This ground report, prepared by The Leaflet in the aftermath of the illegal demolition in Jahangirpuri, reflects countless stories of despair and loss of livelihood, dignity and peace amongst the residents there.
ON April 24, in the presence of tight security, all residents of Jahangirpuri organised a tiranga yatra by hoisting the tricolour and chanting slogans like, “Bharat mata ki jai” in an attempt to appeal for peace and harmony in the area. On that very day, a team from The Leaflet visited the affected area to assess the ground situation. We found that the residents had different stories to tell, putting forth the bare reality of the lives of the residents.
We met Fatema, a resident of Jahangirpuri, who has lived there with her family for over 14 years. She told us that her life has changed forever. She lives with her family amongst Hindu and Muslim neighbours. They share food; their children play together; the families had stood with each other through several years of happiness, sorrows, stress and joys. They prayed together and celebrated as a community. There had never been any bit of communal tension or disrespect amongst the families. Yet, today, she said, “our entire Muslim community is being painted as violent and criminal.”
Jahangirpuri is a locality in Delhi comprising a diverse population from different religious and linguistic backgrounds, such as Bengali-speaking Muslims, Gujarati and Punjabi Hindus, and the Valmiki community. Members of these communities are primarily of the working classes. The Bengali-speaking Muslims, predominately in Block C, which is the main site of the demolition drive, have been living in Jahangirpuri since the inception of this resettlement colony for the last four decades.
The anti-encroachment drive highlights the discrimination faced by the Muslim-speaking community in Jahangirpuri, which is also reflected by the fact that Block is often referred as ‘Chor Colony’ by outsiders. Although The Leaflet team was not allowed to visit the main site of the demolition, it met someone who echoed the mood prevailing there.
Salim, one of the residents of Jahangirpuri, told us, “If we are Muslims, we are told we belong to Pakistan. If we speak Bengali, they tell us we are Bangladeshi.” Anjuma Begum, standing on his left, says, “Sometimes, we are also called Rohingyas. Yet we have never stepped out of India ever. Our upbringing, culture and life is so inherently Indian. If we aren’t Indian, who are we?”
“If we are Muslims, we are told we belong to Pakistan. If we speak Bengali, they tell us we are Bangladeshi…Sometimes, we are also called Rohingyas. Yet we have never stepped out of India ever. Our upbringing, culture and life is so inherently Indian. If we aren’t Indian, who are we?”
On April 16, communal clashes broke out in Jahangirpuri after a Shobha Yatra was organised to mark Hanuman Jayanti. As reported by news outlets, stone pelting took place and some public properties were vandalised. Just three days after the violence, a ‘Special Joint Encroachment Removal Programme’ was organised by the Bharatiya Janta Party-led North Delhi Municipal Corporation [NDMC] at 10:15 a.m. on April 21. Despite the intervention of a Supreme Court bench led by the Chief Justice of India at 10:50 a.m. to maintain the status quo, after the matter was urgently mentioned by senior advocate Dushyant Dave, the unlawful razing of allegedly illegal properties by bulldozers continued till 12:25 p.m.
A delegation from the Left Parties (Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation [CPI(ML)L], and the All India Forward Bloc) visited the affected area of the communal violence on April 17 and prepared a fact-finding report. According to the report, “...a group of 150 to 200 people armed with weapons in their hands and loud DJ music were roaming in processions since afternoon raising slogans in the streets of Jahangirpuri. Bystanders said they saw pistols and swords being waved by the processionists…The team was informed that this was not a procession organised by local people but was organised by the youth wing of the Bajrang Dal with most from outside the area.”
Further, the report pointed out, “The team was informed that the procession had already made two rounds of that area in Block C Jahangirpuri in which the dominant residents are Bengali speaking Muslims. It was in the third round of procession that the incident occured…The fact is that the incidents occurred when the procession stopped outside a mosque at the exact time when those who were keeping roza were gathering at the mosque for the prayer.”
Fact-finding report by Left Parties’ delegation: “[T]he incidents occurred when the procession stopped outside a mosque at the exact time when those who were keeping roza were gathering at the mosque for the prayer.”
The report confirmed stone pelting from both sides and stated, “The team was told that there was stone-pelting which started from both sides”, but it also clarified why the other side started pelting stones and said, “The team was told that there was a fear among the residents near that area that the processionists would enter the mosque and that the police were not taking any action.”
The Leaflet team spoke to Ravi Rai, CPI(ML)L Delhi Secretary, and one of the members of the delegation which authored the fact-finding report. He said: “One of the points we have raised…is that on Hanuman Jayanti, three processions were led out, two of which were in afternoon but the one in the evening was near the Mosque after 6 p.m., despite the fact that a crowd will be gathered as it was the time when Muslims were supposed to break their roza. So much video evidence is now available that suggests that the people in the procession carried arms and swords, and there were police vehicles surrounding the procession. We want to ask: how did the police even allow the procession when there was a possibility that communal violence might break out? And why did they allow the procession specifically at the time of roza?”
He further said, “We have actually said in the report that there must be an inquiry against the Delhi police. The inquiry of the communal violence should be monitored by the High Court or the Supreme Court because we have serious doubts over the role of Delhi Police here. We want Delhi police’s accountability to be decided first.”
At the time our team visited, security was beefed up with extensive deployment of police and security forces, and the law and order situation looked completely under control. Yet, irreparable damage to the lives of the residents and shop owners has already been caused, as several residents and shop owners have lost their peace, livelihoods and dignity; for these very reasons, many are still apprehensive of re-opening their shops in the area.
Begum, another victim, told The Leaflet that the damage done to shops was tremendous. She shared her loss with us and said, “We had bought a double fridge for our shop that took many years to buy from our hard earned money. It’s now gone. We begged them not to bulldoze it but they destroyed the fridge over our tears.” Salim said, “All the people in the community live here very peacefully. But there is a growing tendency of outsiders, whom we do not know, visiting our localities and creating disharmony. They are driven by an agenda to create tension.”
Anjuma took our team to a family residing in one of the congested lanes. According to her, the family is afraid of the police because two of its male members, both working, have been taken away by them on some criminal charges. The family does not have a copy of the First Information Report [FIR] lodged, as they were not given the copy of one. They are not even sure if there exists a criminal charge at all. They tried to visit the police stations in search of their family members but they were driven away.
The family, consisting of a man in his 30s and a woman in her 70s, told the team that it has no information about these male members at present. The man, who was identified as their brother, told us, “We are really not sure about anything at this moment. My apprehension is that they have been arrested under the NSA [National Security Act, 1980].” The aged woman, who was identified as the mother, then corrected his son and pointed out to us that “it’s NRC [National Register for Citizens] and not NSA”, while she cried incessantly as we tried to speak to her. Both of them were utterly unaware and confused of the difference between the two.
The fact finding report corroborates this information on illegal arrests and detention. The report stated: “At night on the April 16th the police conducted raids in the area making indiscriminate arrests. When women tried to find out from the police why their homes were being raided, male police punched them in the stomach and beat them.”
We asked these families if they are in need of legal aid. The mother, speaking through her tears, told us that lawyers are consistently making rounds of this place with a promise to support and offer legal aid, but nothing has happened yet. She further remarked, “It’s been more than one week since the police took them away.”
Fact-finding report by Left Parties’ delegation:: “At night on the April 16th the police conducted raids in the area making indiscriminate arrests. When women tried to find out from the police why their homes were being raided, male police punched them in the stomach and beat them.”
Sadly, many families in Jahangirpuri share similar stories. The Leaflet met a pregnant woman, Aafiya, whose husband had been taken away by the police, without any communication, on the day when the communal clashes broke out in Jahangirpuri. Aafiya told us that she is in contact with some lawyers, but has still not received the copy of the FIR.
Rai commented on the indiscriminate arrest of the Muslim youths. He said: “When we went on 17th, we met a lot of families. On that day, we went to the Additional DCP [Deputy Commissioner of Police] and conveyed to them our concerns that people have serious doubts over their investigation as they are trying to frame a particular community.” He further remarked, “But this is not the first time we have seen Delhi Police behaving like this. Their accountability was also questioned during the North-East riots that happened two years back. We are witnessing the same thing repeating again. That is why Delhi Police should have no right to inquire about this communal violence.”
Our interaction with senior police officials conveyed a totally different picture, contrary to all these testimonies we gathered. The police told us: “The situation is normal, and the residents of Jahangirpuri are not in need of legal aid”, when asked about their assessment of the situation.
Kavita Krishnan: “When Muslims, especially Bengali-speaking Muslims are targeted as encroachers, it means they are labelled as infiltrators within the country. Their very identity falls under threat. And that is precisely the intent behind these demolition drives.”
It is pertinent to point out the sheer ignorance of the NDMC in fulfilling its basic sanitation duties in Jahangirpuri. Our team witnessed that garbage was dumped in almost all the roads leading to the area, which made it extremely unhygienic. This should especially be of concern to the NDMC, with COVID-19 cases constantly rising in Delhi.
Commenting on the situation, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, and a Politburo member of CPI(ML)L, said, “These encroachments are targeted, low intensity yet sustainable steps towards consolidating local and grassroots-level Islamophobia. Slum demolitions have always been a tool for further marginalising the poor and working class population. However, these demolitions also inject strong doses of othering and Islamophobia into common minds. When slum dwellers are called encroachers, they are accused of encroaching a locality or a piece of land. However, when Muslims, especially Bengali-speaking Muslims are targeted as encroachers, it means they are labelled as infiltrators within the country. Their very identity falls under threat. And that is precisely the intent behind these demolition drives.”
We asked Salima about her message to those reading this report and whether she wanted the State to compensate for her losses. She replied, “Yes, I am poor and we need to repair our lives again. But money alone cannot repair our lives. The loss is irreparable. We want our community’s peace and harmony back. We want our dignity and identity back. We lived in happiness. We want our lives back.”
All photos were clicked by The Leaflet’s team.
Note: The names of the locals interviewed for this report have been changed to protect their identities.