NEW DELHI: Streets that resembled a war zone till just a few hours ago, are back to bustle and noise as if the two intervening days had never been. The shops are open, the restaurants are doing good business, and the only residue of the tension that had communities confronting each other for over 48 hours in Old Delhi is in the form of police patrols that remain at the request of residents.

Calm has been restored not by political leaders or religious heads, but by the people themselves cutting across the anger and fear with relentless messages of peace.

A squabble between two persons on Sunday, followed by a flush of rumours had communities facing each other in anger in old Delhi. In the midst of the slogan shouting face off, some miscreants stoned a temple in the area. These were the only two facts in roads awash with rumours, spreading with the speed of lightning, without check or restraint.

Fake news spread unchecked over WhatsApp, of a lynching, of the stoning of another religious place, of clashes and injuries. All untrue but in the initial hours sufficient to have the two communities in direct confrontation on the roads. Slogan shouting by both sides struck terror in all homes, as families cowered waiting for as some families later confided, unparalleled violence.

The Delhi police along with the paramilitary arrived in numbers, and stood in the middle of both groups through the days and nights, seemingly determined not to allow violence at any level. Senior police officers tried to reason with the crowds but to no avail. An MLA showed his face initially but disappeared soon after. Other political leaders stayed away, as did fortunately the media.

By Monday afternoon the palpable fear generated by WhatsApp messages was being countered by messages of peace. And efforts by volunteers from Old Delhi, caught in the middle of the warring groups, to urge the people to remain calm, to disperse, to talk, to negotiate peace. Although at the time there were few willing to be so influenced, a few hours later, towards the evening a group of Muslims appeared carrying a banner for talks and for peace.

Efforts behind the scenes continued but the religious leaders of the two communities were not available to either side. However, this did not deter Netizens like young Irtiza Quraishi and Abu Sufiyan who took it upon themselves to record videos, and work around the clock to bust fake news, and by giving regular bulletins over the social media to defuse tensions.

Quraishi wondered over communities exchanging slogans against each other, when both were living under dismal conditions, without drinking water and in pollution. This was in the midst of tensions. Sufiyan ran around exposing rumours and fake news and posting live videos on his popular social media site. For instance he recorded the first byte of the Fatehpuri mosque Imam urging peace, and promising to repair the temple. Or again he reached a mosque in the area to dispel rumours with a video, pointing out that it had not been stoned as Whatsapp messages claimed.

Seniors of both communities were finally able to put together delegations that then met and agreed that the Muslims would repair the mosque as per their own offer, that the miscreants responsible for the stoning would be arrested, and both would work to restore calm and communal harmony. This was then followed by a press conference addressed by local residents Bittu Halwai and Jamshed Siddiqui, where both announced the agreement, embraced each other, and opened the seemingly closed path again to peace and normalcy.

The Delhi police all along worked for reconciliation, exercising restraint and urging the communities to restore peace. To the point where the people actually asked the police not to withdraw completely but to “keep an eye” on the area, singing praises for the maturity with which the cops handled a very tense situation.

(Cover Photo IANS)