Jahangirpuri violence: Revisiting ground zero

A year after violent clashes rocked Jahangirpuri when a religious procession passed through an areathat is home to a minority community, peace prevails there.
Jahangirpuri violence: Revisiting ground zero

A year after violent clashes rocked Jahangirpuri when a religious procession passed through an area
that is home to a minority community, peace prevails there. Some residents, however, feel normalcy has not returned completely. Meanwhile, Delhi Police has filed a charge sheet against 50-odd people for
the violence which left scores of people injured, writes Ujwal Jalali

I am begging you to open the door, please stop them, please ask them to at least allow me to take my belongings,” wailed Raheema, owner of a cold drink booth, which was being razed to the ground in front of her eyes even as her family was caged inside their house during the demolition drive against alleged illegal encroachments conducted by the authorities last year on April 20 in northwest Delhi’s
Jahangirpuri area.

Just four days prior to that, on April 16, 2022, the area had been rocked by violent communal riots between members of different communities in which eight police personnel and a civilian was left injured. The clashes had broken out when a Hanuman Jayanti procession was passing through a minority area.

It was not just one procession that passed through the same locality, rather, it was the third one that ultimately led to bloodshed. The first two processions were taken out at 11 am and 1 pm on April 16, and their organisers took permission from the police on March 25 and March 31, respectively. However, Delhi Police denied the request for the third Shobha Yatra procession as its organisers had made the request at extremely short notice. But even though there was no permission, the organisers went ahead and took out the procession.The clashes broke out in the evening and it took a while for the Delhi Police to deal with them with the help of paramilitary forces.

MCD’s drive against ‘illegal encroachments’   

Just four days after the violence, the MCD deployed bulldozers to remove ‘illegal encroachments’ from on the same road in front of the mosque which was the epicentre of the riots. They first demolished a tobacconist’s shop and then a juice-cum-tobacco vendor next to it. Then a double-storey scrap dealer’s shop was razed to the ground.

When news of the drive broke out, it led to an outcry among Opposition parties and Muslim organisations. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, rushed to the Supreme Court, which went on to order a status quo, halting the drive.The damage had already been done, however, and scores of families were left inconsolable.

Raheema told this newspaper that since April 20, 2022 morning, she kept asking everyone there -- be it the mediapersons or the security personnel -- whether her booth will be demolished or not.
“None was able to give an answer. However, someone told me that only the scrap and trash which is lying on the road will be taken away. They assured me nothing will happen to your booth,” she said.
The booth was located just 100 metres away from the mosque and Kushal Cinema hall. The road in front of them became the epicentre of the violent clashes. Raheema’s house was just behind the booth. Her family members were watching the demolition from their balcony.

This correspondent had also contacted Raheema at the time when her juice-cum-tobbacco booth was being razed by the Municipal Corporation. “My family is under debt. We have taken a loan of Rs 2 lakh from the bank. Every month we are supposed to pay a monthly installment of Rs 12,000. From where will I bring the money? The fight was between Hindus and Muslims, what did it have to do with my booth?” Raheema said, crying on the phone.

Asked whether any member of her family was involved in the April 16 riots or did the police question them, Raheema said, “All my kids are very small. We had nothing to do with the clashes. I have been living peacefully here for the past 30 years.”
It was not just Raheema who was left scarred by the chain of events; many other booths and shops were razed too.Months later, the Crime Branch filed a chargesheet against scores of people in connection with the riots.

Peace prevails during processions held this year

Just a few days back, two massive religious processions peacefully passed through the streets of Jahangirpuri on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti amid extensive multi-layer security arrangements put in place by the police to preempt any untoward situation.

Anticipating a repeat of the 2022 communal riots, hundreds of personnel of the Delhi Police and paramilitary force had been deployed in the area When this newspaper spoke to Raheema again to try determine the ground situation, she expressed happiness and seemed satisfied with the arrangements made by the police during the recent Shobha Yatra.

“I was a little scared, fearing that clashes would again take place, but thankfully, the processions passed peacefully,” she said.She said her family had again started the cold-drink booth which was demolished by the MCD last year.

A little distance away from her booth stands ‘Gupta Juice Corner’, owned by Ganesh Kumar Gupta, who even stood before the bulldozers on April 20 last year before they partially demolished the structure. The shop has now been completely repaired.

He claims that MCD officials had apologized to him after the drive, saying they had made a mistake in his case and he would be compensated. However, he never got any compensation, he said.  
He said there was still a slight sense of fear among local residents after the 2022 violence. “Earlier, there used to be a heavy rush of people in the market in the evening hours but nowadays people usually avoid coming out. Even my sales have come down,” he said.

Area is mainly home to Muslims from Bengal

The communal violence in Jahangirpuri was just one among thousands of such events in the country. According to a data provided by the Centre, over 2,900 cases of communal or religious rioting were registered in the country between 2017 and 2021. A total of 378 cases of communal or religious rioting were registered in 2021, 857 in 2020, 438 in 2019, 512 in 2018 and 723 in 2017.Delhi too has seen more than its fair share of such events. According to a study conducted by political researchers, more than 90 lives have been snuffed out in the city in communal riots between 1950-1995. This does not include the casualties during the 1984 riots.

Jahangirpuri is home to nearly 10,000 families who migrated to the city from West Bengal during a food crisis in the state post-Independence. In the 1970s, the migrants, who were living in central Delhi, were given a resettlement offer and that is how Jahangirpuri came into existence.

These migrants, a majority of whom were Bengali-speaking Muslims from Bengal, Bihar and areas adjoining India-Bangladesh border, were given small plots of land in the Jahangirpuri area to get settled.
According to Chetanalaya, an NGO, the area has a dense population of more than 5 lakh people and the colony is divided into 12 blocks besides a large slum cluster comprising of rag-picking families.

To make ends meet, lakhs of people residing there ply rickshaws, pick garbage, work in factories, do bangles business, sell fish and vegetables, etc. It has off-late also been noticed that many youth from poor families turn to petty crime.

Notably, the prime accused in the Jahangirpuri communal clashes, Ansar Sheikh, was also running a scrap business before getting arrested.Deputy Commissioner of Police (Northwest) Jitendra Meena while speaking to this newspaper said that the situation was now completely peaceful in Jahangirpuri.

Asked about the investigation into last year’s clashes, he said that a detailed chargesheet had already been filed against nearly 50 people, including two juveniles.“My message to residents is to help the police in maintaining peace and tranquility in the area. Do not believe in any rumours. The police are always at your service,” he said.

Did civic officials defy SC order to halt drive?

Soon after news of the bulldozers being deployed in Jahangirpuri broke, senior advocate Dushyant Dave rushed to the Supreme Court and mentioned the matter before a CJI-led bench, which went on to order a status quo in the matter. However, when reports emerged that the MCD team was pressing on with the drive, Dave rushed back to the court. “I’m sad. Despite the world knowing that this court passed orders, they are not stopping. It sends a terribly wrong message,” he told the court. “They say order is not communicated. This is not right. We are a rule of law society,” he added. The CJI then ordered that its order be communicated though Registrar General or Secretary General “immediately”.  Later in the day, CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat managed to reach the spot and stood in the path of the bulldozers.

In 5 yrs, nation saw 2,900 cases

Over 2,900 cases of communal or religious rioting registered in the country between 2017 and 2021.

How it panned out on April 16, 2022

 As per the FIR, the procession was “peaceful” until it reached the mosque
 It said the argument grew into a riotous situation and stone pelting started from both sides. The police separated the two sides, but stone pelting started again
 It did not explain why the permitted route was not followed by the procession.There was also no mention of bid to hoist a saffron flag on the mosque. Commentators claimed that the FIR leaned towards the version of the events offered by the Hindus
 Delhi Police initially linked Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal for taking out the procession without permission but later retracted the names

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express