“Police personnel are not in sufficient number in the area. Rioters (Muslims) are roaming around and threatening people. Shops are being ransacked and torched. They are also fighting with the police. We are unsafe in our homes. It’s now time to teach B##**@@@d (abusive word) a lesson. We have come here to protect soldiers of the Delhi Police and teach these miscreants a lesson.”
A man with a helmet on his head, tilak on his forehead and an iron rod in his hand told NewsClick at Northeast Delhi’s Khajuri trisection where stones were being pelted towards Muslim neighbourhood of Sonia Vihar amid chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’. The people were shouting religious slogans so fiercely that the conversation could not be continued. In this atmosphere of terror, what was even more frightening was that the crowd sought to know reporters’ identity and name of the news organisation.
When NewsClick reached the area on Tuesday morning, smoke could be seen rising up in the air, with residents of Muslim localities struggling to secure their neighbourhood and keeping a watch from their rooftops. Stones, along with abuses, were being hurled at them from different directions. All this was happening in the presence of the police who were struggling to control the mob, but not taking any strong action visibly to vacate the roads.
People in the crowd were setting shops on fire, pelting stones and assaulting locals as well as outsiders. These rioters also carried weapons, stones, rods and swords in their hands. Many were wearing helmets. For around 30 minutes, the police only once fired tear gas shells to disperse the crowd. For the rest of the time, they were seen lobbing tear gas towards the Muslim locality so that those who were securing entry/exit of their localities can be pushed back.
On the main road going towards Chand Bagh and Bhajanpura, torched vehicles lying on the main road and bricks, stones and broken glasses could be seen strewn everywhere—as a testimony of the scale of violence that took place a day before and at night. Also, smoke was coming out from gutted shops and a petrol pump, making it difficult for everyone to breathe.
While proceeding on the main road, people could be seen walking around and standing in groups, with many of them covering their faces, while holding sticks, iron rods, swords, etc. The aggressive crowd chanting religious slogans had taken control of the area. The police presence on the way was inadequate. Each group was greeting another with the chants as if the religious slogans had become identity cards. Though these violent groups did not misbehave with NewsClick reporters, identity cards had to be shown. The reporters had to make sure that one from the minority community did not reveal his identity—which could potentially invite trouble. Nobody was allowed to take pictures, as the mobs threatened to break the phones if videos are shot.
Along with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, slogans like ‘Delhi Police, Zindabad’ were also raised by the motorcycle riders. Instead of the police, the main road was occupied by rioters, while on the other hand, a group of policemen could be seen resting at an intersection near Chand Bagh.
Bhajanpura showed a similar picture. A crowd of people, comprising men and women, was out on streets. They were also armed with hockey sticks and iron rods. People had also gathered on their rooftops. Many of them were peeping through their windows.
An elderly man in Bhajanpura was distributing water bottles to the police personnel, which were offered to the reporters as well. “This madness needs to be stopped. People are vandalising shops. The robbery is rampant. Families need to be evacuated from here. We are scared inside our homes. This is the first time after 1984 anti-Sikh riots that we are witnessing such mayhem in Delhi. The region has always been peaceful. Movement on this road is difficult on normal days because of the traffic congestion. All business establishments are closed. Everyone is just worried about their life,” he said.
On the way to Gokalpuri, a tyre market was set ablaze. There was a commotion and policemen were blocking the street. A mob could be seen indulging in vandalism in a colony. Some of those present at the spot said that a Muslim’s house was surrounded by a mob. When the policemen fired tear gas shells, the crowd backed off, but start assembling soon again.
A little ahead, a few people were sitting at a makeshift tea shop. When they stopped a passer-by and warned him of the “trouble” ahead, he said, “Apne Hindu log hi to hain (They are our own people, Hindus).” An elderly man replied, “Hain to hamare hi log, lekin bheed ka koi dharm nahin hota (Though they are our own people, the crowd does not follow any religion).”
Near the Gokalpuri roundabout, towards the metro station, a tractor loaded with bricks was burning. Several vehicles were also set ablaze and fire engines were dousing the fire. Miscreants chanting religious slogans were celebrating their act of ‘bravery’. The hostile environment prevented people from recording videos.
It should be noted that Section 144 of CrPC was in place and unlawful assembly was a criminal offence in the area. But the miscreants, apparently enjoying impunity and police complicity, could be seen walking on roads brandishing weapons.
When NewsClick reached Kardampuri—near the venue of an indefinite sit-in being staged by women against the citizenship—men in large numbers were waving towards the main road to show the security personnel that they are unarmed made way for the reporters. A young man requesting anonymity said, “There is hardly any police presence in the area. Rioters are roaming around and threatening people. Frenzied groups have beaten people on the streets and vandalised vehicles.”
There were loud sounds of intermittent tear gas firing. There was panic all around in the Muslim-majority neighbourhoods. Armed with sticks and iron rods, residents were blocking all possible entries of rioters into the colony. Everyone was talking about firing of live bullets by rioters, but the reporters could not confirm it. Women with their young children were seen shifting to ‘safer places’ from their roadside houses.
When NewsClicktried to leave the colony for Maujpur, our reporters were stopped at exit points with locals saying that it was not safe to move out as riots were going on, on the main road. On being asked to guide our reporters through a safer exit, our reporters were escorted by a boy till the end of the Muslim-dominated section of the colony. Though there was no physical boundary between the Muslim and Hindu sections of the same colony, the distinction was very apparent. While the Muslim-dominated section was congested, with narrow roads, there were several houses with shops on their ground floors. The Hindu settlements in the same colony had wide roads with better residential buildings.
In neighbouring Maujpur, people from both sides said they were deploying boys outside the area to deal with attacks from the other side. There were rumours of many Muslims being killed and Hindus injured in these violent incidents, but no one could refute or confirm the hearsay.
In the adjoining Kabir Nagar colony, miscreants were burning vehicles on the main road; there was chaos – gunshots and sounds of tear-gas shells bursting.
People in the area were polarised about the violence which started with stone-pelting. Both Hindus and Muslims blamed each other for triggering the carnage and that their actions were merely retaliatory.
An auto driver, when asked what was happening, said: “What is encouraging rioters is the sheer absence of the police force. The police are not making serious efforts to contain the rioters and control the disturbance. Had the police wanted to stop this madness, it would have, on day one. It seems that the government has left us to fight and die. We don’t know when it will end and how many lives will be lost.”
A showroom was being targetted on the Shahdara-Maujpur road. It was first vandalised and then put on fire. No other shop in the market was even touched. Police personnel and firemen were trying to extinguish the fire.
“A majority of people from both the communities do not want violence, but now everything is under the control of the miscreants,” said Sulaiman, a bystander.
He added that no leader from any party has visited the area. “If leaders come and appeal to the people for peace, it will have an impact. But leaders of all three political parties have left the people of this area alone,” he said.
As night descended, curfew was imposed in several areas of Northeast Delhi. The women protesters were asked to call off the protest and the road was cleared. The tension in the area began mounting as it got darker. Rioters assembled at Shiv Vihar chowk and surrounded Muslim houses in Jaffrabad. Several houses were torched and religious places were desecrated. The violence continued until late at night.
NewsClick reporters left the area after 11 pm.
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