In communal flare-ups, rumours have tactical use

Irrespective of religion, people shielded temples during the recent riots

March 16, 2020 01:34 am | Updated 10:03 am IST - NEW DELHI

Shri Gauri Shankar Temple in Shiv Vihar area of north-east Delhi.

Shri Gauri Shankar Temple in Shiv Vihar area of north-east Delhi.

In instances of communal violence, truth is often the first casualty and a mobilisation tactic used by those behind fomenting trouble is to spread rumours that places of worship have been destroyed.

A fact check by The Hindu found that while there were instances of stone pelting at temples, local residents, including Muslims, came forward to defend at least three temples during the recent outbreak of violence in north-east Delhi in which 53 persons were killed.

At the Shri Durga Fakiri Mandir in Chand Bagh, where sporadic episodes of stone pelting led to violent clashes on February 24, both Muslim and Hindu residents came out to defend the temple, its prabandhak Sanjay Malhotra said.

“There were violent clashes for at least three hours but only the board affixed above the gate was damaged; all the credit goes to members to the seven-odd Muslim families who stay in the gali. They came on their own and stood beside the Hindus to save the temple. I wish I could introduce you to them myself but most of them have sent their families away and have, after weeks, finally gone back to their trades,” Mr. Malhotra, a resident of Geeta Colony, said.

“I could only come here the next morning after [paramilitary] forces were deployed and saw that the only damage inflicted on the temple was to a board bearing its name. My family has overseen the functioning of this temple since 1978...the area always had both Hindus and Muslims residing in it, but there was never the kind of fear and mistrust that exists here now,” he said.

Two smaller temples located in bylanes across the road from each other — one in Muslim-dominated Chaman Park and the other in Bhagirathi Vihar which has a mixed population — visibly remained untouched by the violence which occurred along the main road leading towards the Shiv Vihar tiraha.

Rajesh Vashisht, the pandit overseeing the Maha Shakti Hanuman Mandir in Prem Vihar across the road from Shiv Vihar, which witnessed some of the worst arson and vandalism, said the predominantly Hindu population of the area came and stood guard outside its gate as “information” about the rioting began surfacing.

“Not only local residents, but people from neighbouring areas also came to stand guard outside the temple to secure it,” he said. The Shri Pracheen Hanuman Mandir, located at the Shiv Vihar Tiraha, also saw mobilisation by Hindu residents.

“Pandit Sewa Ram, who oversees the temple, was hit on the forehead with a brick while he was on his way here. Thankfully no one else got hurt,” Pandit Munna Lal, who is also associated with the temple, said.

At Shiv Vihar across the road, however, damage to the wall reportedly due to stone pelting, according to local residents staying near the Shri Gauri Shankar Mandir, was evidence that temples in north-east Delhi were targets during the recent communal violence.

“Our temple bore most of the brunt of the stone pelting from across the road because of its location – all the three small bridges connecting this area to the main Karawal Nagar road – were blocked by rioters from the other [Muslim] side leaving us with no option but to stay put. Some of them working in pairs – with one using a torch to distract passersby and the other firing from a gun,” claimed Shivam Mishra, whose father Pandit Ranjit Mishra, oversees the Gauri Shankar Mandir.

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