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Trilokpuri, a tinderbox again

Rioting went on all night on October 24 in Trilokpuri. A policeman walks past a burnt shop at the site of violence in New Delhi late last month. Photo: PTI   | Photo Credit: PTI

Trilokpuri, a slum resettlement colony set up in 1975 across the river Yamuna, > witnessed the most brutal massacre of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Over three days following the assassination of Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984, 350 Sikhs, predominantly from families who made string cots for a living, were stabbed and burned to death in Block 32 here, 15 km from the Parliament.

Thirty years on, Trilokpuri is tense and fearful after the majority Hindus — Punjabis and Valmiki Dalits — and minority Muslims clashed with and pelted each other’s homes with stones over three days from October 23-26. “I witnessed how they cornered the Sikhs and burned them to death in 1984. It was the same now; they had surrounded Block 27 from six sides. This is where the influential Muslims live, they wanted to send a message,” says Bablu Khan, who sells eggs from a cart. “The Muslim families removed their vehicles from here before the stone pelting began. The violence was planned,” says Balraj Talwar, a resident, and local convenor, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which holds the Trilokpuri Assembly seat, has blamed the BJP for inciting the violence with an eye on political gains. Advocates Vrinda Grover and Aslam Ahmed, who petitioned the National Commission for Minorities to intervene in the matter, have alleged that with the Lieutenant Governor away, there was no institutional intervention for several crucial hours. They alleged that the Delhi Police acted in a biased manner, arresting a disproportionately high number of Muslim youth as though Muslims were the aggressor community when this could not be corroborated with evidence.

Six shops have been looted and burned down. At least eight youth are undergoing treatment for bullet injuries, of whom the families of two minors say the injuries resulted from policemen firing into the crowd.

Several rows of one-room tenements in Sanjay Camp in Block 27 lie vacant after hundreds of Muslim women and children left home fearing for their safety.

Origin of clashes

Trilokpuri, with a majority Dalit population, is a reserved constituency. With a population of over 1.5 lakh, Blocks 1 to 36 in Trilokpuri make up the majority of the constituency, which includes parts of Kalyanpuri. Each block contains 500 houses, several of which are one-room tenements lined on either side of narrow alleyways. Muslim families live in Blocks 15, 20, 27, with some families residing in Block 32 and Block 36, next to two mosques, the majority being Hindu households. The area holds several bootlegging and satta (gambling) businesses.

Hindu residents trace the origin of the clashes to the setting up of a mata ki chowki (a makeshift shrine for goddesses) at what was earlier a garbage dump inside Block 20. Eleven Hindu youth set up the shrine clearing the plot of construction material and garbage, collecting Rs. 1 lakh from the neighbours to hold a chowki seven years after the first one was held in 2007. Hindu residents of Block 20 allege that on September 25, the first day of navaratra, they spotted two Muslim youth from Block 27 urinating near the shrine, following which they beat one of them and registered a police complaint.

A month later, on Diwali on October 23, they allege Muslim youth drank and threw meat in the vicinity of the shrine and the Hindus pelted them with stones in response. “After our second complaint on Diwali, a Muslim was made Investigating Officer (I.O.) by Mayur Vihar police station. This angered the residents. Also, the police had arrested Mubin Salmani, whose sons have a reputation for criminal activities, that night but let him off the next morning,” recounted Tilak Raj Tanwar, a shopkeeper and resident. According to Muslim residents, both Hindu and Muslim youth were drinking together on Diwali near the shrine before the argument broke out.

The next day, on the evening of October 24, hundreds of Hindus gathered at the office of former BJP MLA Sunil Vaid in Block 21. This meeting, in which the crowds blocked the roads for a couple of hours is described by both communities as having preceded aggressive stone-throwing and violence.

“The police was taking no action against the Muslims. I called the Deputy Commissioner of Police Ajay Kumar. He sent the Assistant Commissioner of Police to my office. I told the ACP the police may not have intended it but a Muslim policeman — Md Hassan — had been appointed Investigating Officer into our October 23 complaint, and that he should be removed,” said Sunil Vaid of BJP who was MLA Trilokpuri till last year.

Rioting went on all night on October 24. In early hours of the morning, a three-storey garment showroom A-Z Garments owned by a Muslim entrepreneur was burned down in Block 27. The next morning, angry mobs broke the locks of Babu Khan's scrap shop in Block 28 before ransacking and setting fire to a meat shop nearby. “Men carrying stones and swords surrounded our house chanting Har Har Mahadev. They climbed on terraces nearby and hurled stones. Wearing only helmets and vests, they took off their pants to threaten us with rape,” recounts Tarana Khan, an M.A. Economics student at Delhi University. Muslim women and girls who returned to Sanjay Camp after staying away at relatives' homes for a week alleged policemen shouted abuses at them while forcing them to open their houses, arresting any Muslim youth they could find. “They broke the lock and the door, and hit me with a rifle,” said Sultana Bibi (in her 50s), who makes paper envelopes for a living, revealing a large black and blue bruise on her left knee. Her neighbour Mehrunissa, who has since sent her daughter away to Ghaziabad pointed to fresh cracks in her house's door and the curtain torn into half.

Mayur Vihar police station records show that over the next four days, the police arrested 48 persons – 37 Muslims, 11 Hindus. After registering a generic FIR regarding the communal violence, the police turned down requests for individual FIRs, including from Ishrar Khan and Babu Khan whose shops were burned down. “I cannot register 200 FIRs, one for every incident,” said DCP Ajay Kumar, declining to comment on the pattern of arrests.

Families of two teenagers, Arjun and Ajeet, who both suffered bullet injuries while returning home from tuition classes on October 25 say they witnessed both getting shot as policemen fired into the crowd. Arjun, a student of class IX, was shot in the face and is still critical. DCP Kumar said there was no enquiry into who was responsible for the firing.

Long-term fissures

Trilokpuri remained under curfew for over 10 days. The government is yet to declare who will compute and provide compensation for the losses of properties as well as of wages for daily wage workers, and whether there will be a review of the arrests.

Hindu residents express a lingering suspicion of their neighbours. Muslim residents say they feel deeply distrustful of the police and fear sexual violence.

“The men from Block 17 kept pelting stones, making vulgar gestures. Give us 24 hours we will finish off everything, they said. The police did nothing,” says Fareen Khan, a B.A. first year student in Block 27. “I am a follower of Babasaheb (Ambedkar); I understand how caste and religion operates. But that night when I saw the goddess' crown had fallen and the stones thrown on the shrine, I felt angry. These people have no mercy, they will stop at nothing,” says Arjun Valmiki, a B.A. student in Block 20.

Unless the government takes active steps to restore justice and maintain dialogue, these fissures may only widen.

anumeha.y@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 4:15:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/trilokpuri-a-tinderbox-again/article6575490.ece

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