As the cycle rickshaw took me through the bylanes of Chandni Chowk, I wondered if the reports of communal tension in Hauz Qazi after the Durga Mandir was desecrated, were being overhyped. The bylanes were bustling with activity. There were shops which were conducting their business as if nothing had happened and people were going about their lives just as they would on any other day. The only thing that perhaps gave an inkling that something had happened here a few days ago, was the presence of CRPF and Rapid Action Force personnel.
I asked my rickshaw-wala what had happened here. Tight-lipped at first, he only said that there some was a fight between Mohammedans and Hindus. I asked him what the fight was about. “I don’t know”, he said, “The rumours are many. From how Hindus killed a Muslim man to the other way around”.
The cycle rickshaw took us as far as the barricades would allow. Thereafter, we were on foot. My source told me that I would have to walk about a kilometre before I could find that narrow lane that is called ‘Gali Durga Mandir Wali’. I was dropped at the mouth of a place that was ironically called ‘Laal Kuan’. When I started walking towards “Gali Durga Mandir Wali’, the atmosphere changed. I could feel eyes piercing through my back. The lanes were full of groups of Muslim men standing around and talking in hushed tones, the tension was palpable.
What the Muslims said
The Muslims have a version of things that are in stark contrast to the Hindus of the area. The Muslims blame a “Hindu Halwai” for tensions flaring up. In their version, the Muslim mob did not desecrate the temple at all and the fight, which started from an argument over parking was aggravated because this Halwai, who was a part of that fight, wanted to fan tensions.
The Muslim of the area claims that the Hindus had desecrated the Durga Mandir themselves just to victimise the Muslims, who are in majority in the Chandni Chowk area. They also believe that there was no tension between the Hindus and Muslims at all. This incident was simply a concocted situation. They claimed that no stones were pelted but it was the Hindus who had simply displayed the stones in front of the Mandir to give the impression that stone pelting had indeed happened.
When one walks a little further, one reaches a second barricade, behind which, the Hindus of the area were seen protesting. Right outside the Durga Mandir Wali Gali, under a makeshift chaupal, the elders discussed their future course of action.
What the Hindus say
Inside the lane where the attack happened and the Durga Mandir was desecrated, the Hindu residents, who are confined mostly to that lane, rubbish what the Muslims are saying. They point to a CCTV camera and say that there is enough video evidence of the stone pelting and the attack on the temple itself.
One of them held up the charred remains of a burnt curtain and showed us the murtis of the Gods which lay in ruins. Along with the outrage of their place of worship being desecrated. came a stunning allegation. The residents alleged that the Police had tried to suppress the news of the Durga Mandir desecration by bringing in new idols to replace the ones broken.
The residents also claimed that the Muslim mob had not only broken the idols of the Durga Mandir but also urinated in the Durga Mandir. They say that a mob of several hundred men had congregated at the mouth of the lane, and if they had not pulled the shutter down, the Hindus of the area would have surely been killed.
The stone pelting even happened from atop buildings that surrounded the lane and the residents allege that they not only pelted stones but were armed with swords for the attack. The residents say that the tension did not die down that night itself. In fact, even after that, the mob was circling the lane and was ready to attack several times, but it was the Hindus who also armed themselves with bats and whatever else they could find to ensure that they could warn the mob away.
The police, they say, wanted the Hindus to keep quiet and not react. A resident from the area tells me that this is not the first time that the lane, where Hindus live, have been attacked. A few months ago, she says, some Muslim men chased some boys in a bid to get violent. The residents claim that even when this happened, Muslim mob had allegedly pelted stones.
While several people claim that historically, the Hindus and Muslims of Chandni Chowk have co-existed peacefully, several others say that the incidents of animosity have increased. The reason, they say, is because earlier, Hindus were more in number in the area, and now, their numbers have dwindled. One resident also claims that their aim is to take control of the lone lane where Hindus reside.
The night of the attack
On the night of the attack, with the police station being only minutes away, the residents say that the PCR van took over an hour to get there. The apathy, according to the residents is such that even when some journalists got to the lane to report, they were told by other residents of Chandni Chowk that the lane is inhabited by drunkards and that no tension really escalated there.
The residents, for now, are not even being allowed to travel to Laal Kuan, which an area at a walking distance from the Hindu lane. The Muslims residents of the area had alleged that Hindus had taken out a bike rally in from of the nearby Masjid and chanted ‘Jai Shree Ram’ to provoke, the Hindus deny these allegations categorically. There are in fact several news reports that indicate that Whatsapp forwards alleging exactly the same was circulated to gather Muslim mobs.
The Hindus say that Arvind Kejriwal has not met them and only Dr Harshvardhan has (till the time this correspondent was on the field). They say that if this was Muslims who were being beaten, he would have met them.
A communal tinderbox and a 17-year-old missing Hindu boy
While I spoke to the residents of the lane, outside, in a sudden bout, slogans of ‘Allah Hu Akbar’ and ‘Jai Shree Ram’ could be heard. As we rushed out, two policemen had managed to pacify the situation temporarily.
The ‘argument’ was about a young 17-year-old Hindu boy who has been missing since the day tensions broke out. When I stepped out, the mother was sitting in one corner, with the copy of the FIR clutched in her fist. A vacant expression engulfed her even as a fight between the Hindus and Muslims was about to break out yet again.
When I approached her, I took a while to convince her that I will ensure that her story is told. “Humari baat koi nahi bata raha”, she said. Mona then told me that her young son, all of 17 was missing since the day the tension began. She says, the Muslim mob kidnapped him and dragged him away without a trace. It has been three days, and till the time this correspondent was on the ground, the boy had not been recovered.
Mona’s FIR says that after the Muslim mob vandalised the Durga Mandir and beat up Hindus in the lane, they entered her house and started misbehaving with her son. He was, according to the FIR, resting when the Muslim mob entered the house and abducted her son. Keshav Saxena, the young boy, is nowhere to be found and the parents of the minor, Mona and Devendra are caught in a web of anger and distress.
As the chants of Allah Hu Akbar subsided and tempers were calmed down momentarily, the father of the minor who has been abducted couldn’t hold his angst in any longer.
“****, I will kill myself. My son is gone, I will die today and so will my wife”, he wailed. Someone from the crowd asked him, what would happen to his son if he and his wife die. Another resident, who was standing in front of Devendra said, “What can we do. If we are Hindu, this is what will happen to us”. The angst was so palpable, that it could be cut with a knife.
“Nobody will suppress us”, said another. “If you die, we will also die with and we will take these people with us”.
The mother suddenly got up and the vacant eyes turned into one breathing fire. “Someone tell me where my son is. He has not eaten or slept. I have filed an FIR too. Who should I go to or talk to? They desecrated the temple and kidnapped my son”.
The father chimes in again, “Give us 4 of those who entered our gali that night, and I will get the truth out of them”.
When the mother started talking to the two police officers who were present there, one of the policemen said, “Your son is alright”.
The mother, distressed, said “How do you know he is ok? Do you have him? Do you know where he is?” To that, the policeman said if they knew, they would have recovered the boy already. Nobody really understood why the policeman said he was ok, or what investigation has been conducted thus far.
The Hindus were not happy with the police. On the other hand, when the Muslims were approached earlier, they held placards hailing the Delhi police.
Hindus: A troubled minority
The moment the correspondent was spotted, the Muslim crowd help up placards saying that Muslims want peace and tranquillity. However, it was the same crowd that was later chanting Allah Hu Akbar in a face-off with the Hindus.
While talking to the Hindus of the areas, narrating their plight, they asserted repeatedly that in the area, most of the shops belonged to Muslims and just a few to Hindus. The Hindus assert repeatedly that the Muslims want the Hindus to leave the area and want to ensure that the tiny lane is also occupied by Muslims. The Muslims are now economically boycotting the Halwai who was involved in the parking lot fight.
The mute apathetic media
While the tension simmers, when this correspondent was there on the ground and the parents of the missing boy were wailing, a correspondent from a television channel was also on the ground. Interestingly, while the parents screamed about their child who has been abducted, the reporter from the channel simply walked off, proving the parents’ allegation that their plight has been largely ignored by the media.
The media often lives in their ivory towers reporting from their cosy air-conditioned studios. The class difference perhaps stops them from truly sensing the gravity of the situation or even bother about the tears of a mother wailing for her missing son. The father spoke in a tongue that would make several television anchors uncomfortable. It would take a massive climb-down from the ivory tower to cut through the angst and get to the truth of what he wanted to say, what he meant, what he felt.
Perhaps this is why the Hindus feel abandoned. Perhaps why they said that it is the “pedestrian” VHP and Bajrang Dal folks who came the next day to stand with them toe to toe. Perhaps this is why the ivory tower journalists feel comfortable just taking to Twitter and alleging that this brewing situation was nothing but a “minor scuffle”. A minor scuffle where the Hindus say this Halwai was beaten up and the womenfolk of his house were also misbehaved with.
Amit Shah, the Home Minister has now reportedly pulled up the Delhi police. After the meeting, just a few minutes ago, Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik has said that the situation is normal in Hauz Qazi. He has reiterated that 4 people have been arrested. However, there seems to be not a word that is being said about the missing 17-year-old Keshav.
The experience has left me numb, angry, despondent, and I perhaps run out of adjectives. The very people reeling with the loss of their son, are today being maligned. The very mob that desecrated a temple is being hailed as people who wish to settle the ‘matter’ amicably. The 17-year-old boy’s disappearance has been shamelessly hushed up by the media. A section of the media has decided that Hindus can never be victims, and Muslims would always want to “settle things peacefully”. The truth often gets lost in hushed tears and screams that don’t reach the high towers of television studios.
UPDATE: The Hindu boy who had gone missing from Hauz Qazi has returned. Says he was assaulted by Muslim youths when they got to know he was a Hindu. Read details here.