Locals are angry over communal coverage, media 'not giving space' to material showing Ansar in good light.
“Go away from here. I already told the media whatever I had to say. Will talking to you help reduce my husband’s remand,” Mohammad Ansar’s wife Sakeena asked this reporter, shutting the door to her residence in Jahangirpuri’s B block. “I have never stepped out of home and today I have to give an explanation to so many people,” she said, with a cuss word marking her rage as well as helplessness over events of the last few days.
With Ansar, 40, being labelled as the prime accused behind the communal violence in the locality on April 16, Sakeena, along with her five children, is having a hard time. But she wasn’t always averse to talking to the media.
The police arrested Ansar on the date of the violence, claiming that he and a few others had picked up a fight with those part of a religious procession passing the mosque in C block. A day after the arrest, Sakeena had told Newslaundry how her husband was home when the trouble began.
However, as details emerged about Ansar’s past over the next few days, the media had more queries for a harried Sakeena, and more complex questions arose about who her husband was: a good samaritan, a criminal, or riot mastermind?
While the press reported on his past criminal cases, his lifestyle, and the AAP and BJP accused each other of fomenting trouble through Ansar, Newslaundry met a string of people who knew the man to try to connect the dots.
Criminal or “good man"?
On April 19, the Times of India reported that a case was first filed against Ansar in 2009 under the Arms Act. He was booked thrice between 2011 and 2019 in cases under the Gambling Act. In 2013, he was arrested for allegedly trying to barge inside a woman’s house in an inebriated condition. A sixth case was filed in 2018 for allegedly beating a policeman. On April 23, the Enforcement Directorate booked Ansar under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
As Newslaundry visited Jahangipuri on April 21 – a day after the controversial demolition drive – there was anger over communal bias within sections of the media, and shock over how reporters went about their job. “You know a man was urinating when a woman reporter stood behind him asking questions,” remarked a local.
Across C and B blocks, there was another common refrain: Ansar was a “social” person with personal integrity.
“Acche aadmi hain (he’s a good man)...he often intervenes and tells others to do good work. He always helps the poor, even buys carts for those selling stuff on the roadside,” said Asif Hussain, 68, who shifted to Jahangirpuri two years ago and lives next to Ansar’s family. He said that he first met Ansar at a wedding in 2021 where the latter had taken the “responsibility of providing guests with food”.
Several residents claimed that Ansar sold a house in C block to help the needy during the Covid-induced lockdown – Asif claimed he had shared proceeds worth Rs 12 lakh to help his relatives and others.
Ansar ran a mobile repair shop and a scrap dealing business.
However, a woman, who didn’t want to be named, told Newslaundry that Ansar was “into betting” and would “bribe local policemen too”.
“They are treating Ansar bhai as the mastermind. He used to be somebody who would interfere everytime a dispute would break out here,” said another woman in C block who didn’t want to be identified.
Many are angry over what they call is targeted action against the Muslim community in the wake of the violence. They point to a video that shows Ansar protecting a Hindu minor holding a dagger in his hand from an ostensibly inevitable wrath of the crowd, and trying to explain to the boy why he doesn’t need to resort to violence. “Media personnel are taking these videos from us but not using them. Why is such one-sided action being taken against Muslims? Do they think we are weak?” remarked a woman resident.
Some Hindi news channels, in an attempt to sensationalise the story around Ansar, chose to focus on his mannerisms and lifestyle as well. While Zee News pointed to a “jhukega nahin (won’t bow down)” gesture from Pushpa to claim that Ansar had a role to play in the violence, Aaj Tak ran a segment on photos in which he could be seen placing his leg on a car bonnet, wearing gold rings.
The police have arrested 25 persons so far, including 20 from the Muslim community – four of them, besides Ansar, have been charged under the National Security Act.
The Delhi Police, which was earlier accused of communal bias following the 2020 Delhi riots, came under criticism again after it retracted its statement linking the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal to the violence in Jahangirpuri.
War over photos
Meanwhile, Ansar has also become a political hot potato as the AAP and BJP accused each other of links with the main accused of the violence.
It began with AAP MLA Atishi Marlena posting pictures, alleging that Ansar is a BJP worker. In a 2017 photo ahead of the municipal elections in Delhi, Ansar could be seen wearing a lotus badge next to then BJP candidate Sangeeta Bajaj. But there were other pictures soon, of Ansar wearing an AAP cap. No official statement or clarification was issued by the BJP or AAP.
In the Adarsh Nagar colony nearby, Newslaundry met Garima Gupta, the BJP councillor who has been visiting Jahangirpuri frequently, alleging that the communal violence was a handiwork of local “Bangladeshi” Muslims. “Lot of people come and get their photos clicked with a public figure, that doesn’t establish association of any kind,” Gupta said when asked about Ansar’s pictures.
She doesn’t offer evidence or examples to back her claim of the involvement of Bangladeshis in recent crimes in the locality. “They are present in large numbers and this is clearly evident in large-scale encroachment.”
Garima’s father-in-law, Suresh Gupta, had been associated with the RSS for more than 40 years. In 2017, he was in-charge of the MCD election campaign on behalf of another BJP candidate, Ramesh Chauhan. Chauhan is also part of the pictures with Ansar posted by Atishi Marlena.
“One doesn’t give so much attention to who joins your campaign. We think this might help in getting two more votes and hence distribute the patka (head scarf),” Suresh Gupta said.
When Newslaundry contacted Ramesh Chauhan, he lashed out, “Any dog or puppy can come and join the campaign, how does it matter?...He (Ansar) has photos with so many others. Such people take money during elections for work.”
Atishi Marlena didn’t respond to requests for comment.
But Asif Hussain has examples to defend his neighbour. “He’s been a supporter of the BJP as well as the AAP. In between, he even went to West Bengal to lend support to Mamata Banerjee.” Hussain said when PM Narendra Modi requested citizens to bang thalis in support of frontline workers during the first Covid wave, Ansar had reportedly brought a drum.
“Why do you think someone stands with a politician during a campaign? So that it benefits that person at some point,” a shopkeeper in C block remarked.