Stone-pelting, arson, shooting, and mob violence. On February 24, North East Delhi became the site of communal clashes between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those who oppose it. The violence saw Muslims being targeted by mobs of Hindus, and left four civilians and a police officer dead.
Several journalists let social media users glimpse the violence by posting live updates from Delhi’s Maujpur, Jaffrabad and Chand Bagh, but a better picture emerged in newspaper reports published today.
Newslaundry looks at the story angles, pictures and vocabulary used in the reportage of the violence in these dailies.
On Tuesday, the Indian Express squeezed coverage of the violence to the right margin of the front page, since most of it was dedicated to US President Donald Trump’s India visit. One of its reports added that “several parts of northeast Delhi turned into a battlezone and violence spiralled over the new citizenship law”. It noted that the violence began 30 minutes after BJP politician Kapil Mishra “warned of action if anti-CAA protesters didn’t clear the road” on Sunday.
Another front page report discussed how Deputy Commissioner of Police, Shahdara, Amit Sharma was allegedly beaten up by anti-CAA protesters, and how a temple in Maujpur fanned communal tension, asking Hindus, over a loudspeaker, to “prepare” themselves.
There were two more reports in Express on the clashes: one on the situation in the affected areas at night (page 3) and another on head constable Rattan Lal, who succumbed to head injuries incurred during the violence (page 4).
The front page of the Times of India brought out the pageantry of Trump’s visit. It was preceded by two half-page flaps: one for the Trump-Modi “bromance” and another for the communal violence in Delhi. “Clashes and arson scorch N-E Delhi,” the headline said. It carried the photograph of Mohammed Shahrukh, “a protester” wielding a gun at Delhi police personnel.
The report slanted towards the police, noting the violence against DCP Sharma and other personnel, flag marches by the police in affected areas, and carried a photo of Rattan Lal.
One half of the flap was covered with an advertisement for a tea brand. The Modi-Trump flap did not have any advertisement. The front page had a small feature on Dainik Bhaskar’s circulation on the bottom right.
Page 2 stuck to the police and political angles. “Caught napping, they smell conspiracy over CAA now,” said one of the blurbs, referring to the Delhi police. There was a profile of late constable Lal. Two other stories covered comments on the violence by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari.
The ground reports finally appeared on page 3, detailing the “clash between pro- and anti-CAA protesters”. It also had an article on Kapil Mishra, who reportedly appealed “for peace” and keeping Delhi’s “brotherhood intact”.
Page 4 had the politicians’ reactions to the violence, and the Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement that the protests are a “conspiracy to defame India”.
The Hindu divided its front page into two halves. The left half read, “Policeman among 5 killed in Delhi violence over CAA”. The right one carried a picture of the Trumps at the Taj Mahal in Agra.
“The violence took a communal colour and spread to other parts of northeast Delhi as organised groups attacked each other, setting shops and vehicles on fire,” the front page article said.
The report, employing the Hindu’s typical sanitised vocabulary, added that eyewitnesses alleged that “several members identified as belonging to the minority community” were assaulted by “a mob in the area”. Anti-CAA protesters torched cars and rickshaws, and pro-CAA protesters arsoned shops “belonging to members of the minority community”. The police “seemingly did not respond to the situation,” the report claimed.
The newspaper continued to use “minority community” and “majority community” in the rest of its ground reports. One of these reports, titled “”, narrated how Muslims were targeted by Hindu mobs who insisted on checking ID cards of those passing Khajuri Khas in Wazirabad.
Another told the story of a Muslim woman whose fruit cart, her only source of livelihood, was torched and destroyed.
The front page of Hindustan Times featured the Delhi violence alongside the Trump-Modi meet. “Lawlessness, disorder as protesters run riot,” said the headline.
Unlike other newspapers, the paper posed five questions to the Delhi police. Why did it not anticipate trouble? Why did it not keep the two groups at a distance from each other? Why did it act as a spectator? How did the groups acquire weapons? Why such a lousy arrangement on the day of Trump’s Delhi visit?
In fairly unambiguous language, the report began: “Two groups, one opposed to the Citizenship Amendment Act and largely composed of Muslims, and another, supporting the new law and mostly made up of Hindus, both armed with guns, swords, stones, sticks, rods, and petrol bombs, clashed in North-east Delhi on Monday.”
The report added that the violence was “among the worst scenes of rioting in the Capital since the 1984 anti-Sikh violence” and that the tension “spiralled after Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra demanded that the police remove the protesters within three days”.
The second page was entirely dedicated to communal violence in Delhi – without any advertisements. A timeline described how tension spread throughout the city starting Sunday. The reports were accompanied by two pictures: Shahrukh brandishing a gun at the police personnel, and a Muslim man being assaulted by a Hindu mob.
This continued till page 3, where two reports talked about how “pro-CAA rioters” went on a “rampage”, and that the anti-CAA protesters carried “stones, sticks, petrol bombs, pistol”.
The Telegraph, notorious for hyperbole, splashed its front page with the words, “The Real Beast”. The subhead: “Not Trump’s limo but protected thugs roam parts of Delhi.”
The newspaper claimed the violence got its impetus from Mishra. “The stage had been set on Sunday night when a controversial BJP leader led a procession in Jaffrabad, where women and children had been protesting against the CAA. Subsequently, the first round of clashes had broken out.”
In the front page report, the paper classified the mobs as “a pro-CAA group” and the “anti-CAA protesters”. It quoted Radhe Shyam, a minority rights activist, who claimed that the “Bajrang Dal activists joined hands with the crowd and created a reign of terror”.
Continuing its reportage on page 5, the paper’s headline very much implied that the Delhi police was siding with pro-CAA protesters. It also carried a photo of Shahrukh weilding a gun at a policeman in Jaffrabad.
Dainik Jagran carried a full front page advertisement for a basmati rice brand. The page’s flipside had nuggets of news of the newly elected Delhi Assembly.
The front page with the masthead came next. It had Modi and Trump smiling at each other while clasped in a warm embrace. “We shall always be reliable friends,” read the headline. The top half of the page was entirely dedicated to Trump in India. The bottom half carried an ad.
Page 2 carried local news from Delhi and did not mention the communal violence in the northeastern part of the city.
But then page 3 opened to another front page, plastered with a large photo of men in skullcaps pelting stones. “Violence over CAA escalates in the trans-Yamuna area, five dead,” said the headline. The newspaper described the situation as “communal violence” between opponents and supporters of the new citizenship act.
A picture of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat spoke from the top right-hand corner: “It is the Sangh’s objective to protect equality and the Sanathan Dharma.”
“On Sunday, angry BJP leader Kapil Mishra started a sit-in protest in Maujpur in support of the CAA after the act’s opponents blocked the road in Jaffrabad. After the stone pelting on this protest, the situation worsened,” the front page report said.
The Hindi daily resumed coverage on page 5, once again carrying a large picture of a Muslim mob pelting stones.
“The violence against CAA in several parts of north-eastern Delhi on Sunday continued on Monday but the Delhi police continued to refrain from stern action,” the report began. It added that the reason for such restraint — according to “sources” — was the American president’s presence in the capital.
Another report told the story of one Malik Mohammad Saymed, whose auto was torched in the violence. The rest of the reports made no mention of targeted violence against Muslims in Khajuri Khas.
Another report on page 7 that most of the protesters from Shaheen Bagh had reached Jaffrabad on February 24. “On Monday, barely 100 people showed up to 72-day-old protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC at Shaheen Bagh. In fact, most of the protesters here reached Jaffrabad in East Delhi.”
Mobs harassed and assaulted reporters
Writing in TOI, photojournalist Aunindya Chattopadhyay recounted his “” while covering the communal violence in Delhi.
“A youth accosted me and asked, “Brother, you are acting very smart. Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?” They threatened to take off my pants to confirm my religion. I then folded my hands and said I was just a lowly photographer. They then gave me a few threats, but let me go,” Chattopadhyay wrote.
Later in the day, he said, he was dragged out of an auto because the vehicle belonged to a driver from a particular religion. He pleaded and was spared. “I have never been questioned about my religion in this grotesque manner in my life,” the driver told the photojournalist after dropping him off.
Chattopadhyay’s colleague, Sakshi Chand, that a youth tried to snatch away her phone while she was clicking pictures. Later, a mob charged towards her and Chattopadhyay but they managed to stick to a nearby railing. “This happened twice,” Chand wrote.
The Hindu did not carry a first-person account, but it that one of its reporters was attacked as she was caught recording two persons abusing Muslims. “One of the accused threw a helmet at the journalist working with The Hindu . Following this, he chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’. The reporter managed to escape unhurt,” the report said.
Hindustan Times that a motorcycle belonging to its photographer, Sanchit Khanna, was set ablaze “by a group of unidentified rioters”. “A while later, another group cornered him and deleted the pictures he had taken of the violence, threatened and assaulted him,” the report added.
TV news reporters — all women — took to Twitter and claimed that they were harassed by protesters in North East Delhi. This included Parvina Purkayastha of Times Now, Sreya Chatterjee of NewsX and Tanushree Pandey of India Today.
When journalist Aditya Raj Kaul blamed anti-CAA protesters for the communal violence, Purkayastha and Chatterjee tweeted that they were attacked by pro-CAA protesters.