Hindu supremacist mobs orchestrate violence against Muslims where BJP won in Delhi elections

On 24 February 2020, supporters of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 pelted stones at a Muslim locality near Yamuna Vihar. One of the men was wearing a t-shirt with the prime minister Narendra Modi’s face and the symbol of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Over three days, armed right-wing mobs have deliberately targeted Muslim neighbourhoods across northeast Delhi all the while raising chants like “Jai Shri Ram,” “NRC will happen” and “Modi go ahead, we are with you.” Mayank Makhija
25 February, 2020

At around 11 pm on 24 February, close to two hundred men, wielding sticks and waving saffron flags, blocked all traffic at the Babarpur junction on the Maujpur road of northeast Delhi. Many of them wore saffron scarves and had tilaks on their foreheads. The Hindu right-wing mob was chanting slogans like “Ek hi naam, Jai Shri Ram”—There is just one name, Jai Shri Ram—and “Har Har Mahadev.” It was an assertion of a muscular form of Hinduism. Around a dozen women were sitting in the middle of the junction and chanting the Hanuman Chalisaa sixteenth century hymn in praise of the eponymous Hindu god. The few placards dotting the crowd proclaimed support for the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which was signed into law in December last year.

Over the last 48 hours, armed Hindu mobs have targeted the Muslim neighbourhoods in Babarpur, Maujpur, Kardam Puri, Chand Bagh, Gokulpuri, Bhajanpura, Yamuna Vihar, Vijay Park and Jaffrabad. All of these areas fall in the North East district of Delhi which is represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha. Nearly every locality which has been attacked falls in assembly constituencies which were won by the BJP in the recently concluded Delhi state elections. As per the Indian Express, seven people have been killed in the violence so far but there is no clarity on the identities of all the deceased or how they died. At least half a dozen Muslim residents of Maujpur told me CAA supporters attacked them on 23 February while on their way back home from work. Following the violence, by the night of 24 February, the Delhi Police had locked down the localities of Chand Bagh, Gokulpuri, Bhajanpura and Yamuna Vihar and were inaccessible. That night, I could visit only Jaffrabad, Babarpur, Maujpur and Vijay Park—all within a radius of five kilometres. The residents of the Muslim clusters within these areas told me that there had been aggressive stone-pelting by CAA supporters in their colonies. A Muslim resident of Jaffrabad told me that in the Dharmapuri gali, near Maujpur, Hindu households had put saffron flags outside their houses on the morning of 24 February to ensure that their houses were spared the attacks by CAA supporters.

The Hindu right-wing mob at the Babarpur junction on the night of 24 February came from the Hindu localities of the neighbouring areas—Yamuna Vihar to the north, Seelampur to the south, Maujpur to the west and Chhajjupur to the east. Several members of the Hindu right-wing mob had their upper-caste pride on display. Many men among them wore t-shirts that had “Brahman,” “Jat” and “Jai Shri Ram” written on them and from my conversation with them I gleaned that many of them belonged to other upper castes such as Rajputs and Baniyas. The crowd had ostensibly gathered to oppose the occupation of the Maujpur road leading to the Jaffrabad metro station, which is less than a kilometre down the road, by a group of local Muslim women the previous day. Babarpur, Maujpur, Jaffrabad and the surrounding areas of Seelampur and Yamuna Vihar have a sizeable Muslim population of around thirty percent. The Muslim women of Jaffrabad and Seelampur have been protesting against the CAA, by the roadside in Seelampur, for the last two months. 

Kabir Khan, a student of Delhi University and a resident of Jaffrabad, told me that on 23 February, a faction of the protest group at Seelampur decided to occupy the road as they were frustrated with the central government’s indifference to their demands. Khan said just one side of the two-way road near the metro station had been occupied so as to draw the attention of the government and the judiciary. The protest at Seelampur had begun at the same time as the sit-in protest on a long stretch of road in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area. While the Shaheen Bagh protesters have been negotiating with the Supreme Court-appointed interlocutors, the Jaffrabad and Seelampur protests have been largely invisible and ignored by the media, the government as well as the judiciary.

The protest by the Hindus at Babarpur appeared to be reactionary and lacked any objective goal barring the demonisation of the Muslim community. This was in sharp contrast to the protesters I spoke to at Jaffrabad and Seelampur, who had a clear agenda of fighting the CAA, which many of them defined as an “unconstitutional” and “discriminatory” law which “excluded Muslims.” As I spoke to the stick-wielding CAA supporters at Babarpur, they had no idea about the law and said they were out on the street because they did not like the “Muslim” anti-CAA protesters of Jaffrabad and Shaheen Bagh who had occupied the roads. Most of the slogans raised by the Hindu crowd were filled with communal slurs. The CAA supporters told me that those who protested against the law were “traitors” and “ghuspaithiye”—infiltrators. In the two hours I spent with them, not one of them talked about why the CAA was necessary or how it was discriminatory—in fact there was barely any conversation surrounding the law. They were content with raising chants of “Jai Shri Ram,” posturing with their sticks and dancing on Bollywood tunes like “mera karma tu, mera dharma tu”—You are my karma, you are my dharma. These reactions, though, were not limited to the Babarpur road occupation—it was the same narrative in every area I visited.

The violence that has flared up in the North East district does not appear to be a spontaneous clash between the two communities following the road occupations. It seemed to be a consequence of a slow and deliberate political build-up. On 23 February, Kapil Mishra, a prominent leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi, visited Babarpur and threatened the anti-CAA protesters. He was accompanied by people who he claimed were supporters of the CAA. He told the crowd that he would give a three-day ultimatum to the police to clear the Jaffrabad road or else he would handle the matter himself. As Mishra addressed the crowd, Ved Prakash, the deputy commissioner of police of the North East district, stood beside him and made no attempt to stop him or curb his provocative speech. According to the Muslim residents of Jaffrabad and Vijay Park, the mob supporting the CAA started attacking Muslim houses in the localities barely minutes after Mishra left the venue that day. 

On the night of 24 February, as I spoke to the mob supporting the CAA at Babarpur, I saw Prakash walk up to the members of the mob amid chants of “Delhi Police zindabad” and shake hands with them. Prakash’s reception by the Hindu mob was not unusual. Every time a police vehicle passed through the armed mob, the mob cheered them—some of them were casually chatting with the police with their sticks and lathis in hand. It seemed as if the armed mob was unafraid of the police. 

In contrast, there was a deep distrust among the Muslim population towards the police. At Vijay Park, some of the residents told me that they had seen police assault Muslims along with the Hindu right-wing mob. The residents told me that they did not trust the police anymore and were as scared of them as of the rampaging armed right-wing mobs. The residents said that on 23 February, the police were chanting “Jai Shri Ram” as they charged at Muslim neighbourhoods along with the Hindu mobs. I, too, witnessed a deeply antagonistic attitude by the police which was deployed in the Muslim localities. The personnel stationed in Jaffrabad did not mingle with the anti-CAA protesters or even attempt to talk to them, in sharp relief to their bonhomie with even the armed mob supporting the CAA. 

It should be noted here that all the areas from where violence is being reported are ruled by the BJP. Almost all the areas which have witnessed targeted communal violence—Chand Bagh, Karawal Nagar, and Bhajanpura, among others—come the under Karawal Nagar, Ghonda, Rohtas Nagar and Ganghi Nagar assembly constituencies which the saffron party won in the February 2020 polls. In addition, these four assembly seats come under the North East Delhi Lok Sabha constituency which is represented by Manoj Tiwari, the BJP’s Delhi chief. All of these areas have a sizeable Muslim population, enough to polarise the localities. 

It was in Babarpur where Amit Shah, the union home minister who controls Delhi Police, told his audience during an election speech on 27 January, that “When you press the button on February 8, do so with such anger that its current is felt at Shaheen Bagh.” The BJP had made the demonisation of Shaheen Bagh protesters as their main election plank in Delhi. Nadeem, a resident of Jaffrabad who makes a living as a rickshaw puller, told me that the BJP has been trying hard to turn the protest against the CAA into a “Hindu-Muslim” issue. He said that people in the locality understood the BJP’s “hidden agenda” and had consequently refrained from responding to the Hindu mob’s communal slurs. However, Nadeem said that what “hurt” him the most was the Delhi Police’s “partial” attitude towards the Muslim community despite the patience his community had shown to an aggressive attack by the Hindu supremacist mobs. 

On 24 February 2020, armed right-wing mobs set fire to Muslim houses in the Maujpur area of northeast Delhi. According to eyewitness accounts, earlier that morning, Hindu households in the Dharmapuri gali, near Maujpur, had put up saffron flags to mark their houses so that they would be spared by the rampaging mobs. Javed Sultan

Members of the Hindu right-wing mob, though, told me that on 23 February, the stone-pelting had started first from the Muslim colonies in Maujpur and they merely retaliated. However, a visit through Jaffrabad, Babarpur and Maujpur indicated that the Muslim areas have suffered far more damage than the Hindu colonies—I did not see any visible damage to Hindu houses in Dharmapuri. As I walked through Vijay Park, the fear among the Muslim residents was almost palpable. None of them seemed to have slept since 23 February. Most of them had black circles around their eyes and sore throats since they had been up for over thirty six hours—they were guarding the entries and exits of their colonies since Sunday. I also met half a dozen Muslim men who said they had sustained severe injuries after being attacked during the targeted communal violence. 

Muhammad Zubair, an advocate, was returning from the Kakardooma court to his home at Vijay Park on 23 February, when a mob supporting the CAA attacked him. He said the mob used slurs while beating him up, saying, “Katmulle hain, maro sale ko”—He’s circumcised, beat this bastard. Zubair said he called the local station-house officer, who did not come to his rescue. He said he called the police again when the Hindu right-wing mob started entering the Muslim colonies with chants of “Jai Shri Ram” but the police never arrived. Zubair sustained a head injury in the attack. 

Muhammad Mubarak, a daily wager, was going to a construction site when a mob supporting the CAA attacked him on 23 February, near the Maujpur metro station. Mubarak told me that he did not want to cross the road to the station when he heard that people were being attacked. “But the cops standing at the barricade told me that it was absolutely fine to follow the road towards Vijay Park. And as soon as I started walking, the mob came from behind and attacked me. The police kept watching but didn’t come to rescue me.” Around twenty men beat him up. He has suffered injuries on his head, his back, behind his legs and had a deep cut above his left eyebrow. He told me he was attacked with a sickle. 

Salman Khan, Sadim Rajput and Saif Ahmed were among other residents of Vijay Park who suffered multiple injuries in the attack on 23 February. All of them told me that they were beaten in front of the policemen who refused to help. The residents, too, said that the police walked behind the armed right-wing mobs as they attacked Muslim colonies. They said the police fired in their colonies while hiding behind the Hindu mobs. 

Shahnawaz, one of the residents of Vijay Park, told me that since 23 February, saffron goons guarding the Babarpur junction with sticks had been asking every passer by whether they are Muslim or Hindu. He told me they even made one man strip to ascertain his religious identity. In another instance, Munna, a resident of Jaffrabad and an auto driver, told me that he witnessed similar vigilantism from the Hindu mob on 24 February too. He told me the Hindu vigilantes stopped his auto and held one of his Muslim passengers by his beard and then beat him up. Munna has since refused to drive through the Maujpur-Babarpur junction . 

The situation at Vijay Park was so volatile that even as I was speaking to the residents they started running for cover when rumour spread that an armed Hindu mob had attacked their colony. I also spoke to a middle-aged woman, who attended the Seelampur protest regularly and was beaten up by the police on 23 February, at Jaffrabad. She started crying as she spoke to me. She told me she felt helpless as she had no hope from the government and the police. She was so traumatised from the beating by the police that she refused to reveal her identity. But as the rumour of an attack by Hindu mobs spread, she started murmuring a prayer and blessed us so we would reach home safe. 

I also went to the site of the Jaffrabad protest. However, the people there refused to speak to me—they said they did not trust journalists anymore. A column of men, who had guarded the women protesters on 24 February, refused to let me interview the women. “The media does not show our side of the story. We say something else but they show something else.” When I insisted, one of the men came up to me with folded hands and asked me to leave. 

It took hours of cajoling to get them to talk to me—they agreed on the condition that I do not take pictures and videos. They told me that the media and the police had let them down and they had lost all faith in the media. Irfan, a tailor in his mid-twenties, told me that the protesters would go home immediately if the prime minister Narendra Modi withdrew the CAA. When I asked him about the role of the police and it’s complicity in the communal violence, Irfan said, “If we have lost our faith in them, we have also lost our fear of them.” 

Unlike the anti-CAA protests where you could see the tricolour at various points, the supporters of the CAA waved saffron flags all around. At Babarpur, when I asked one of the CAA supporters Aman Varma, as to why they carried sticks to a “peaceful protest,” Varma told me that they carried it for “self-defence.” He added, “If they throw stones at us, it’s not like we will shower them with flowers.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that every single locality which has been attacked falls in assembly constituencies which were won by the BJP in the recently concluded Delhi state elections; all the areas which have witnessed targeted communal violence—Maujpur, Chand Bagh, Karawal Nagar, Bhajanpura, Babarpur, among others—come the under Karawal Nagar, Ghonda, Rohtas Nagar and Ganghi Nagar assembly constituencies which the saffron party won in the February 2020 polls. 

Nearly every locality which has been attacked falls in assembly constituencies which were won by the BJP in the recently concluded Delhi state elections; Almost all areas which have witnessed targeted communal violence—Chand Bagh, Karawal Nagar, and Bhajanpura, among others—come the under Karawal Nagar, Ghonda, Rohtas Nagar and Ganghi Nagar assembly constituencies which the saffron party won in the February 2020 polls. The Caravan regrets the errors.