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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 2 NOVEMBER, 2014

The Story Behind The Communal Violence in Trilokpuri: Part One

Bricks lay strewn after clashes in Trilokpuri


NEW DELHI: Driving into Trilokpuri there is little to remind one of 1984 when the new resettlement colony, an underdeveloped dump by any standards, was burning with the Sikhs being pulled out by rampaging mobs and set on fire. Over 350 Sikhs were killed in this part of Delhi alone, with not a soul in sight, no police, no state while the mobs led by Congress leaders surged through the tiny gullies setting every able bodied Sikh and his house on fire.

Trilokpuri through the years has grown into a bustling, visibly more prosperous area. It overcame the rift of the terrible violence with Sikhs and Muslims living in harmony with the largely Balmiki population. No real fissures were noticed or spoken of until the violence now, in which largely Balmiki mobs surrounded the Muslim blocks with brickbats, acid bottles and country made guns shouting slogans as they prepared to rush in and perhaps, re-enact a repeat of 1984. However, resistance by Muslim youths who fought back from the rooftops prevented a clash, the repercussions of which would have been monumental to say the least.

It all began in a spirit of what can, strangely enough, be called secularism. A ‘maata ki chowki’ was set up during the Navratri celebrations this year, as always, in Block 20. On the request of local youths a rest room for bhakts (devotees) was also set up alongside in the pandal. This became a place for young Balmiki boys with their Muslim friends to gather every evening, eat and drink and be merry. A day before Diwali they were all drinking there as usual when some of them had the bright idea to replace the religious music, with ‘disco music’ so they could all dance. This was done but very soon local residents, both Balmikis and Muslims objected. The inebriated youth indulged in fisticuffs with the residents---again a ‘secular’ and certainly not polarised fist fight---during which a couple of young people fell over the ‘maata ki chowki’ that was quickly put up again. There the matter ended.

Or at least that is where it should have ended. Except that political interests saw this as an opportunity to generate hate and divisiveness. According to local residents, former BJP MLA Sunil Kumar Vaidya played a key role and within hours Trilokpuri was under the grip of rumours that Muslim youth had desecrated the shrine. Vaidya called a meeting at his residence of at least 300 Balmiki youth. Right wing organisations led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagran Manch started moving through the blocks spreading rumours, and warning the residents of threats from the ‘other’.

Clashes based completely on rumours broke out in different blocks. On Friday night , October 24, a Friday bazaar was attacked and destroyed. The same day the environment in entire Trilokpuri had turned for the worse, and residents of all communities said they could feel the tension, that something violent was brewing. Dr AA Khan, a respected figure in the area and in close contact with all communities being a senior leader of the local CPI unit, told The Citizen that when he came to his small clinic on Saturday morning he heard people telling each other to collect brickbats and put them on the rooftops as there was going to be an attack. From Block 14 he went to Block 15 and saw the same rush of panic and preparation. Within a short while a mob appeared from nowhere and circled the blocks, throwing acid bottles, brickbats and firing from country made guns as well. The surrounded residents retaliated and several were injured in the violent exchange. Residents called the police that, unlike 1984, did make an appearance but only after a couple of hours, according to the locals.

But the police came with its own terror. It rushed into the narrow gullies chasing the youth who were dragged out of their homes, beaten mercilessly before their terrified families, and taken away. Dr Khan said that of those arrested two thirds were Muslims, and one third of the other community. Interestingly this despite the fact that of the 3000 houses in Trilokpuri, only 298 are of Muslims.This writer met any number of families in Block 15 whose youngsters, or husbands had been taken away before their eyes. Limbs were broken and the youth dragged and kicked by the cops.

While a few were released, most had charges of rioting in varied forms slapped against them, and are now in jail. The desperately poor families have no idea what to do, for given the conditions, their relatives could be in for a long tortuous spell. The police burst tear gas inside the tenements, with one young man who they were chasing being brought out unconscious.

But for the older generation that had witnessed the violence in 1984 with not a policeman in sight, the very fact that the violence had been controlled this time around was seen as a major plus. Significantly, Muslim businessmen were targeted while the police stood by and watched. At 4am on October 25, when the police was present in full force at the crossing of Block 27, the four storey textile shop of Ishrar Khan was completely gutted. Sitting outside the charred ruins he broke into tears as his entire life’s work had been finished. The policemen were posted just outside the shop, but no one stopped the arsonists, or now even admits to having seen them. However, neighbours saw the flames and called for the police and the fire tenders that arrived well after the entire shop was burnt down.

Despite this there is no visible fear of the police who are still present in large numbers, with the Muslims speaking out quite freely before the police force. It is as if they have nothing to lose. However, the fear is now about the ease with which mobs can collect to attack, with the violence being a game changer for the locals in more ways than one. Dr Khan said that the attack brought the realisation that a 1984 can be easily repeated in the area, and was prevented only because of the very ‘lumpens’ who fought a pitched battle from the rooftops to keep the attackers at bay and protect their homes. They succeeded in doing so, until finally the police arrived and took charge albeit by establishing its own authority by attacking the locals, raiding their rooms, arresting the youth and using tear gas on individuals.

(Tomorrow: The Politics)

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