On one side of the road under the Jaffrabad metro station was a group of anti-CAA protesters, a sit-in comprised entirely of women, followed by a group of protesters, mostly Muslim, and then a blockade erected and manned by the Delhi Police. On the other side of the blockade, barely 200 metres down the road was Maujpur, where stood a group of people sporting saffron tilaks and brandishing rods and lathis. Jaffrabad is a Muslim-majority area in Delhi’s North East district, while Maujpur is Hindu dominated. It was 24 February, around 5 pm and over the course of the next two hours I witnessed Delhi Police personnel stand by while the right-wing mob brutally beat a passer-by coming from Jaffrabad till he was bloody and on the ground. Members of the mob looted a Muslim establishment in full view of the police, which meanwhile was accepting tea and snacks from the group.
The area had been tense since the day before when the Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra had made a provocative speech at a junction on the same road. Clashes had broken out soon after Mishra left and the violence engulfed the entire northeast district for the next three days. As the targeted violence increased in ferocity, allegations and accounts of police complicity and inaction piled up. That day, when I reached Jaffrabad, the police had broken up the violence and the situation was under control—it was calm and tense at the same time. The stretch of road separating the two sides was empty and littered with stones and tear-gas shells, the smoke still heavy in the air. There was an alarming silence all around broken by the slogans being raised by the sit-in against the CAA and the NRC.
As the police gave me permission to cross to the other side, the group accompanying me stayed back. They were students of journalism at Jamia Millia Islamia and had come to cover the violence. Most of them were Muslim. About a hundred metres down the road, a few policemen were sitting on the divider next to a burnt car. There was a burnt house next to it, too. On the Maujpur side, there was no fear, plenty of aggression, and chants of “Jai Shree Ram.” Everyone here, from teenagers to elderly people had iron rods and lathis and some were wearing helmets. They were chanting communal slurs and raising slogans like, “Hindu jaag gaya hai, maro salon mullon ko”—The Hindu has awoken, kill the bastard Muslims, and “Afzal got azadi, we will give you azadi too.”
Announcements were being made on mikes instructing the crowd to boycott media houses. “Do not talk to the media. We got to know that Aaj Tak is running some false news.” The announcements continued, “but let Zee News and Republic TV come in, they are ours.” People among the crowd were ensuring that no one recorded anything or took any photographs—anyone caught using cameras had their equipment destroyed. An elderly man, around 50-years-old, had sandalwood paste in his hand and was going from person to person to mark their foreheads.
A few members of the crowd were offering chai and snacks to the policemen who accepted all of it. The refreshments had been provided by two men who came on motorcycles loaded with cartons. As the police personnel were drinking tea, some members of the crowd broke into a locked store across the road. It was a small shop selling cigarettes and paan, with the name of the owner—Nasir Khan—written on it. It was a Muslim establishment in the Hindu-majority area. The crowd proceeded to loot everything in the shop even as the police personnel did nothing to stop them and continued with their tea.