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Friday Feb 28 2020

A Delhi neighborhood divided by a highway and now hatred

Photo: File

The deadly riots in North-Eastern New Delhi led to the divide of Hindu residential area Bhajanpura and Muslim Quarters in Chand Bagh. This divide was earlier a mere road between two areas. However, now the distances have increased based on the violence and unrest the areas have been observing.

Feelings of harmony have been replaced by the mutual fear, suspicion and sentiments of hostility in formerly peaceful areas of the capital. Residents are still figuring out how the change is brought about. Street protests, vandalism and riots have made the de-escalation of sentiments onerous.

By mid-week, the main road was strewn with broken glass, bricks and the charred remains of destroyed cars. More than 38 people are so far dead in the clashes, many wounded and buildings were set to fire in sectarian violence in Delhi in decades.

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“I have lived here for 35 years,” said Santosh Garg, a Hindu woman who described a narrow escape on Monday when a mob of Muslim men set her house alight.

Reuters reported a narration of 52-year old woman “I have never had a problem, never had a complaint,” who referred to her mostly Muslim neighbors across the way. “I still can’t understand what happened.”

The lady escaped after tossing her two grandchildren from a balcony into the arms of police officer to escape the burning home. She helped herself jumping into adjoining terrace.

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Not far away from place of this incident, in Muslim quarters, Rubina Bano said that she was in anti-government demonstration when she was fired at with tear gas shells and a Hindu crowd started throwing stones.

Bano, was brutally beaten by the police and received 20 stitches her despite carrying three months’ pregnancy. Delhi police refused to comment on the story upon Reuter’s request and said they are doing their best to maintain peace.

'We must defend ourselves'

Bano joined protests with hundreds of thousands of Muslims across India against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a new citizenship law that gives non-Muslims from three neighboring countries a fast track to acquire Indian Citizenship. This law, many Indians believe is repugnant to country’s secular spirit and constitution. Muslims in India also fear of going stateless because of this law.

The Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which is criticized for being radical pro-Hindu, said that the bill is a tool to help persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Further, the government repudiated any anti-Muslim bias for its 180 Million Muslim population.

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Last year in December, clashes were observed between anti-government demonstrators and police. More than 25 died back then, in northern state of Uttar Pradesh. This week in Delhi, riots were sectarian in nature and fears are there that these sporadic pogroms may not take the shape of massive scale bloodsheds in the country similar to that of 1947.

Near a badly burned fuel station in Bhajanpura, a group of Hindu men fumed at the damage suffered by their community.

“If this is what the minority can do, wait till you see what the majority can do when it picks up arms,” Ajay Choudhary, a yoga instructor, shouted in applause and cheers, as he pointed to burned buildings reported Reuters.

The news agency reported another young man Ashish “We had to do something to defend ourselves. They were lusting for blood,”

Lack of trust

Faith in the ability of politicians and police to contain the unrest is wearing thin among local residents.

“This is all the work of politicians who don’t want the communities to stay together,” said Bano who was severely injured.

During Delhi’s local elections, members from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) referred to protestors, mostly Muslims, as “traitors”. In the rally, Junior Finance Minister insisted supporters to chant “shoot the traitors”.

However, the slogans were negated by the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah (also Modi’s wingman), after his party was defeated in New Delhi polls. In an interview with Reuters, he said “These statements shouldn’t have been made. The party has distanced itself from such comments.”

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Another BJP leader, India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar accused opposition parties for instigation of violence during months of protests against the citizenship law.

“This is not about the violence that’s gone on for two days. For two months, people have been provoked,” he said.

Some local residents pointed the finger at the police for failing to do enough to protect them from attack. The Delhi force is controlled by Shah’s Home Ministry.

Kalam Ahmed Khan, a Muslim in Chand Bagh, said police should have done more to prevent the clashes this week.

“All this has happened under the police’s nose,” he said. 

With additional input from Reuters