Delhi violence: Cops shouted “Jai Shri Ram” with armed Hindu mob, charged at Muslims

Since around 11 am on 24 February, the Wazirabad road in Delhi had become a site of violence between a Muslim group protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and a Hindu mob that stood alongside the policemen. SHIVAM KHANNA
25 February, 2020

Close to 6 pm on 24 February, a small group of around ten Delhi Police constables standing near the Fahan International School in Yamuna Vihar, a predominantly Hindu neighbourhood in north east Delhi, charged towards a crowd of Muslim protesters who stood across the nearby Wazirabad road. According to residents, since 11 am that day, the road had become a site of violence between a Muslim group protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and a Hindu mob that stood alongside the policemen. The Hindu rioters comprised a ragtag bunch of teenagers, young adults and older pot-bellied men, carrying iron rods, wooden planks and bricks in their hands. After at least half an hour of stone pelting, the constables and the mob charged at the Muslim protesters together, with a united cry of “Jai Shri Ram.”

The Wazirabad road divides Yamuna Vihar on one side, and the Muslim neighbourhood of Chand Bagh on the other, which has been a site of anti-CAA protests for over a month. On 23 February, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra, while addressing a crowd, gave the Delhi Police a three-day ultimatum to clear the protests at the Chand Bagh road, and threatened that the CAA supporters would take matters into their own hands if the cops failed to do so. The next evening, the area was rampaged by violence, with a nearby petrol pump and several vehicles ablaze, as volleys of stones arced through a smoke-riddled sky across the Wazirabad road.

In the run-up to the charge, the cops near the Fahan International School had been on the defensive. The ongoing stone pelting from both sides appeared to be on equal footing, which fell into a pattern of a volley from one side followed by a counter-volley from the other. I stood behind the Hindu mob and policemen as they hurled stones and abuses at the Muslims. The mob used large cardboard boxes and trays normally used to carry milk packets as shields against the incoming volley of stones. At approximately every ten-minute interval, the cops and the Hindu mob would charge ahead in full steam, only to fall back as another wave of attack came from the other side. At several points through the evening, I heard the sound of gunshots, though I could not identify its origin. A journalist whom I met at the site, however, had photographed a man wielding and shooting a gun from the Yamuna Vihar side towards Chand Bagh.

A man shooting a gun from Yamuna Vihar, a predominantly Hindu neighbourhood in north east Delhi, towards Chand Bagh, a Muslim locality situated across the Wazirabad road. SHIVAM KHANNA

At around 5.30 pm, I spoke to a head constable outside Fahan International School, who requested not to be identified. He complained bitterly about being abandoned by the senior police machinery. “We are standing here from the morning and no help has arrived yet,” he said. “These behenchods”—sister-fuckers—“have burnt everything. They have set fire to the petrol pump, they have set fire to the nearby hospital, they have burnt ambulances, cars, bikes.” It was unclear whether the Hindu or the Muslim side had set these on fire. The head constable added, “There has been no RAF”—the riot-control paramilitary unit Rapid Action Force—“deployment and we haven’t received any assurance that additional deployment is coming in.”

From my position, it was difficult to see through the Hindu mob, police officers and the smoke to ascertain the number of Muslim protesters on the other side of the road. When I asked the head constable about the strength of the stone pelters from the other side, he claimed that they were in the thousands. “Tumhe kya lagta hai, hum yahan pe bidaak kar kyun baithe hain?”—Why do you think we are cowering here. Referring to the Hindu mob, he added, “It is good that they are here, otherwise we were done for.” But at around 6 pm, the mob and the Delhi police were bolstered by hundreds of other Hindu rioters who descended on Wazirabad road. It was unclear where they came from, but it appeared that they had broken through barricades put up at one end of the road to join the fight against the Muslim protesters.

Strengthened by the reinforcement of the large Hindu group, the police and the mob charged from the Fahan school across the road towards the Chand Bagh side, without turning back this time. Soon after, the Hindu mob lobbed a burning black object—which looked like a tyre from a distance—at the tent of the anti-CAA protest. Within a few minutes, the flames had engulfed the entire protest site.

By 6.30 pm, the exchange of stone pelting had largely concluded, and the remains of the violence could be seen wherever one looked. The anti-CAA protest tents had been burnt to cinders, a car behind the site was still burning, sections of the railing on the road divider had been uprooted, smoke billowed out of a burning brown tempo truck on the road, and large wooden cable wheels nearby had caught fire. On the Yamuna Vihar side of the divider, hundreds of rioters bayed for blood, raising their iron rods, as if they were swords, towards Chand Bagh. They frequently broke out into chants of “Vande Mataram”; “Modi! Modi!”; “Jai Shri Ram”; and “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saloon ko”—Shoot the traitors of the country. From a few roof tops of Chand Bagh, a lone resident or two would hurl a stone, giving a fillip to the frenzy of the Hindu mob, which would then refocus its energies on pelting stones at that house. In the backdrop of all this violence, two or three tricolours could be seen rippling through the smoke waved by members of the Hindu mob, surreally underpinning the horror and the jingoistic revelries of the mob.

About 300 metres to the right of the protest site on the Wazirabad road, another hundred-strong crowd was standing at the barricades from where the new surge of Hindu rioters had appeared. When I asked a rioter who they were, he reassured me, “Tension mat lo, sab apne hi log hain”—Don’t worry, they are all our people. Saare Hindu hi hai, aaj inn Mullo ki maiyya chod denge”—They are all Hindus, today, we will fuck the mothers of all these Muslims. At a little distance from him, one of the rioters standing at the divider, apparently unable to contain his fervor, shouted in the direction of Chand Bagh but at no one in particular, “Azadi chahiye thi na? Bhonsdike, yeh lo azadi!”—You wanted freedom, right? Here’s your freedom, fuckers.”

For the next two hours, small bands of Delhi Police personnel sat back and relaxed as the Hindu mob hurled stones at the Chand Bagh area. Soon, a large contingent of armed personnel—who appeared to be from the RAF—made their way into Chand Bagh. Simultaneously, the Delhi Police  started dispersing whoever remained from the Hindu mob, who then spread out into the inner lanes of the nearby Bhajanpura locality and its market area.

A little after 7.30 pm, at a distance of around 500 metres from Fahan International School, I saw a Hindu mob of around fifteen people attack a Muslim man who looked to be in his fifties outside a mobile shop called Gulati Communications. As the leader of the mob beat him, another Hindu man who was standing by the shuttered shop intervened and asked him to leave the Muslim man alone. An argument of barely 15–20 seconds then escalated to kicks and blows between the intervenor and the mob leader. While the two thrashed it out, the Muslim man was mercilessly attacked by two other goons from the group. Fending them off, he tried to run, but they kept jerking at his clothes. Simultaneously, the others tried to separate the two fighting Hindus. “Aapne hi bhai ko maar rahe ho, kya kar rahe ho”—You are beating your own brother, what are you doing? The Muslim man eventually succeeded in escaping the clutches of the mob and began to escape, chased by a couple of members of the mob. I could not see whether they were able to get a hold of him, or if the Muslim man managed to escape.

Throughout the attack, police personnel could see the violence and made no attempt to stop the mob. At no point did the policemen make an attempt to arrest anyone from the Hindu mob, through the stone pelting, the arson, or the individual attacks. In fact, the police complicity in the Hindu mob attacks was a recurring feature that could be seen in every scene of violence in the area. Throughout the day, as I made my way from Maujpur metro station through the by-lanes of Aadarsh Mohalla, Vijay Park, Sattar Wali Gali, Noor Ilahi, Bhajanpura and Yamuna Vihar, I saw the Delhi Police working in tandem with and mollifying the Hindu rioters. As was the case in the retaliation against anti-CAA protesters in Uttar Pradesh as well, the police were acting as a force seeking to deter and contain Muslims by working on the ground in consonance with Hindu anti-social elements. Unsurprisingly, Hindu mobs throughout Maujpur and surrounding areas often chanted, “Delhi Police Zindabad.”

By 8 pm, the crowd had thinned out and the stone pelting had come to an end. Amid all the destruction, a mazar—shrine—stood burning at a short distance from a police outpost. A group of around thirty Hindu rioters stood on the Yamuna Vihar side of the road, seemingly enthralled by the sight. One of the rioters shouted, “Hindustan mein rehna hoga”—If you want to stay in Indiaand the others completed the slogan, “Jai Shri Ram kehna hoga”—You will have to chant Jai Shri Ram. A little while later, one of the rioters began going about offering laddoos to everyone as an acknowledgement and celebration of the burning mazar. Every laddoo offered was followed by a chant of “Jai Shri Ram.”

A bunch of Hindu rioters then walked into a nearby market area. Not more than 500 metres from the protest site, I saw one rioter standing atop an auto while a bunch of others pushed it towards an open clearing, with a clear intention to set it on fire. As the group chanted Jai Shri Ram, the auto driver—a Hindu man—suddenly appeared and pleaded with the rioters to let go of his auto. A small fight ensued,with some of the rioters demanding that another “Hindu brother’s auto” should not be torched, while others insisted that the permit papers were in “a Mulla’s name.”

A seemingly older foot soldier then appeared at the site, took control of the scene and authoritatively directed all of them to quit fighting and focus on “demolishing the mazar.” The rioters promptly directed their maniacal energy towards the mazar. The Delhi Police made a perfunctory attempt to dissuade the rioters, waving their lathis from a distance that they could not touch the mob, asking them to go away. But the rioters were not bothered, and the police made no attempt to arrest them. By the time I left, the mazar was still burning, and the rioters seemed to be waiting for the flames to die out so they could pull it down completely.