“Delhi police, hai hai.” Delhi police, down, down.
A day after violence broke out in Northwest Delhi’s Jahangirpuri, around 15 women gathered at C Block on April 17, raising slogans in anger against the Delhi police.
“Not less than 15 police personnel forced open our door and verbally abused me and my sister,” alleged Aisha Beevi, 32, her eyes welling with tears. “When we demanded an answer for their brutality, they kicked my sister in her stomach.”
Aisha showed a bruise on her hand while her sister, Moni, was curled on the floor of their home. Her three brothers-in-law – Muktar, 28, Sheik Aksar, 25, and a 15-year-old minor – were arrested at around 2 am on April 17.
So far, 21 people have been arrested, and two minors apprehended, in connection with the communal clash on April 16, which saw stone-pelting between Hindu and Muslim groups, sloganeering and a stampede. Sixteen of those arrested . Penal charges include rioting, being armed with a deadly weapon, being party to criminal conspiracy, and assaulting a public servant.
According to , eight police personnel and one civilian were injured.
The trouble began at around 6.30 pm on April 16, Hanuman Jayanti. Hindu groups had organised processions to commemorate the occasion. In Jahangirpuri, these “shoba yatras” took place at 9 am, 3.30 pm and 4 pm that day.
According to a dozen Hindu and Muslim residents who spoke to Newslaundry, all three yatras were characterised by some amount of violence – they alleged those participating in the processions were purportedly wielding swords, bats and even guns. Newslaundry could not independently verify these claims or the video footage shot by several residents.
Then, at around 6.30 pm, according to residents, two participants in the yatra allegedly attempted to plant saffron flags inside Jahangirpuri’s Jama Masjid. At the time, Muslims had gathered for evening prayers.
“They said, ‘If you live in Hindustan, you should chant Jai Shri Ram,’” said Noushad, 22. “We didn’t want to escalate the issue. Few of them from the mosque even requested them to not be so loud and aggressive. We had no guns like they did.”
It should be noted that on April 18, Delhi police commissioner Rakesh Asthana said these claims of saffron flags being hoisted . During a press conference, , "Some people were trying to spread rumours on social media to keep the situation tense."
The scene at the mosque a day after the violence.
A copy of the FIR.
But the FIR tells a different story. Filed on the basis of a complaint by police inspector Rajiv Ranjan Singh, the FIR said the yatra had been “peaceful” until it reached the mosque, where “one Ansar” and four to five others “started quarrelling” with participants in the yatra.
According to the police, Ansar has been in cases of assault as well, and has been booked "five times under Gambling Act and Arms Act".
The FIR said, “The procession started at 4.15 pm at EE block and reached near the mosque at 6 pm. It turned aggressive after verbal exchanges between both the communities...Members of both the communities pelted stones. Despite repeated appeals by the police, one community continued to pelt stones and as a result, the police had to use tear shells to ease the situation.”
The FIR also said the crowd “attacked” the police, and that a sub-inspector suffered a gunshot injury.
A stampede took place and public property, including a few shops, was allegedly damaged and some vehicles were torched. Additional police force soon reached the spot and barricaded the entire locality.
By midnight, the lanes of Jahangirpuri were abuzz with families preparing iftar meals. But by 2 am, Delhi police personnel came on patrol and took into custody 14 Muslim men, including Aisha’s three family members. More arrests took place on April 17 based on video footage, a police officer told Newslaundry.
The relatives of some of those arrested claimed their loved ones had not been involved in the violence.
“My brothers-in-law and my husband went to the mosque to read prayers,” Aisha told Newslaundry. “They came back immediately, they didn’t participate in the clash. On what basis did the Delhi police arrest them [her brothers-in-law]?” Aisha’s husband was out buying medicine that night, she said, which is why she thinks he wasn’t arrested too.
Anwara, who lives in Jahangirpuri, told Newslaundry the police “barged” into her home at 3 am on April 17. She alleged the police said, “We will not spare your brother. You cannot save him.” Her brother, 28-year-old Noor Alam, was then arrested.
Anwara insisted her brother was at home when the communal clash had broken out. “It was the time to break our fast and so he was at home,” she said, adding that the police had “verbally abused” her before taking her brother away.
By the morning of April 17, hours after the arrests, Jahangirpuri was teeming with personnel from the Delhi police and the CRPF.
Aisha was also agitated about how some media reports and right-wing groups “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants” were behind the violence. This includes the , who said these “Bangladeshi infiltrators” should be “identified and their homes should be bulldozed”.
Aisha's three brothers-in-law have been arrested by the Delhi police.
Police personnel in Jahangirpuri on April 17.
Pulling out her Aadhaar card, Aisha pointed at her address – Jahangirpuri – and said her ancestors migrated to Delhi from West Bengal’s Medinipur three generations ago. This is similar to what several other Muslim residents told Newslaundry, that their forefathers had moved to the area from West Bengal, hoping to eke out a living.
When Newslaundry visited the Jahangirpuri police station at about 1.30 pm on April 17, a group of women were sitting outside, demanding that the police allow them to see their arrested family members. All the women were Muslim.
Soon after, at around 4.30 pm, another group of people arrived at the police station, and began shouting “Jai Shri Ram”. This included BJP member Surya Prakash Maithili, who told the media, “If they [Muslims] are the children of traitors, they should go back to Pakistan or Afghanistan. Why are they living here?”
Lakshmishankar Shukla, the vice-president of a local BJP unit who had participated in the yatra on April 16, told Newslaundry the procession had been “peaceful until stones were pelted on us”.
“There was a stampede,” he said. “Women from their terrace also pelted stones on us. Only Rohingya Muslims could do such a thing.”
The same theory was repeated by Garima Gupta, the councillor of Jahangirpuri, who alleged “Bangladeshis” were living “illegally” in the area and participating in “criminal activities”.
“It was the anti-social elements belonging to Bangladesh that instigated violence on Saturday evening,” she said. When asked if she had data on these “elements” residing in Jahangirpuri, Gupta said she had written to the government to conduct a survey.
Newslaundry tried to speak to Usha Rangnani, the deputy commissioner of police, North-West, to ask her on what basis the arrests were made, and if there is any truth to this “Bangladeshi” angle. Rangnani refused to comment on the matter, as did the investigating officer in the case.
Ansar, a ‘secular’ man
The main accused in the case is Mohammad Ansar, 40, who runs a mobile repair shop in Jahangirpuri. Married for 20 years, he lives in C Block with his wife and five children.
Ansar’s family said he was at home until 6 pm on April 16, and that he was “arrested for no reason”.
Ansar’s wife Sakeena, 35, said the family was preparing for their iftar dinner when Ansar got a phone call from a local saying something was amiss at the mosque. “A massive crowd was gathering and the resident wanted Ansar’s help to disperse them,” Sakeena alleged.
Ansar allegedly left home at 6 pm. “When the situation calmed at around 7.30-8.30 pm, he came back home,” said Sakeena. “At 11 pm, the police came and took him into custody without giving us the reason.”
The police also arrested Ansar’s nephew Zahid, 19. A relative said, on the condition of anonymity, “Zahid went to the mosque at 6 pm to help cook an iftar meal. He didn’t come back home. The police arrested him midway.”
The family’s home is now flooded with anxious relatives.
“We made iftar dinner,” said Ansar’s sister Alma, “but I find no place in my heart to eat it.”
Their neighbour Narender told Newslaundry that Ansar is a “secular person” who had helped distribute food packets in the area during the Covid crisis. “Many times, he helped out the Hindus too,” he said. “He would send out iftar meals to the Hindus too.”
The ‘outsider’ theory
A Hindu resident, who has lived here for the last 30 years, told Newslaundry this is “the first time” a communal riot has taken place in Jahangirpuri. “The divide helps politicians to seek votes by instigating hate among the two communities,” they said, on the condition of anonymity.
Anil Singh, a resident of C Block, said he has lived in Jahangirpuri for 40 years and “no incident like this ever happened”. “People from all faiths live here peacefully and happily,” he said. “I don’t know who jinxed our area.”
Singh himself was outside his house when the violence broke out on April 16. “Suddenly people came from the chowk side and after some minutes, stone pelting started,” he said. “Seeing the danger, I ran inside.”
His neighbour Sheikh Farid also barricaded himself in his home when he heard about what was happening. “I ran home and closed my doors and windows,” he said. “...My heart is crying after seeing this. This place has never witnessed a clash like this. The only thing which we have accumulated living here together is brotherhood.”
Sheikh Atiyar, who runs a meat shop in C Block, said the violence forced him to close down his shop.
“I have three kids to feed and this is the holy month of Ramadan,” he said. “At this time, our expenditure increases. Because of this impaired environment, customers are also not coming...Kiya kisi aur ne ha aur bharna hume padh raha ha.” This is done by someone else and we are paying the price.
Update: This report was updated on April 18 with the Delhi police commissioner's comments during a press conference.
With inputs from Anmol Nath Bali.
Pictures by Aditya Varier.