Early last week, a set of posters mysteriously appeared in Delhi’s Brahmpuri, a locality in northeast Delhi that was the scene of the communal riots that ravaged the capital in February 2020.
Written in Hindi, one poster said, “Hindu house owners in Brahmapuri are informed that nobody will sell their house to Muslims. Civilians of the colony will not allow the house registration. For this, only owners will be responsible. All future deals should be with Hindus.”
It was issued in the name of one Pradeep Sharma, a lawyer from street no. 13 in Brahmpuri.
Photos of the posters soon found their way to social media.
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Posters asking #Hindus not to sell their houses to #Muslims have been put up in #Delhi's #Brahmpuri by some #PradeepSharma. pic.twitter.com/NK49XdqEru— Hate Detector ð (@HateDetectors) January 12, 2023
When Newslaundry visited Brahmapuri on January 13, we found a second poster too, issued in the name of one of the three local residents’ welfare associations and stating that “structural changes have to be mandatorily approved by the now unified Municipal Corporation of Delhi” – meaning that all transfer deeds must be registered with the MCD in case, as locals said, Hindus “stealthily” sell their homes to Muslims.
Brahmpuri comprises 24 streets, and each street has 50 to 100 houses. It’s located opposite Jaffarabad, a Muslim-dominated area that houses both residential and commercial buildings. The main Brahmpuri road, narrowed by roadside stalls, cuts through both colonies.
Hindu residents complained to Newslaundry that the neighbourhood was becoming “more Muslim” in recent years. At least three real estate brokers and several locals told this reporter that Muslims bought “over 100 houses” in Brahmpuri after the riots, when the locality reported the death of a Hindu man and a few cases of arson and rioting.
The posters appeared in at least 14 streets in the area. The police took them down but some remain.
But who is Pradeep Sharma and why were these posters issued in the first place? Why are local Hindus worried that their ilk are “leaving” Brahmpuri? And what happened at a recent meeting when these posters were purportedly planned?
Here’s what we found.
A ‘meeting’ to plan posters
Pradeep Sharma is a lawyer practising at Karkardooma court. He lives in Brahmpuri with his college-going son and daughter.
Pradeep told Newslaundry his name was used on the posters “without me being informed about it” but “there is nothing wrong” with the posters’ contents.
“One and a half months ago, we had a meeting where my legal opinion was sought on Hindu migration from the area,” he said. “I said we can’t legally ban Muslims from buying Hindu houses, but we can appeal to Hindus. On the posters, the written appeal should have been from the RWA. But there is nothing wrong with the appeal. The growing number of Muslims here is a concern.”
Posters on street no. 13.
Posters torn down by the police.
A concern why? Pradeep told Newslaundry that Muslims “comprise 40 percent of the population” and he blames it on “Rohingyas and Bangladeshis”. It’s similar to what RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat last week, on a “population imbalance” due to “conversions and illegal immigrations”.
But Pradeep’s charity, or concern, does not begin at home. He’s rented the first floor of his house to two Muslim families while he lives on the ground floor.
“There is no contradiction here,” he told Newslaundry. “Am I selling the house to the tenants? No. We do deal with Muslims in our daily life. For example, most vegetable and fruit vendors are Muslim and we buy goods from them. I personally don’t have any issue with Muslims. My suggestion was only limited to the sale of houses.”
And even then, he might not practise what he preaches. “If a Muslim offers me Rs 1.3 lakh per gaj against Rs 1 lakh by a Hindu, I will surely sell it to a former,” he said. “It is not a small transaction. It’s a question of lakhs of rupees.”
Of course, he added, there might be fewer Muslim buyers for his house because he has a 15-metre temple on his land.
But what was this “meeting” where his “legal opinion” was sought?
Pradeep was vague about when it took place, but he said 10 people were in attendance and that it took place at the home of one Rajiv Sharma, who contested the MCD election on a Congress ticket in 2017.
Rajiv Sharma confirmed to Newslaundry that his home was the venue of a meeting but that “such meetings keep happening”. He also said they only discussed donations for the upkeep of a local temple.
“Though the purchase [of houses] by Muslims is a matter of concern,” he said, it was not discussed in the meeting.” He refused to speak further.
Pradeep also told Newslaundry that a local named Sukhanlal Jain had been at the meeting too.
Jain is described as “working” with local temples and organisations tied to the BJP and the RSS. When asked about a meeting to plan these posters, he told Newslaundry, “There was no such meeting. But we have been discussing the issue of Muslim influx in Brahmpuri for the past two or three months, and at temples and the RSS shakha.” The local RSS shakha takes place at a Mauni Baba temple in Brahmpuri.
Jain then said the meetings had been attended by Pandit Shankarlal Gautam.
Gautam is a typist at the sub-divisional magistrate’s court in Seelampur. He’s also the vice-president of the BJP Northeast Delhi’s farmer cell and heads a local NGO called Jan Sahyog Vikas Samiti which works on civic issues such as waste disposal. He lives on street no. 13 of Brahmpuri with his brothers and parents while his children live in Noida.
When asked about the posters, Gautam told Newslaundry he doesn’t believe in “such gimmicks” and focuses instead on “real groundwork”. As an example, he showed this reporter a video of himself clearing garbage after a function. “This is what I’m talking about,” he said.
Importantly, during the Delhi riots in 2020, Gautam that his “boys” defended Brahmpuri from Muslims with “water pistols”. He told Newslaundry “one of our boys” was still facing court cases.
‘It was always a Hindu colony before’
When Newslaundry visited 14 of Brahmpuri’s 24 streets, residents waxed eloquent on brotherhood, friendship and coexistence. They dismissed the posters as a non-event and blamed it on sirfire, idiots.
But even casual conversations showed cracks in these claims of brotherhood, and the memories of the 2020 riots are still fresh. Locals alleged that streets 1 to 14 were once “90 percent Hindu” but Muslim numbers are now “growing”, while streets 15 to 24 have a “sizeable” Muslim population. Street no. 13 has a mosque now too.
And this was not always the case, according to Dinesh Raghav, 48, a former resident of Brahmpuri who now lives in Shahdara. When he was young, he said, Brahmpuri was “always a Hindu colony”.
“Then, one Muslim family arrived from Jaffarabad. Another followed. That’s how their numbers started growing,” he said. “At one point, my house was surrounded by Muslims.”
Raghav sold his house to a Muslim family in 2021. “I would have sold it to a Hindu but there were no buyers,” he complained. “Why would any Hindu buy houses there when everyone is leaving?” He added that he and others, before the sale of his house, had tried to “convince” other Hindus not to sell to Muslims – but they finally had no choice.
But why did Raghav want to leave Brahmpuri? He cited “eating habits” of Muslims, the congested road, and the fact that property rates in Brahmpuri were cheaper than Jaffarabad, which has a thriving cottage industry of clothing.
A traffic jam on the Brahmpuri main road.
Posters on street no. 11.
Also, the Delhi riots happened. “A few of our neighbours were part of it,” Raghav said. “The violence just hastened the process of looking for buyers.” So, Raghav left. Others like him did too, moving to Hindu-dominated areas like Shahdara, Bhajanpura, Karawal Nagar, Subhas Park, Vaishali, Rohini or Noida.
Anil Saxena, a property dealer, told Newslaundry he’s brokered “at least seven” property deals in street no. 13 since the Delhi riots.
“The posters will have little impact,” he mourned. “It should have been done seven or eight years ago. It’s too late.”
Saxena continues to live in Brahmpuri because his wife “insists that she won’t go anywhere else as long as she is alive” due to the temple nearby. He said he’s seen his Hindu neighbours leaving, one by one, over the years.
“Everybody is looking for a way out,” he said. “It’s not because of hostility. We have lived peacefully. All my immediate neighbours are Muslims. But the riots had an impact on our minds. We thought it’s better to live somewhere else – if not today, then tomorrow.”
Mahesh Choudhary, a property dealer in the area, said Brahmpuri is popular among Muslim businessmen and families due to its proximity to Jaffarabad, while also being cheaper and less congested. “Another reason is they are flocking to places where they are in good numbers,” he added.
But Gopal Gupta, who sells paper flowers and lives on street no. 6, condemned the posters.
“Though not much happened during the riots, a sense of fear and suspicion has prevailed since then,” he said. “Sale and purchase is nothing new. How can anybody be stopped from buying a house? However, people have started noticing a change in the locality since the riots.” He added that at least 10 houses are for sale on his street alone.
Arun Garg, who runs a grocery store on street no. 7, insisted that communal harmony in Brahmpuri is intact. But he still wants to leave. “At the moment, I can’t move out because of my shop,” he said. “If not now, then maybe in two years.” Another local, on condition of anonymity, said, “Only those who have jobs or businesses here are staying back. We don’t even eat onion and garlic. If we have a chance, we will find other places too.”
Suresh Vastu, who owns a gift shop on street no. 5, said, “It’s never been a question of safety. We haven’t faced any issue even as almost every other house is owned by Muslims. However, there will be bad apples on both sides.”
‘Hindus and Muslims have the same blood’
How did Muslim residents react to the posters?
Mohammad Iqbal, a barber who moved to street no. 13 three years ago, said, “We may never know the real identities of those who pasted the posters. If tomorrow I declare I will give haircuts only to Muslims, how will I run my business? So, we have to work together.”
His friend Shezad Saheed agreed. “If there is any problem, both communities can talk it through – no need for posters,” he said. “The Hindu-Muslim divide is only a media hype.”
Javed Ahmed, a cloth trader who bought a new house in street no. 12 last year, said a “few people at the top” are finding ways to disturb communal harmony in his neighbourhood.
“This country belongs to Hindus as much as Muslims. Everyone needs a roof. Hindus and Muslims have the same blood,” he said.
Recalling his childhood, he said he would leave home at 4 am to play Holi, “despite getting scolded by my mother”. “All festivals were celebrated together,” he said. “Ab wo baat nahi rahi dango ke baad.” Now it’s not the same after the riots.
Mohammed Yamin, a barber who has lived on street no. 11 for 15 years, said the riots may have increased the ghettoisation of both communities. Speaking in metaphors, he said, “When the first flood hits, all are caught unawares. To minimise damage in the future, people will build embankments and take other preventive measures. Such an event may occur tomorrow, 50 years later, or may not happen at all.”
He also said the population ratio of both communities in street no. 11 has remained unchanged, but local property dealer MA Bakshi said “not many homebuyers” in Brahmpuri today are Hindu.
Aashu, who bought a 20-gaj plot in street no. 10 three months ago, said, “Maybe Hindus have a point on safety in the wake of the riots. But I am very lucky to have lovely Hindu neighbours,” said Aashu, who goes by his first name. “They are quick to lend a helping hand since I am new here.”
As he spoke to this reporter, a man drove past on his scooter. Aashu greeted him with “Ram, Ram” and the biker responded in kind.
“See, this is what I am referring to,” Aashu said. “We are brothers and respect each other.”
Finally, what do the neighbourhood’s elected representatives think?
Brahmpuri covers two assembly constituencies, Seelampur and Ghonda, and three MCD wards, of which two are with the BJP and one with the AAP.
Abdul Rehman, the AAP MLA from Seelampur said his constituency – which he said is about 65 percent Muslim – had been largely unaffected by the Delhi riots.
“Almost all jewellery shops are owned by Hindus. Not even a single shop was attacked in the riots,” he said. “It was because both communities are happily coexisting. But there are a few elements who are on the lookout to disturb harmony and defame Seelampur. The posters have come up right after two BJP councillors have won from Brahampuri.”
Ajay Kumar Mahawar, the BJP MLA from Ghonda, was not available for comment due to his party’s national executive meeting in Delhi today.
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