Freshly Brewed

Small lives Matter over Big Politics amid Delhi Cinders

Delhi/Kolkata: Even if Prime Minister Narendra Modi has broken his silence by asking for ‘peace and harmony’ after four days of communal frenzy that broke over the divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in north-east Delhi and has claimed at least 23 lives. Common people of the affected areas are mortally scared. Many of them are leaving their homes and moving on to secure places. Migrant workers from other states many of whom want to leave Delhi are not finding communications to move out. Their work-places have either been vandalized or closed down for an indefinite period as curfew has been imposed in the riot-hit areas. At the same time, it has become difficult for them to obtain food and shelter as most of the shops and markets remains shut.

 Migrants from Bengal

A group of 11 young labourers from West Bengal’s Murshidabad district is among them. Located in a mohallah at Gandachak in Maujpur area, one of the worst-hit places, they are seeking help from the Bengal government and TMC leaders in their native Nawda for their rescue. “We do not know any leader here. Our families in Nawda have contacted TMC leaders there. But we are yet to receive any help,” Kalam Shiekh, a 31-year youth from Khirmohoni village told eNewsroom over the phone on Wednesday afternoon. Others in the group are from the same village.

They had been working at a small factory that produces capacitors for electric fans for last three years. But the owner, a local Muslim, has shut down the workshop fearing for family’s lives. Though he had paid the Bengali workers their dues, they are now surviving on biscuits that they could buy from a local shop yesterday before violence recurred in the night.

“We are staying at our workplace since the trouble began. W e were terrified as we heard sounds of mobs screaming and gunshots or gas cylinders bursting at homes being gutted in the vicinity. We did not find police almost for three days. Ours is a Muslim-dominated area. Men and women were piling bricks, stones and other things on the terrace or rooftops to defend them in case of attacks. Violence recurred last night. Our eyes were burning even inside the locked room as police lobbed tear gas shells to disperse the mob closer by. We have moved to our rented place at another lane of the area this morning hoping for the rescue,” Shiekh said recalling the horror.

 This is their first experience of communal riot. “The area was peaceful and most people bothered about their livelihood only. But the tension has risen since this controversy over the CAA-NRC started to begin. We won’t come back unless and until the government rolls back CAA and peace returns,’’ he said.

Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, a social organisation active in Bengal districts, later networked with Delhi-based activists,Aam Admi Party and Delhi police to evacuate the migrant group. According to the Mancha president Samirul Islam, they have boarded Kalka Mail this morning way back home.

 Multi-faith peace initiatives at localities

 Meanwhile peace committees are being formed at the initiatives of local Hindus and Muslims as political leaders, either with secular claims or the BJP variety have vanished into thin air or are present only on Twitter. In Maujpur’s Vijay Park area, such a multi-faith committee has come up since the trouble had begun to guard the locality against the marauders from outside their area.

“I together with Shivji, Badalji, Panditji, Ajaypalji and others have spent sleepless nights since Sunday to keep vigil against trouble-makers. Police was hardly present. Whenever we called the local police station, we were told that all forces are out on duty. So around 25 Hindu, Muslim and Sikh neighbours have come together to form the Aman Committee to guard the road divides our Mohallahs and leads to Jafarabad, Gokulpuri, Bhramapuri, Chandbag and other disturbed areas. Last night too we did it while sipping the same tea and sharing the same worries. Peace March was organized in areas with mixed population in Brajpuri. That’s the Indian culture,” said middle-aged Amir Ali (name changed on request) to eNewsroom, a wholesaler of toys at Sadarbazar, originally from Bengal’s Birbhum district.

According to him, some motorbike-borne goons came, abused and fired upon the vigilant citizens with their war-cries of ‘Jay Sri Ram’ last night. “Fortunately, none was hurt. A CRPF patrol party came and left. Though violence has subsided, we are still sitting on a tinderbox. Ajit Doval (national security adviser) has visited Jafarabad and other areas. But police is deployed on the main roads linking the localities. People are still scared to venture out. No leaders from AAP, BJP or Congress have visited, to assure us with security and help,” Ali said.

 Build up to the frenzy

 A resident of Delhi since 1990, Ali had never faced such an ugly communal clash in the national capital. Amid the vicious political blame-game, he was remarkably balanced as he recalled the sequence of events after collating information from his friends and relatives in the troubled zones. According to him, BJP leaders and their larger RSS brethren were determined not to allow repeat of the iconic anti-CAA-NRC protest in south Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh in north-east Delhi’s Jafarabad -Saleempur area which had begun last week by blocking a part of a crucial road that connects Delhi to BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh. The entire zones houses a mixed faith population in the mainly poor neighborhoods which is full of migrant labours working in unorganized industries owned by petty businessmen in related markets. It was easy for BJP leader Kapil Mishra who was defeated by the AAP at the recently concluded Assembly Polls to rouse the Hindu sentiments against the Jafarabad protest on the pretext of traffic snarls and public inconvenience.

“People of all communities were inconvenienced by the partial road blockage. But Mishra’s inflammatory speech and threats on Sunday triggered mutual brickbats between his party men and the protesters,” the man from Birbhum said. Soon it was snowballed into a clash between two communities that gradually lead to the riots. Both sides targeted each other wherever the people of other community were vulnerable. Most of the rioters at both sides were youth. Mobs were instigated from some temples and mosques. In other localities, religious places were used for community gathering and warning against attacks through public address system. “Hindu members from our committee had intervened to stop such instigation from a nearby temple,” Ali recalled.

Bike-borne groups of armed BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal were roaming around chanting hateful slogans, vandalising religious places, shops and establishment. They were intimidating mainly male commuters in autos and buses, forcing them to reveal their genitals to identify Muslims in a bid to loot or torture the victims. “Though much smaller in the scale, a section of Muslim youth too had resorted to communal violence. Both sides used illegal firearms. I saw from the rooftop of my house,” Ali said. According to him, despite its scanty presence, police had helped the saffron brigade in many areas. “In areas between Bramhapuri and Mohanpuri, the BJP supporters were raising slogans praising Delhi police while pelting stones under the wings of the uniformed men,” he said.

As it always happens, poorest of the poor are most affected as their livelihoods are at stake following the mindless violence. Nevertheless, the Hindutva hate brigades have begun targeting the most vulnerable among them by labeling them as Bangladeshis. “In Maujpur and some other areas, Bengali rag pickers who live in shanties have been threatened of eviction by calling them Bangladeshi infiltrators. The well-offs are yet to face such situations. But who knows when we too will be targeted,’’ Ali said.

His personal worries became more poignant when he referred to BJP’s proposed National Register for Citizens. “The NRC can pull the rug from under my feet by declaring me doubtful voter, an infiltrator because of my religion. The business and family life I have built over decades painstakingly will be demolished at the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen. It’s too scary to think of.”

Biswajit Roy

is Consultant Editor with eNewsroom India. He reports on major news developments as well as writes political pieces on national and Bengal politics and social-cultural issues.

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