is it unfair to ask the government representatives to talk to us?”
I then talked to a private transporter who confirmed that the bus was vandalised by the people who were raising provocative slogans. After an hour or so, the tension seemed to have eased a little. So, then I called my editor, apprised him of the situation and returned home. However, even after that, I continued to get reports about stone-pelting and minor clashes. I hoped that the tension would de-escalate in the night.
On Monday, I and a colleague started receiving calls at around 11 o’ clock—informing us that the situation is tense in Chand Bagh and anti-social elements are roaming freely in the area with sticks and even guns. I and my colleague decided to wait until we receive confirmed reports from our reliable sources in the area. An hour later, we received our first confirmatory call. It took me half an hour to reach Kashmere Gate. On reaching there, Im saw that the road to Shastri Park was packed with Muslim pilgrims who were returning from their annual ritual called Ijtema at Idgah. I took a shared auto and asked if the driver would go to Khajuri. Even as normally, Rs 10 are charged for this commute, he said, “I will take Rs 30.” He remained silent when I asked about this sudden surge.
On my way, I could see a dark and dense plume of smoke in the sky. Once I reached Khajuri Chowk, I saw a violent mob raising provocative slogans and vandalising shops. I clicked a few pictures and moved ahead. A few moments later, I found a boy who was instructing his relative with a school-going kid to avoid the main road, as they may be attacked. After waking for about a kilometre, I saw that the smoke was emanating from a shop and a couple of vehicles were set on fire. Rapid Action Force—which should have been in action to control the riot—was absent from the spot at this time.
The rioters were busy looting shops and setting them on fire. I tried filming one of the rioters when a man shouted at me, “Close the camera or else you know what can happen to you.” I was frightened. I closed the camera and moved behind. The rioters raided small redis (carts), looted fruits and distributed those among the jawans of paramilitary forces. I had heard and read about this kind of complicity of forces in these situations. On this day, I witnessed it. Later, on two occasions, I could also see how deep this communal bias has percolated into the police personnel. I heard an old jawan saying to his superior that had they not got support of the rioters, the “other” rioters would have killed them. Later in the evening, I heard another jawan alleging that subsidies for free water and electricity were benefiting “them” and he was paying full bill for these services.
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Meanwhile, the riot was only raging with stone-pelting and use of petrol bombs amid complete collapse of law and order. Interestingly, I witnessed that Central Reserve Police Forms (CRPF) personnel did not have helmets to protect them from stone-pelting. I later came to know that only a few jawans were handed helmets in a company. Another jawan told me that if they would have got the permission for lathi charge, the situation could have been controlled within 10 minutes.
Later, I found out that the magnitude of loot and destruction was enormous. The rioters had set fire to the Azad Chicken Center, Balaji Sweets and a Police depot at Khajuri Khas. A masoleum was ravaged and burnt. When I moved ahead, I saw a Maruti Suzuki showroom was burning. An Indian Oil petrol pump had met with a similar fate. Heaps of burnt vehicles lied on the roads. Bundles of wires, too, were raging with fire. In the meantime, police had caught hold of one of the rioters. Suddenly, a mob gathered around him and started beating him. My colleague who was recording a video here was hit with a lathi. I took my colleague to a safer place, away from the rioters.
After calming down a bit, we decided to move towards the Chand Bagh protest site. When we reached there, we found that the temporary tent was reduced to ashes and charcoal. We found a middle-aged man screaming, as he asked other boys to be within the limits of safer streets. He then instructed an injured person to go to the hospital. I asked him if there has been a causality. He said, “I think, eight persons have died.” We were in a state of utter shock.
Here, a boy who spotted us with our camera pleaded us to show the plight of a pregnant lady who had been beaten by rioters and policemen. When we met her, we realised that she needed urgent medical attention. She told us that she was at the protest site when the rioters and policemen attacked her. She said that a rioter first hit her with a big stone on her head. Meanwhile, the policemen were beating them with batons and lathis. She alleged that the rioter wanted to smash her head, but the police “did not allow him”. She fell unconscious in a while.
We were also told that a person had died from a bullet injury in his stomach. Locals guided us to the home of this person. Shahid, a rickshaw puller by profession, had just married two months ago. His sister told us that he was returning from Ijtema when he was shot. His 10-year-old brother asked a questions to us, for which I had no reply. “What do they want from my brother? What do we have? Why did they shoot him?”
Locals told us that we must go to Madina Charitable Hospital. Many injured persons were languishing here. When we reached, we met a middle-aged man, who was hit badly in the eye. A doctor told us, “He may lose his eyesight if he does not get medical care immediately. We do not have an eye specialist.” The doctor admitted that the hospital has provided first aid to at least fifty persons.
After this, when we went to the Al Hind Hospital, we saw many persons severely injured. A person’s jaw was smashed. Another person had lost his thumb. People did not want to show their faces. They said they may be booked by the police for no offence by them. A hospital staff member said that the police were not allowing ambulances to move out of the area and people were compelled to bring the injured persons on bikes and auto rickshaws.
Amid this chaos, we were stopped numerous times, asked about our channel, and were pleaded to show the truth and bring justice to them. On our way back, we tried to assess what had happened. In the end, were blank and speechless.
The next morning, the death toll had been revised to seven, including a head constable from Delhi Police. There were no reports of any major incident. However, later in the day, I got a call from New Mustafabad. The caller simply said, “Sir, please come! They are trying to enter our houses.” I was on my way again. The auto driver at the Kashmiri Gate said that he will go up to Ghamri only. “They have burnt down an auto of a Muslim person.” After getting down at Ghamri, I saw that the road was full of rioters with bats, hockey sticks and rods in their hands, again. They were checking vehicles to know if the person inside was a Muslim.
A little ahead, a man was provoking others to a raise a provocative slogan. These men seemed like the migrants hailing from Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh—perhaps working as daily wage labourers. They have become canon fodder for this politics of hate.
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I started moving towards Chand Bagh. Another mob could be seen on the road with hockey sticks and rods, looking at me with suspicion. I moved anxiously but stealthily. At the intersection of Chand Bagh, the police had blocked the roads and no body was allowed to go further. I kept calling the person who had called me. Nobody was picking up the call. When I asked for a lift on a motorcycle, the man picked me up generously. This man wanted to return to Jauhri Pur in Gokal Puri to his home, but was stranded.
We started moving towards Shastri Park via a service road. We were stopped by a few people on our way. At one point, when we asked about the route to Gokal Puri, they suggested that we should abandon our plan for now. Later, a man said that a boy was recently lynched by a mob on main road. We were asked to go to the Signature Bridge and then proceed to our destination. As we sped up, we saw that a mob had caught hold of another boy who was dragged and beaten black and blue. We were frozen by now. I stopped this gentleman to be dropped a few metres away; advised him to be safe and return only when the situation was under control. I was now at a flyover from where you could see the affected areas surrounded in flames. I found out later that two shops had been looted. I shot a video. When I asked the firefighters why they were not they going to these areas, one of them said that only bikes or hand-driven thelas have been set on fire. “We don’t douse such ‘trivial’ fires.” I was stunned.
On Saturday, I and a colleague decided to go to Kardam Puri. The locality had been severely affected in the riots. In a video—which is doing rounds on social media—five men can be seen lying on the ground and bleeding profusely as they are made to sing the national anthem. One among the injured has lost his life. The incident happened at the intersection of Kardam Puri.
Navigating through its narrow lanes, we reached the house of deceased Faizan’s house. Faizan was a worker at a chicken shop in Ghazipur meat Mandi. His salary was not enough to support his family. To compensate, he worked at a tailoring shop as well. His brother Naeem told us that he had gone to look for his mother when the policemen caught hold of him. First, they beat him and then arrested him. He added that Faizan was not even given necessary treatment. It was only after two days that they released him. “He is dead now. He was sole bread earner for the family. Who will look after my mother now?” questioned his brother.
We then went to another house. Kauser Ali, a painter by profession, was returning from India Gate when he got stranded in a clash between the rioters and the police. His wife told us that Ali has a fractured leg, hand and a rib. “How will I run my household? He was sole breadwinner in my family. I do not know who will pay my bills now.” The residents of the colony complained that the local MLA and Minister Gopal Rai was completely missing from the ground.
Finally, we met Mohd Yaseen, a tailor by profession. This meeting was rather reassuring. Yaseen said that he was returning from Ijtema when a violent mob identified him by his dress. They started thrashing him. He fell down on the ground. Soon, a tear gas shell landed just before him. He fell unconscious. After doing rounds of various government hospitals, Yaseen finally got treatment at private nursing house. Despite braving ordeals, Yaseen has no hate even for his attackers. He said, “It was madness. Now, this must stop. I want the same Delhi where I could roam without fear.”
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