Tension has gripped this resettlement colony in North West Delhi since August 14 — with troublemakers using the Indian flag as a prop
New Delhi: A posse of policemen is camping at a makeshift mosque in Holambi Kalan in North West Delhi to quell trouble brewing between Hindu and Muslim residents since Independence Day.
On Sunday afternoon, when this reporter visited the area, dozens of policemen holding batons were found crowding a tent behind the mosque, while their chief Mukesh Kumar, the SHO of Shahbad Police Station, was perched on a chair in a shop across the road. Kumar initially dismissed the large police presence saying, “It’s nothing much,” then, pointing at the mosque, added, “It is an illegal construction. Local people have complained against it. So we are here to ensure that they don’t build it any further. Else, it can become a law and order situation.”
Divided into phases and blocks, Holambi Kalan is an 11-year-old resettlement colony for people evicted from the city’s many slums, demolished during the construction and ‘beautification drives’ for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The colony has over ten thousand plots out of which just 700 belong to Muslims.
Residents say the trouble began when mosque authorities put up a tent within the premises on August 14, the same tent now occupied by the policemen.
According to a mosque official, some policemen from the local post visited came around that day to enquire about the tent. “We told them it was to organise an Independence Day function the next day and we planned to also hoist the national flag. The police asked if we had prior permission, even though August 15 functions usually don’t require one. On learning that we don’t, the police told us to cancel the function,” he says.
Around midday on August 15, a large crowd of strangers – led by some locals – came to the mosque and accused the Muslims of planning to hoist the Pakistani national flag. “When we showed them the Indian flag that we planned to use, they took it from us and began hoisting it from the pole we had put up. The policemen were already present at the mosque. We asked the police why they were allowed to raise the flag and not us, but failed to get a proper reply.”
Local Muslims claim the crowd raised Hindu religious slogans like ‘Har Har Mahadev’ and ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ while hoisting the flag, to which they objected since Independence Day was not a religious function. They said the crowd returned after sun down and accused the mosque authorities of disrespecting the Indian flag. “They said we should not have taken off the flag in the evening, should not have removed the pole. A young man from the crowd pulled out a small torn flag from his pocket, saying we had thrown it outside the mosque,” said a Muslim resident, who did not want to be identified.
The crowd returned on August 16 to hoist the national flag again—which the police, who were still present in the mosque premises, didn’t allow. “They went back shouting threats to return when the police leave. The local ACP visited the mosque and has assured people of safety,” the resident added.
Hindu residents that this reporter spoke to allege that mosque officials are trying to encroach upon the vacant adjacent DDA lot to extend the present structure, under the guise of putting up a tent to organise an Independence Day function.
The Muslims differ. “Yes, it is on DDA land and so are the other three mosques and the 28 temples in Holambi Kalan. All these religious places are illegal that way. This mosque has been there since 2006 with a tarpaulin cover. It had its boundary wall though. In May 30, last year, half the boundary wall fell during a hailstorm. Just recently, we rebuilt that wall and added a bit of height to it to make it sturdy which some people didn’t like,” says one man, who asked that his name not be used.
“If someone thinks it is an illegal construction, there is a way of going about things legally. Why were we accused of being traitors, trying to hoist a Pakistani flag on Indian soil? That hurts. Most of us here are daily wage earners living hand to mouth. It is shameful to think we will oppose the country we were born in, which is giving us livelihood,” says another Muslim man, a labourer who, like all the residents The Wire spoke to, requested anonymity.