More than a month after a mob rampaged through a Hindu colony in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, desecrating its temple, there are claims that normalcy has returned to the area.
A permanent police booth near the temple and round-the-clock CRPF deployment seem to tell a different story.
It’s been more than a month since a communally charged mob barged into a Hindu colony at midnight in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk – abusing and threatening the residents and desecrating their temple while raising Islamic slogans.
(Read our ground report of the incident here).
The trigger for the attack was a petty brawl between two men – a Hindu and a Muslim – over scooter parking. How the petty brawl escalated into a religious hate attack with participation of hundreds was later explained by quick circulation of ‘fake news’. The police claimed and reports showed that misleading and inflammatory messages saying a Muslim man had been ‘mob lynched’ by Hindus spread like wildfire. Outraged over “another Tabrez Ansari”, a mob soon gathered outside Durga mandir lane baying for blood and openly declaring their intention of revenge.
“Saare Hinduon baahar aao, hum tumko batayenge kaata kaise jaata hai. Kaatna humse seekho (All you Hindus, come out, we will teach you how to cut)” – someone from the mob said, as recalled by residents who were jolted out of their sleep. Some others shouted ‘Modi murdabad, hamara Imran Hussain zindabad. Kejriwal zindabad’.
Mobile-shot videos that emerged the next day showed a crowd chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ‘Naara-e-Takbeer’ while proceeding to vandalise the 100-year-old Durga temple located at the colony’s entrance.
The narrow Durga mandir lane is where Hindus of Lal Kuan live – some 50 families, amid rows and rows of Muslim-populated colonies, forming a tiny minority of about 5 per cent.
For several days, the area resembled a militarised zone due to heavy security. More than a thousand Delhi Police and paramilitary personnel armed with anti-riot gear were deployed. Muslim and Hindu crowds – largely comprising members of Sangh and other Hindu outfits from in and around Delhi – were separated by barricades; both were chanting “Allahu Akbar” and “Jai Shri Ram” at each other in a game of competitive sloganeering. The markets were shut.
More than a month later on Tuesday (13 August) when this correspondent visited the area again, the markets were abuzz with activity. Shops were stocked with tricolour flags, caps, kites and manja ahead of the Independence Day. Spells of rain had rendered the streets waterlogged and filthy, but the chaos seemed a welcome change from the unsettling calm that prevailed not too long ago.
One may claim that normalcy has returned to the area. In fact, a section of the media and opinion-makers, while playing down the violence, had claimed normalcy within a week of the incident itself.
The claims were misleading then, and they remain misleading now.
A permanent police booth has come up near the temple. There continues to be round-the-clock CRPF deployment in the Durga temple lane.
A senior officer at Hauz Qazi police station said the booth has been put up as a “preventive measure”. After the CRPF deployment ends – “not happening any time soon” – two officers will be posted at the booth 24/7, he said.
I ask the residents of Durga temple lane, “Do you really need security deployment now?”
“Jab tak ye rahenge tab takhi acha rahega [things are fine as long as they are here],” says one Kannumal.
“Are you scared?”
“No, only because now there is a police chowki here,” says Tarachand Gupta, a resident and also a member of the local peace committee.
“Who funded the temple repair?”
“We did it entirely on our own. We did not take a single penny from them [Muslims]. It was all our money that we raised from the colony itself,” says Gupta.
A resident tells me, “why would we accept their money? They desecrated our temple and insulted our gods.”
“Not all of them vandalised the temple,” I argue.
“Not everyone was involved in the parking scuffle either,” the man replies.
Is this really the return of normalcy?
Navigating the congested market of Lal Kuan and encountering CRPF personnel at frequent intervals, one wonders if the current calls for removing the army from Kashmir, amid contested claims of normalcy post abrogation of Article 370, are not aimed at putting the minorities in the state at grave risk.
For thousands of Kashmiri Hindus, wounds of the unimaginable violence unleashed on them three decades ago are still fresh. Leading mosques in Kashmir continue to announce hell and death of idol-worshippers. Calls for Ghazwa-e-Hind, a term mentioned in several authoritative books of Islamic jurisprudence, continue to be made openly.
When a 19-year-old Kashmiri youth killed 49 CRPF personnel in a suicide attack this February, he did it after openly declaring his hate by saying that "it was not in the uncouth cow urine drinkers to deal with their attacks". The derogatory phrase – cow urine drinkers – is commonly used for Hindus in Islamist parlance.
The Kashmir issue, as is the Lal Kuan issue, has roots in an ideology that proclaims hate towards non-believers and, when believers are in minority, actively fans violence using the universal victimhood card.
The Hindus of the area understand it only too well. The more they talk, the more the claims of normalcy appear to be sham.
They are miffed at how some Muslim men “faked it” in front of the media during the idol-reinstallation ceremony.
On 9 July, the Durga lane residents along with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had organised the ‘praan pratishtha’ of the idols as well as a bhandara (free lunch).
A photograph of Muslims serving food to Hindus was published in media with captions celebrating communal harmony.
Gupta calls the photograph a lie. “The event was fully funded and arranged by us. It even had our banner. We had hired some eight to 10 men as waiters to distribute food. While they were doing their job, some Muslim men appeared out of nowhere and stood in place of them. It was done only for photo-op,” he says.
Some publications had gone a step further, claiming the Muslims helped install idols at the temple.
Gupta, again, calls it a lie. “They had no role whatever in the event,” he says.
Gupta’s version is supported by several others from the colony. Even when the photograph was published, several activists had strongly refuted them on social media.
In short, as per Hindu residents, the local Muslims helped neither with funds nor manpower. The claims of ‘ganga jamuni tehzeeb’ were supported by nothing but fake photo-ops and token statements of communal harmony, they say.
The newly-built police booth and CRPF men all around only support these claims. Yet another reminder why the much-celebrated ‘ganga Jamuni tehzeeb’ largely remains limited to Hindus organising Iftar parties and temples offering space for namaz, seldom the other way round.
Last month, the residents of Durga gali were talking of migrating out. “If they shout Allahu Akbar and break our temples, or abuse our community for no reason, then naturally Hindus will migrate out. There are many families that are seriously considering the option now,” a resident had told Swarajya.
Not anymore. The police booth gives them confidence. Instead, they now have lofty plans for the temple. “We are planning to rebuild it. It will be grander and taller. Many businessmen have offered us funds,” a resident says.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because the temple is now famous,” he says.
State action in Lal Kuan seems to have turned things around for the tiny population of Hindus left here. Their numbers used to be much larger until the 1980s but constant communal flare-ups and curfews triggered their migration.
“I am a sixth-generation resident of this area. In my 44 years, I have seen god knows how many communal flare-ups. I can guarantee you that it is for the first time that the government has taken such strict action,” says Rakesh Gupta (name changed), resident of Gali Chaabuk Sawaar opposite the Durga temple lane.
Lal Kuan is located in the heart of the national capital, in its famous Chandni Chowk area. Home Minister Amit Shah had reportedly taken active interest in the case.
Elsewhere in India, sites of religious hate crimes do not get a permanent police booth or security deployment for months. There, the victim community simply migrates out, be it the dalits of Mantola or Gangaram’s family in Moradabad’s Aliyabad village.
Those jumping to premature conclusions of normalcy in Lal Kuan do not go into those other areas anyway.