Delhi Violence: An Eyewitness Account From Jaffrabad

Where the Jaffrabad side of the protest was calm, if upset, the Hindutva side was raucous and celebratory.

New Delhi: On Monday, one police constable and four civilians were killed as reports of arson, gunfire and stone-pelting violence came in from the North East Delhi area. Videos also showed the Delhi police standing by as mobs pelted stones. By the time The Wire‘s reporters caught up with what had happened,  eyewitnesses on the ground had begun to refer to the areas where violence had occurred as ‘the war zone’.

In Jaffrabad, on the ‘Muslim side’

From Jaffrabad, the highway which goes under the metro is a straight line, going through Maujpur, reaching Gokalpuri. The entire road has been locked down by the police on each side, with clearly articulated Hindu and Muslim blocks beside each other.

The way the conflict has been laid out is linear – the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act and predominantly Muslim protestors begin at Jaffrabad, with a police cordon shortly after. Beyond the site is what has now become no-man’s land. For nearly six weeks, protestors thronged to a makeshift protest site at one end and there were no reports of any major violence. Today, the tarmac is filled with broken bricks and lost slippers. Beyond lies what has now become a bastion of the Hindutva groups, who have mobilised hundreds of young men and occupied the chowk beneath the Maujpur-Babarpur station.

At Jaffrabad, the protestors were sitting peacefully still, slightly shaken, at the protest space where they have been for the past 40-odd days without incident. Monday’s violence  has taken the lives of five people, including one police officer. The violence began earlier in the morning, with a group of policemen, according to eyewitnesses, allegedly accompanied by a right-wing group, beating peaceful anti-CAA protesters at Chand Bagh, with the violence steadily making its way across North-East Delhi.

Adib*, a witness to what had happened in the day, said, “We are seeing everything being laid waste. Our businesses are being ruined, we’ve been protesting for over a month, and if we are wrong, come and speak to us! What wrong did we do, if you have a problem with what we’re doing, why didn’t they come and speak to us and make us understand? Why are they saying that we are insane and we’re miscreants – if the government has so many intelligent people here, why are they not able to explain to us? Instead they’re sending groups from the RSS, from the Bajrang Dal, and they’re coming and throwing stones and shooting at us.” 

Asif*, a middle aged man with a grey beard, says, “[BJP leader] Kapil Mishra is responsible for this. He has caused such a riot here that he has caused harm to both the government’s property as well as the public’s property.  In UP, Yogi Adityanath’s government has taken money from individuals for causing property damage. Will Arvind Kejriwal take action against Kapil Mishra and make him pay for the damage that has been done?” 

The Muslims we spoke to at Jaffrabad were emotional but refrained from making any communal comments against Hindus. “A policeman died, and he too is ours,” Asif said. “He was a father and a son, and our hearts hurt for his death. For the wounded police, we hurt for them. The Hindus are also our brothers. If anyone lifts a hand to them, they will have to step over us first. We will be responsible for them. Our Hindu brothers are passing through here and we are making sure that they are given full protection and safe passage.”

Adib says, “They are saying that Muslims have done all this. A mazar has been burnt. I ask you, why would a Muslim burn his own house? We have not put one step forward. All we are asking for is our rights. We did not want riots and we do not want them, but we are standing for justice. but you can bring lathis and dandas, you can call goons and the RSS, you can come yourself and you can bring your father also, but we will stand here.” 

From No Man’s Land to the gleeful malevolence of Maujur-Babarpur

The police made a light cordon of ropes at the final Muslim protest area. The protesters sat quietly, with some movement in and out, but no slogans were being shouted. The road was clear. Past the cordon was no man’s land, where the only people present were random bystanders and a long, silent line of police. 

We pass a man on a bicycle cart, a Hindu, being accompanied by a Muslim man. “He was scared,” the Muslim man says. “We’re going with him so he has nothing to worry about.”

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As we came closer to the area where the Hindutva groups have mobilised people, the atmosphere changes. We could hear loud cries and sloganeering taking place, and the people on the streets are now looking at us with a certain suspicion. We took a detour through an inner lane so as to avoid a direct confrontation, with a fellow journalist letting us know that he had tried three times to enter there, but because of his evidently large camera, he had been thrown out. Given that the anti-media sentiment was high, we did not take any video or photographic footage for fear of reprisals on discovery. 

Maujpur had seen some of the worst violence of the day, with a video of a man firing a gun directly past a policeman going viral earlier in the day. 

When we came into the area commandeered by the Hindutva group, the most notable thing was the aura of festivity. A large group of people was shouting slogans, including the now notorious ‘goli maaro saalon ko’, while groups of people distributed biscuits. A man was carrying around a large tray filled with plates of upma, which he was giving the policemen standing by, a significant number of whom were happily partaking of the food. 

A large number of people on this side were carrying weapons of one kind or another – sticks of thick bamboo, hockey sticks, cricket wickets, steel rods commonly found in construction sites, curtain rods. One enterprising individual carried a collapsible metal baton. Many had the bright orange tika across their foreheads, and waved saffron flags. 

There was very little conversation actually taking place about the CAA or the National Register of Citizens, and it would be inaccurate to refer to the crowds here as pro-CAA protestors given that their main aim seemed to be pro-Hindutva sentiment. Across a wall, ‘F*&^ u Islam’ was spray painted in bright colours, in contrast to the ‘other side’, which has variants on the anti-CAA theme.

We were being carefully watched, given that we were clearly not locals from the area. I peeled off a sticker from my phone which revealed what organisation I worked for, and on trying to take a video of a woman shouting the goli-maaro slogan, was immediately stopped by a man with a stick. 

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“Did you just peel a sticker off your phone,” he said, as I hurriedly pushed my phone back into my bag. “Yes,” I said. “I put it on this morning.” When I turned back, the woman who was sloganeering, looked at me directly and loudly began the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ cry. 

I joined in. The man watching me backed off. 

Where the Jaffrabad side of the protest was calm, if upset, the Hindutva side was raucous and celebratory. A small dance party had been set up, with lights and all. A speaker bellowed music that was made famous by kanwariyas: Hate-Music setting communal sentiments to a thumping bass. Jai Shri Ram echoed frequently, along with the phrase Hinduon ka Hindustan

We passed a boy, barely out of his teens sporting a head injury, and asked what had happened. An excitable friend of his joined in to say that he had been hit by a brick thrown by the other side. The boy himself looked sheepish and proud, and on being asked to sit down, laughed it off and said that this was child’s play. The group paused and watched another group walk by, and the friend enviously pointed out that three men in that group were carrying pistols. (This was unverified by us.) Every person in that group was carrying a hitting implement, and most people on the streets were also carrying sticks. 

A child who did not look older than four passed by, his mother holding his younger sister and his father holding his hand. In his other hand, he had a stick the same size as he was.