At close to 11.30 pm on 7 June, the news publication the Milli Gazette published a video to its Facebook page. The video showed a group of people demolishing a brick structure. According to the caption that accompanied the clip, this structure was a rudimentary mosque located in Ambay Enclave, a small basti near Sonia Vihar in Delhi, where 25 Muslim families resided. Finding themselves with no place of worship during the month of Ramadan, the caption said, these families had constructed a makeshift mosque. “Its existence began to pinch certain enemies of peace,” the caption alleged. On the morning of 7 June, a group of people attacked the structure, and razed it to the ground.
On the afternoon of 8 June, I went to Sonia Vihar to investigate the incident. That day, I spoke to several Muslim residents from the area. They told me that the Hindu residents of the area—primarily members of Thakur and Gujjar communities—were displeased with the construction of the mosque and had decided to demolish it. A Muslim woman residing in the basti told me that the mob was shouting slogans such as “Masjid todo, swarg banao”—break the mosque, and build heaven instead. A 23-year-old Muslim man who resides in the area said that members of the Muslim community earlier prayed in a small building that functioned as both a madrasa and a mosque, and was located down the lane from the demolished structure. This space was too small, the 23-year-old said. “We just needed a large space,” he added. He told me that the Muslim residents had then approached Akbar Ali, who owned a small plot of land, and obtained his permission to construct a four-walled structure that could function as a mosque on it. “It had only been nine days” since the structure had begun to be used, the 23-year-old said. Later that evening, I spoke with officials from the Sonia Vihar police station, but was unable to obtain a response. Subhash Vats, the station house officer, said “it was not my jurisdiction,” and directed me to the district and the assistant commissioners of police. Sudhir Kumar, the ACP, denied that any such incident had taken place. The DCP’s assistant asked me to return the next day.
The next morning, I called one of the Muslim residents that I had met during my visit to Sonia Vihar. The resident told me that the situation had worsened. He said that a Muslim barber who had rented his shop from a Hindu resident, had been asked by his landlords to shut the business for the day. He added that the Muslim residents were worried that they would not be allowed to set up stalls during the weekly market, which was to take place that evening.
I decided to go to Sonia Vihar and to speak with the members of the Gujjar and Thakur communities who had allegedly been involved in the demolition. I reached Chauhan Pati, the nearest bus stop, at about 6 pm. I asked passersby to direct me to the houses of some of the Hindu residents that I could speak to regarding the incident. A man I met suggested I speak to a resident named Charat Singh, and led me to his home. Charat’s house was located at the end of street—a multi-storeyed building, it stood out amid the small, one-storey structures it was surrounded by.
Charat was not home, but I met an old man who identified himself as his father. The man who had taken me to the house mentioned that I was a journalist. Charat’s father asked me to come inside. He led me to a room inside the house, in which a mustachioed man was lying on a bed, watching television. This man, who appeared to be middle-aged, introduced himself as Bharat Singh, Charat’s older brother. He asked me to take a seat, and then asked a young man who was also in the room, and who appeared to be in his mid twenties, to get us water and tea. (The young man later told me that he was pursuing a Masters in Science degree at Delhi University. He mentioned his name, but the notebook I took it down in was later taken from me.) Bharat then asked me who I was. I told him my name, and mentioned that I write regularly for The Caravan. I said that I was investigating the alleged demolition and mentioned the video I had seen. I added that I wanted to hear his account of the events leading up to it.