Trilokpuri in east Delhi and Chandrawal near Majnu Ka Tila in north Delhi – located on different sides of the Yamuna – witnessed what is a ritual in most parts of the country during Diwali: drunken brawls.
In Chandrawal, a few inebriated young boys who belong to the Sansi community got annoyed with a bunch of kids from the Valmiki community who were bursting firecrackers and roughed them up. Within a few hours, it became, as newspapers reported the next day, a “clash between two communities”, with both groups, who live on opposites sides of the street, going on a stone-pelting drive. The Valmikis and Sansis are Scheduled Caste communities. Both sides bore the brunt, and better sense prevailed soon. On Monday, when we visited the area, it was business as usual and the calm, to use a cliché, was not tense.
The Pradhans of both sides conceded that the episode was unnecessary and very avoidable, and, more importantly, it was the handiwork of a few unruly miscreants and nothing more.
In Trilokpuri, where Section-144 continues to remain in effect, providing a strange and sudden insulation to the area, the first part of the narrative is strikingly similar. The subsequent sequence of events took a more sinister turn, though, leading to a riot-like situation, leveraged upon an ever-increasing suspicious relationship between the country’s two largest religious groups.
About 60 people have been arrested since the violence first broke out in Trilokpuri. The east-Delhi neighbourhood that was fashioned as a resettlement colony during the Emergency is divided into 38 blocks that are home to Hindus (mostly Dalits), Muslims and Sikhs. The rioting was largely restricted to Block 20, 26 and 15.
Companies of Rapid Action Force continue to patrol the streets to ensure calm, even as Delhi Police remains on high alert in the area. Block 20, where the Hindu community had erected a “Mata Ki Chowki” during Navratri, is barricaded and the road leading up to it bears witness to the stone-pelting that followed Diwali celebrations. Almost everyone you speak to in the neighbourhood agrees that it all started from the makeshift chowki, but no one is really sure how the fight escalated into a full-blown riot. Versions differ depending on who or which community you speak to.
Chowki and loudspeaker
The Mata Ki Chowki, sections of Hindu families we spoke to claimed, was erected during Navratri at what used to be a garbage disposal site. This was supposed to be a temporary structure, but seeing that it was helping keep the place clean, it was decided that the chowki would be turned into a permanent temple. “On the night of Diwali, some people were drinking there and relieved themselves near the chowki. Naturally, this angered us and fights erupted after this,” said a man living a few metres away from the chowki. Another one joins in and said they were inspired by the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan to keep the area clean.
However, as you move towards the two lanes that have a concentration of Muslim households in block 20, you hear a different version of events. A bunch of women gathered outside their homes complained that the media has not made an effort to visit them and hear their story.
According to them, the fight happened on Thursday when Muslims had gathered in the neighbourhood mosque, just 200 metres away from the chowki, to offer “isha ki namaaz”, or night prayer. “Since the music from the chowki was very loud, we had asked them to turn it down for about 20 minutes for us to finish our prayers. Instead, they turned up the volume. When a boy was sent from the mosque to request them to turn the music down, he was slapped around. And that is how the fight started,” said Yasmeen, whose husband works as a tailor in the neighbourhood.
Booze and brawls
Though there seem to be various versions of what happened around the chowki, many Muslims and Hindus believe that the whole issue started off as nothing but a scuffle between a group of young boys. Joint Commissioner of Police (Security), Sanjay Beniwal, agreed and told us later at the Mayur Vihar, Phase 1, Police Station, that the whole incident is being interpreted by various people in their own way. He also stated that vile gossip on social-networking platforms has only made the situation worse. The Delhi Police indeed can only go so far as to control wagging tongues in the area, not in the virtual space.
He stated that it would be wrong to give it a Hindu-Muslim angle since the fight initially broke out between a bunch of youngsters – both Hindus and Muslims – who were sitting and drinking together. In block 20, many Muslim and Hindus agree that alcohol and gambling is a big problem with the youth. In fact, the head priest of the community temple puts things in perspective: “There are many young men here who do nothing at all, with serious alcohol issues, and always ready to pick up a fight.” He maintains that this is a problem across both communities – something confirmed by Beniwal. “You name a crime and we have multiple repeat offenders from the area,” he says, adding that Trilokpuri has always been a problem area for Delhi Police. According to Beniwal, east Delhi, where Trilokpuri is located, has the second-highest crime rate in the city.
Trajectory of two clashes
While there may be several versions of what exactly led to the Trilokpuri riots, there is consensus across both communities regarding the basic premise: a bunch of unruly young miscreants crossing the line under the influence of alcohol. Which is exactly what happened in Chandrawal too. Except that in Trilokpuri the players involved happened to be Muslims and Hindus, making it easy for vested interest to give it a communal hue.
Police accounts confirm that the Trilokpuri episode was essentially a random act of hooliganism that is more than common during the festive season. But set it against context and backdrop – two groups of people increasingly being pitched against each other and a locality that’s rife with unemployed youth often indulging in petty crimes – and you have the Trilokpuri “riots”.
With a political change in the capital almost imminent, there are murmurs of ex-MLA of the region, Sunil Vaidya, trying to cash in on the situation. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress have made not-so-subtle insinuations that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to polarise the situation. Trilokpuri’s current MLA Raju Dhingan is, however, from the AAP itself and has been missing in action. Locals claim Dhingan has not made a single visit to the neighbourhood since things became ugly. Also, residents from both communities refute Kejriwal’s claims that AAP’s volunteers have been working on ground to restore peace.
Meanwhile, as social media rails on about #Trilokpuri, stoking more unsubstantiated rumours, a group of senior citizens have come together in the area to restore peace.