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Tension in Old City

Discussions fill the air on how the Hindu community ‘can’t be silent anymore’ and how ‘the time has come’

On Monday night, the usual bustle of Chandni Chowk is absent. The markets are shut and there is heavy patrolling by police officials following a series of events that took place on the night of Sunday, June 30.

A video recently circulated showing a group of people vandalising the Durga temple located at Lal Kuan Bazaar on Sunday night. The video shows people throwing bricks into the temple, breaking the glass inside the sanctum. The curtains inside the temple were in a burnt state. The subsequent communal flare-up has created a divide between the Hindu community and the Muslim community at Chandini Chowk.

On July 1, media platforms like Sudarshan News came out with reports of the temple being vandalised by around 250-300 Muslim youth. Sudarshan News claimed the mob chanted “Allah-u-Akbar” while vandalising the temple. Meanwhile, AAP’s rebel MLA Kapil Mishra tweeted that a rumour of lynching triggered the events. According to Mishra, the crowd of 350-400 became violent when they heard a rumour of a boy getting killed for chanting “Jai Shri Ram”.

However, the DCP of Central Delhi, Mandeep Singh Randhawa, tweeted that the “altercation and scuffle” was over “a parking issue in Hauz Qazi” due to which “tension” arose between “two groups of people from different communities”.

Newslaundry visited Chandni Chowk on Monday evening to find out what happened.

When Newslaundry reached the lane of Lal Kuan Bazaar on July 1, the situation was tense. A group of people had gathered outside the lane where the temple is situated. The air was punctuated with chants of “Jai Shri Ram”, and discussions filled the air on how the Hindu community “can’t be silent anymore”, how “The time has come”.

The Durga temple is situated right at the entrance of the lane of Lal Kuan Bazaar and is not a separate structure: to enter the lane, you pass through the temple. Inside the temple, the idols are intact but broken glass and bricks are scattered on the floor. The glass behind which the idols are kept is broken, and the curtains inside the temple are burnt.

The gathered crowd tells us that 80% of the population here is Muslim; only a few lanes house Hindus. “This is a ‘Chhota Pakistan’,” someone shouts.

In our search of eyewitnesses, we spoke to multiple people—only to get multiple versions of the story.

Mohit Saxena says he was sitting outside one of the area’s shops when Sunday’s events unfolded. “I was here when all this happened. It all started with a parking feud.”

According to Saxena, between 11 pm and 11.30 pm on June 30, 22-year-old Aas Mohammad parked his bike outside the house of one Sanjiv Gupta. Gupta told him not to park, Aas ignored him, and this escalated into a fight. Aas was beaten up. Both men were taken into custody by officials from Hauz Qazi police station.

Saxena’s story is confirmed by the police. A senior police official told Newslaundry the scuffle began between Aas and Gupta. When Aas was beaten up, “he ran away and brought his relatives, which then turned into a huge fight. Both were taken into custody and the matter was resolved.”

Saxena says the Muslim community surrounded the police station, asking for the release of Aas Mohammad. The police “dealt with the situation and everything was under control”, according to Saxena. “But at night, around 300- 400 people from their community attacked our temple,” he says.

On Sundays, the temple shuts at 9 pm. The pandit of the temple, Anil Kumar Pandey, was the last to leave the temple’s premises on Sunday night to return to his house next to the temple. “On Sunday night, I performed the rituals as I do every day, came home and slept. I woke at around 12 am when I heard a lot of noise. At least 200-300 people were in the lane, destroying vehicles outside the temple and shouting abusive words.”

The senior police official said he had suspected some backlash when the crowd of people came to the police station asking for Aas’s release. As a result, he had posted police officials in the area to keep watch and this “prompt action reduced the intensity of the issue”. The police told Newslaundry that a “crowd of around 200” had become violent and out of control “for a few minutes”, during which the temple was vandalised.

There is no clarity as to who exactly vandalised the temple. Faces are unclear in the video being circulated. The Muslim community have washed their hands off the affair, saying the perpetrators weren’t from their area. Members of the Hindu community also told Newslaundry that they couldn’t recognise any of the faces in the video.

Yet there was searing anger in most of the people we spoke to. “They shouldn’t have attacked the temple. They went to the extreme of attacking the houses in the lane where the temple is situated. If the police are incapable of protecting us, give us permission to protect ourselves. We can do it efficiently,” Saxena says.

Sixty-five-year-old Siddique’s narration of what happened is slightly different. A life-long resident of Chandni Chowk, he says: “Something like this was seen was post-Babri Masjid attack. Most of our lives we have lived here harmoniously. This collates to whatever is happening all over India. You know, all the mob lynching and targeted attacks.

“Whatever happened to the temple was wrong, we condemn it. But we have respected all religions in our lives. No one amongst us would do it.”

In Siddique’s opinion, the vandalising of the temple might have been orchestrated to target the Muslim community in the area. “If you see, none of the idols were vandalised … it was clearly done not to vandalise the temple, but to create a situation like this.” He says: “In this country, nothing happens on its own. Everything is pre-planned. The lynchings we see across India are planned. As a community, we feel targeted.”

The evening after the incident, chants of “Jai Shri Ram” are reciprocated by chants of “Allah-u-Akbar” from groups of people on both sides of the lane where the temple stands. Police officers have barricaded both sides.

DCP (Central) Mandeep Singh Randhawa is trying to mediate with the Hindu and Muslim groups. The attempt isn’t going well. When a representative from the Muslim group starts speaking, he’s cut off by someone from the other side, who says, “You don’t speak, we are not here to listen to you.” This back-and-forth continues, replete with slurs like katwe and suar ki auladh.

Seeing things slipping out of his control, Randhawa asks the people from the Muslim community to step back as their presence is worsening the situation.

None of the people Newslaundry spoke to had heard about the “lynching” rumours that Kapil Mishra tweeted about; everyone agreed it had started over a parking issue.

The gates of the lanes with majority Muslim population are shut. The Resident Welfare Association vice president, Irshaad Baasi, asks people to not loiter unnecessarily. “If they see us, then it is an issue. Let’s be calm and stay inside until the matter is resolved,” he says. “Look: the matter is very small, it was a petty fight. Even if we condemn the act of a temple getting vandalised, the issue  has been blown up and made into a big issue. Most of the people outside, shouting and chanting things, are not even from this locality. If you ask their address you will come to know that they are not from here.”

This is corroborated by the senior police official, who told Newslaundry that this “ruckus” of chanting “Jai Shri Ram” the day after the incident was created by a group of people who weren’t from the area. “They reek of alcohol,” he says.

Newslaundry spoke to one of the “outsiders”. Johny, who is not a resident of Chandni Chowk, explains that he’s here to “save” his religion. “We are here to show that we are not cowards, and these motherfuckers should know their place here. I saw this video and have come here to show my support, and I would urge that whoever sees this video should come here and show unity.”

The crowd assembled includes representatives from the Sanathan Dharam and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who are here to show solidarity. One of them, 84-year-old Rameshwar Nath Guru, tells Newslaundry: “Attacking a temple was wrong, and we need justice.”

According to the DCP, Aas Mohammad and Sanjiv Gupta have been released from custody. Gupta’s house is locked. Its windows are broken.

There’s anger that the police have made no arrests in the vandalising of the temple. DCP Randhawa tries to calm down the crowd. He says, “CCTV footage is being checked to track down the people responsible and we will make the arrests soon. If you create a lot of noise, it will make the perpetrators run and hide. It will take some time, but we will ensure that strict action is taken against the people who did it.”

Randhawa tells Newslaundry the situation is under control. He says the FIR copy has been “frozen”, which implies that it’s not available for public consumption considering the sensitivity of the issue. At 10 pm on Monday, Delhi Police CP Sandeep Goyal also arrived to check on the situation.

In the middle of the sloganeering by both groups in the lane, a group of young people appear with posters demanding an end to hate. One of them is Mohammad Tahir, a resident of Chandni Chowk. He says, “The problem is illiteracy. Both sides have a bunch of insensible people. We need Section 144 to control the situation.”

But the area is calmer thanks to the Delhi police, which is doing its best to defuse the tension even as its search continues for the people who vandalised the temple.

www.newslaundry.com