Communalising a Hindu man’s killing in northeast Delhi, Hindutva groups and leaders like the BJP’s Parvesh Verma have called for an economic boycott of Muslims.
On October 9, BJP parliamentarian Parvesh Verma called for a “total boycott” of Muslims because, he declared, they were trying to turn Delhi into a “mini Pakistan”.
The BJP leader was speaking at a protest in northeast Delhi's Dilshad Garden against the murder of Manish Kumar in nearby Sundar Nagri. Manish, 19, was allegedly killed by three men from his neighbourhood on October 1. They have been identified as Aalam, Bilal and Faizan.
“If you want to teach them a lesson, I say total boycott is the only way,” Verma thundered, directing the Hindu protesters to take a pledge. “Repeat with me that we will totally boycott them. We will not buy anything from them. We will not pay them any wages.”
The police have denied that Manish Kumar’s murder was motivated by religious animus, but that hasn’t kept Hindutva groups and leaders like Verma from using the crime to whip up hatred against Muslims. The campaign culminated in Sunday’s protest, organised by a group called Hindu Sabha, where several speakers, including the BJP MP, called for an economic boycott of Muslims.
To the displeasure of many of Sundar Nagri’s residents.
'It used to be a peaceful place'
On October 11, Sundar Nagri teemed with police personnel, watching the streets and manning barricades. At the colony’s entrance, a large poster of Manish covered one side of the gate.
Sundar Nagri is a highly congested, densely populated neighbourhood near Delhi’s border with Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. It’s home to nearly 80,000 people, 60 percent of them Muslim. The Hindus belong mostly to lower caste Jatav and Kohli communities.
“It used to be a quiet and peaceful place,” said an elderly woman who lives a few houses away from Manish’s. “But young men now get into substance abuse and then into a life of crime."
Almost everyone Newslaundry spoke with in Sundar Nagri complained that growing drug and alcohol abuse had led to increased crime in the locality.
“Snatching of phones, fighting and eve teasing are common. No woman dares go out after nightfall. People drink alcohol and smoke ganja out in the streets in broad daylight,” said a housewife who lives at the mouth of the lane to Manish’s house. “If you go and say something, they will abuse you. The situation is getting worse."
Manish was killed in full view of the public and barely metres away from a police booth. But nobody, the residents said, dared try to save him. “There were no police personnel in the booth at the time. Had they been there, I believe my son's life could have been saved,” said Manish’s mother.
The police booth was set up a few years ago after repeated complaints by the residents about “mischief and brawls”.
The local police said the booth was unmanned that day because the personnel were needed elsewhere for “Ram Leela duty”. In any case, they told Newslaundry, the local police station was understaffed. It is supposed to have 220 personnel but currently functions with just 120.
Any takers for Muslim boycott?
Two days after the BJP leader made the call to boycott Muslims, Newslaundry found that it did have takers among Sundar Nagri’s Hindus, if only a few.
“What happened wasn’t right and the culprits must be punished. That does not mean we should stop buying from Muslims. Here everyone is dependent on the other for their livelihood,” said Chandra Kant, 40, an electrician.
Uday Veer, a vegetable vendor, said, “This rhetoric is not going to fill our stomachs. I have both Hindu and Muslim customers. If I lose any of these customers it will only harm my income. So I cannot support such a thing.”
But Arvind Kohli, a self-described “local leader who subscribes to the ideology of Hindutva”, said he fully supported Verma’s boycott pledge. “We lived peacefully for years. But the situation has become unbearable now,” he said. “Since Muslims have decided to harass Hindus, we must do something. So, I am not going to buy anything from Muslims.”
Some Hindus said that while they had no problem doing business with Muslims, they were unhappy with the local meat market, run mainly by people from the minority community.
“They roam the streets with knives from the meat market and threaten people. That's the main problem,” alleged Raj Bahar, who makes a living repairing electric heaters, adding that he had no problem buying goods from Muslim vendors.
Shopkeepers at the meat market, however, denied the allegation and pointed out that none of the accused ever worked there. “Those who work in this market have a hard time making a living. Why would they get involved in criminal activities?" asked Mohammed Mehraj, a meat seller. "If anybody has a doubt they can come and check the CCTV footage. These allegations are nothing but a ploy to shut down the market.”
Another meat seller, Mohammad Rahizuddin, said, “They are jealous of our business. That is why they are targeting us. Many of those making the allegations against the market are the ones who demanded money from us.”
The meat market in Sundar Nagri.
The meat market is surrounded by and contributes to the daily business of spice and vegetable vendors, from both communities. “The more people buy meat, the more they will come to my shop for spices. So how can I say anything bad about the market?” asked Munni Lal, who sells spice in a corner of the meat market.
Sukan Lal, who sets up his vegetable cart near the entrance to the meat market, asked, “Would you come ask my name before asking the prices of vegetables?”
Still, the Muslims are worried about the call for boycott as also that the entire community is being targeted for the alleged crime of a few of its members.
“There is no Hindu or Muslim in business. Ask the names of customers at Anil's shop, you will see," said Mohammed Salim, an auto driver who has lived in the colony since 1978, pointing to a grocery shop owned by a Hindu.
Suraj Mukhi Devi, the owner of the shop, said, “We all condemn the incident, but bringing religion into it is wrong. We are Hindu, but our customers belong to both communities.”
Pictures by Pratyush Deep.
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