“Modi, may you live long,” said Afsana, beating her chest and gritting her teeth. “You have now turned us into Bangladeshis.”
Afsana, a vegetable vendor, is angry and disappointed. Decades ago, her parents migrated to Delhi from Kolkata, settling in Sunder Nagri in Northeast Delhi, hoping to make a living. They shortly moved to Northwest Delhi’s Jahangirpuri, to C Block – which has been Afsana’s home for the last 30 years.
Afsana, like dozens of other Muslim residents here, is seething at how some media depicted them as “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”, shortly after in the area on April 16, after a group took out a procession on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti. Twenty-three people have been arrested so far, and over eight, including policemen, were injured in the stone-pelting, stampede, and destruction that followed.
Afsana, a vegetable seller, has been living in Jahangirpuri for 30 years.
On April 17, two news channels – and – as well as Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran reported that “criminal elements”, mostly “Bangladeshi or Rohingya Muslims”, could be “conspirators” in the violence. Their sources were mainly local Hindus or from the police, though Delhi police commissioner Rakesh Asthana later that the police was conducting a probe on this.
Right-wing groups, including the BJP, as well as political parties such as AAP have claimed “Bangladeshis” and "Rohingya" had been behind the violence; the BJP’s Kapil Mishra went so far as to say these “Bangladeshi infiltrators” should be “identified and their homes should be bulldozed”.
And bulldozers this morning, purportedly to demolish “illegal constructions of rioters”.
So, as many residents said to this reporter on April 18: “What is the use of talking to the media? You are not going to show our side.” A young boy even shoved the mic, mumbling “Godi media” and “bika hua media” – sold-out media.
With the Delhi police might be using facial recognition software to aid in arrests, the men avoided speaking on camera, while some women agreed only if they could shield their faces or stay anonymous. “Show our side,” a woman said, her hands folded.
“We are Indians, we have purchased land here, got degrees here,” said a Muslim woman who lives in C Block. “How come we are Bangladeshis?”
Another woman chipped in, “We also have videos from tha day on our mobile phones. Media personnel are taking those videos from us but not using them.”
This includes videos of participants in the Hanuman Jayanti procession allegedly wielding swords, sticks and, in one case, a “gun”. Why then, as one woman said, were Muslims solely being blamed?
“The incident is being labelled as a conspiracy by Muslims,” she said, on the condition of anonymity. “Do they really think we teach our children to do this? Media should have shown versions of both sides.”
Afsana’s neighbour, Pakeezah, also hit back at the “Bangladeshi” claims. She showed this reporter her Aadhaar card which had her address as “Block-C Jahangirpuri”.
“I’m from Haldia in West Bengal. My parents and grandparents used to live in Nandigram,” said Pakeezah. “My in-laws are from Bihar and my daughter got married into a family in Aligarh. Does that make us Bangladeshis?”
Pakeezah said she had been present that day when the procession went past the Kali Mata temple near the mosque in Jahangirpuri. “When prasad is distributed, we even take it,” she said. “There has never been any Hindu-Muslim issue in this area.”
Pakeezah was an eyewitness to the religious procession on April 16.
Most of the women in C Block this reporter spoke with claimed that they have all the necessary documents – Aadhaar card, voter ID or ration card – to establish that they are Indian citizens. “Why can’t politicians come and check themselves by conducting a drive?” quipped one of them.
The other side of the road leads to Jahangirpuri’s G Block. On April 18, it was blocked by a cluster of DTC buses being used to ferry police and Rapid Action Force personnel. A network of lanes took us to the home of Deepti, 31.
Security personnel outside C Block on April 18.
Deepti’s parents live in C Block, which is where she grew up, while her in-laws are in G Block.
“I have completed my education here and have seen people from childhood. So suddenly, how can they be Bangladeshi?” she asked angrily. “They have been a part of our Durga Puja.”
Newslaundry also met with Sumitra, who said she moved to Jahangirpuri from Delhi’s Sunder Nagri in 1981. “This jhuggi was a resettlement colony when we shifted under the Indira Gandhi government,” she said.
Lalta Prasad, 55, works as a ragpicker. Originally from Uttar Pradesh’s Gonda, he has lived in C Block with his family for the last two decades. When asked about the nationality of his neighbours, he said, “Ye sab India ka hai, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China ka nahi hai.” They are all Indians. They are not from Bangladesh, Pakistan or China.
Deepti (right) with her Muslim neighbour in G Block.
Sumitra, a resident of G Block, has been living in Jahangirpuri since 1981.
Lalta Prasad, a ragpicker from Gonda, lives in C Block.
But Omvati, who has been an ASHA worker here for the last 40 years, has a different story. As we spoke to her, a television screen in her home showed a discussion on Jahangirpuri on a mainstream Hindi news channel. “Some of them,” said Omvati, referring to Muslims, “may have come here from UP, Bihar and Bengal. But there are Bangladeshis among them who come here after committing crimes there.”
Her son Pramod, who works as a driver, added wings to his mother’s theory. “Their women used to visit Shaheen Bagh regularly on buses,” he said, as “proof” of his neighbours’ perfidy.
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