New Delhi: At the Maujpur-Babarpur chowk, Hindutva supporters gathered around BJP leader Jai Bhagwan Goyal, who had led a rally of a 100-odd people minutes before he broke into a rant against Muslims.
“Agar yahan rahna hai, toh khada hona hoga (‘If you want to stay here, then you will have to rise up’)” the 60-year-old saffron clad leader declared, even as his voice faded amidst chants of “Jai Shri Ram” and “Har Har Mahadev.”
“Chaaron taraf se Muslims se gheere huye hai. Agar apne aap ko bachana hai toh ladna hoga (‘We are surrounded by Muslims from all four sides, if we want to defend ourselves we will have to fight’),” said one of his supporters, even as Goyal kept inciting the Hindu men who had gathered there against Muslims.
Several parts of north east Delhi have witnessed large-scale communal riots since Monday. On Tuesday, the mixed localities of the region stand entirely polarised on religious lines.
While Muslims have congregated in areas where they are in a majority, the Hindus, barring politically-sponsored rioters, also remain in the confines of their homes.
Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code that prohibits any gathering of four or more people has been imposed. Yet, at the Maujpur Chowk, rioters sporting saffron tilaks on their foreheads ran amok, indulging in frenzied violence against anyone it found to be belonging to the Muslim community.
“Hasn’t Section 144 been imposed here?” a journalist asked a policeman guarding the area in his riot gear.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Then how could the leader take out a rally here?” the journalist followed up.
“Pata nahin (I don’t know),” came the policeman’s pat reply.
The panic call that Goyal and his supporters gave could leave any observer perplexed. The stretch between Jaffrabad and Maujpur metro stations – in effect the epicentre of the communal riots – is less than a kilometre but represents a religious polarisation hitherto unseen in the national capital.
The area near the Jaffrabad metro station has a strong Muslim presence. But, on Tuesday, the Muslim protesters remained largely muted. “Our intention is to protest against CAA. We have no intention to fight our Hindu brothers and sisters,” a protestor at Jaffrabad told The Wire.
When asked whether the situation escalated into a riot only because of Hindutva participants, he said, “I won’t lie. Yesterday, when the Hindu mob started pelting stones, some young men from our side too picked up the very same stones and bricks and threw them at the mob. We couldn’t control the situation. But today, we are clear that no one will be encouraged to indulge in any form of violence.”
Even as a few policemen kept guard, the protesters kept chanting slogans against CAA. Multiple speakers called on people to refrain from any form of violence.
In contrast, the area around Maujpur station has been entirely taken over by a frenzied Hindutva mob.
One is greeted by a large hoarding of saffron drapes that reads “Jai Shri Ram”. Young men, with sticks, tubelights, or plain PVC pipes, openly flaunted their strength in front of a small battalion of Delhi Police personnel stationed there. The police stood as mute spectators even as an anarchic mob swelled. They looked at journalists with suspicion. Each time anyone attempted to take a video or a picture, they would snatch her or his phone, make them delete all photos, and threaten to beat them up.
The police kept requesting the journalists to keep a distance from the mob which was merely 20 metres away but refused to answer why the mob was allowed to congregate despite Section 144 in place.
“Saare ugrawadi hai aas paas. Dande se hi maante hai yeh log (‘We are surrounded by militants. They understand only the language of stick’),” a Hindu man, probably in his late twenties, told The Wire but only after ensuring that this correspondent was a Hindu by birth.
At the same time, he refused to engage with one Muslim reporter who stood there.
In small intervals, the temperature soared as various mobs spread over different parts of the area burst into slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” – visibly the most-used war cry against Muslims. The use of invectives, particularly those clearly intended to be anti-Muslim, pervaded the air, along with the tear gas that the small troupe of police occasionally fired to disperse the mob.
At another corner, there were middle-aged women, clad in saffron, who moved around Babarpur’s streets where Hindus were in a majority, with what appeared to be a clear objective to organise more people from the community against Muslims.
“Yaad rakho, ‘Modi Modi’ nahin bolna hai. Sirf ‘Jai Shri Ram’,” one of them said in response to many in the group keenly wanting to take the prime minister’s name during rioting.
As a mob took over, going beyond Maujpur metro station became impossible but incidents of rioting were being constantly reported to the police. One could hear tear gas shells being fired or see long clouds of smoke from a distant corner from a distance.
Even as most shops and businesses in north east Delhi remained shut on Tuesday, the stretch between the Jaffrabad and Maujpur metro stations was a stark reminder of what conspired on Monday. Many shops owned by Muslims in the Jaffrabad area had been set ablaze. The streets were strewn with stones, bricks, and glass.
For almost two months now, a group of mostly Muslim men and women had been sitting peacefully on a dharna against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in Jaffrabad. However, around three days ago, a splinter group within the community, which felt that the dharna was not effective enough, decided to stage another sit-in under the Jaffrabad metro station, blocking an arterial road.
The Hindutva leaders swung into action soon after, with Kapil Mishra, the BJP leader who lost the assembly election recently, threatening the Delhi police and the government that his supporters would not hesitate to violently clear any anti-CAA protests that have blocked off the roads.
“Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, it took Herculean efforts by the Hindu and Muslim communities to maintain peace. Seelampur and adjoining areas represented the syncretic culture of India. It is all gone now. Even our Hindu neighbours look at us with suspicion now,” social activist Ovais Sultan Khan told The Wire.
“It would take years to mend relations between the two communities now,” he said.