Violence unfolded as pro-CAA and anti-CAA protesters clashed in Delhi's Babarpur area on Monday. (Express Photo: Amit Mehra)
The 12 hours of violence in northeast Delhi on Monday in which five people were killed, including a head constable, painted a grim picture of how protests over the new citizenship law took a communal turn.
The area had been on edge since Sunday when a rally by BJP’s Kapil Mishra to counter anti-CAA protests in the area had been followed by waves of stone-pelting. Mishra couldn’t have been clearer in his warning — he released a video threatening anti-CAA protesters; he gathered with his supporters next to the protest venue; he tweeted after the violence that “till (Trump) is in India, we are leaving the area peacefully...after that, we won’t listen to you (police).”
Despite this, when violence first erupted Monday, with young men from two communities gathering on either side of a wide road under the Baburpur-Maujpur Metro line, Delhi Police personnel found they were outnumbered.
While there is little clarity on who cast the first stone — both communities blame each other — by 11 am, stones were flying thick and fast in Maujpur. Around noon, among those who were seen throwing stones were also some policemen. Asked about this, a senior Delhi Police officer declined to comment.
Several Muslim residents in the area alleged that since Sunday night, members of their community had been targeted. “This is a mixed colony. We saw our own neighbours throwing stones at us. On Sunday night, men were being pulled out of autos and Hindu households were collecting stones,” claimed a resident holding a metal rod, his face covered with a handkerchief.
At Bhajanpura in northeast Delhi Monday night. (Express photo: Amit Mehra)
At the Maujpur temple on the other side, however, many women claimed they were chanting Hanuman Chalisa at 10 am on Monday when “Muslim men came and pelted stones”. Many in this gathering were holding pro-CAA placards, next to a “Howdy Trump” banner placed on an electric pole.
Said Rohit Kumal Shukla (25), who was admitted to GTB hospital complaining of a bullet wound to the leg: “I was near Maujpur Chowk, where people were reciting the Hanuman Chalisa, when the other side started pelting stones at us. Some of the men charged at us and one of them fired at me from a distance.”
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While Maujpur market was shut, schools on the road were open, and around 1.30 pm, students were escorted home by police personnel and locals. Around 2 pm, several vehicles were set ablaze, and foam godowns, shops and homes were targeted by a crowd chanting Jai Shri Ram, which hurled petrol bombs at these establishments. Many of the men indulging in violence were wearing helmets.
Until evening, there was widespread arson in the area and smoke billowed into the sky but the Delhi Fire Service (DFS) had a trying time reaching the spot. “There were calls but there was no way for us to get there as the situation was volatile,” said DFS director Atul Garg. “Even though there were no people inside the shops and homes, the fear of a cylinder bursting or fire spreading was there”.
Around 3.45 pm, police fired teargas shells and pelted stones in Maujpur to disperse the crowd. Pushpender Mishra, member of Hindu Yuva Vahini, present near the temple, said, “We got sticks from our homes. Locals have sourced them too. On Sunday, we didn’t have weapons to defend ourselves but now we are prepared.”
At 5.10 pm, a mob of young men saw a garment shop and a pan shop across the street from the temple. Over 20 police personnel watched as young men, some teenagers, broke down banners, shutters, and looted the pan shop.
The mob looted biscuit packets, water bottles and threw it to the crowd. The Indian Express spoke to the two owners, who said that they were too scared to go and assess the damage.
Meanwhile, news came in that DCP (Shahdara) Amit Sharma had received serious head injuries at Chand Bagh and had been rushed to GTB hospital. He underwent surgery at Max Patparganj Monday night.
Constable Pradeep Kumar, posted with Vivek Vihar police station, was present at Chand Bagh when Sharma was allegedly beaten up by a group of anti-CAA protesters after he asked them to open the blocked road.
“We were standing in Chand Bagh area since 9 am and situation got tense around 12.30 pm after the locals blocked the carriageways,” Kumar said. “Our DCP was standing with us (around 35 policemen) and he tried to convince them to open the carriageways. Around 12.50 pm, we were gheraoed by them and then they started stone pelting. They also held him and started beating him up mercilessly. We tried to rescue him and also received injuries. After rescuing him, we took him in hospital, blood was oozing from his head.”
By afternoon, police had imposed Section 144 in the area, though the crowds continued to pour into the streets and narrow bylanes. Delhi Police PRO Anil Mittal appealed to the people to keep calm and not believe rumours, and promised “strict action” against miscreants and anti-social elements.
At 4.30 pm, a bearded man wearing a kurta-pyjama was surrounded in Bhajanpura and beaten by a mob armed with cricket stumps and sticks. A Reuters photographer captured scenes from the assault which left the man bloodied. Until late Monday night, he could not be traced.
Late evening, there were announcements from the Maujpur temple microphone that “we have to prepare ourselves to save our community, our rights and self-respect”. At 9.45 pm, stone-pelting resumed in Maujpur, and another shop was set ablaze, with flames being doused by police personnel.