Delhi’s Trilokpuri Is Simmering Again In Festive Season, This Time Over Inter-Faith Love

by Swati Goel Sharma - Mar 2, 2018 12:46 PM +05:30 IST
Delhi’s Trilokpuri Is Simmering Again In Festive Season, This Time Over Inter-Faith LoveCRPF personnel taking a stroll in a street in Delhi’s Trilokpuri area.
  • Delhi’a Trilokpuri has a history of Dalit-Muslim conflict. The area is simmering this Holi too.

    Considering the sensitivity of the issue, why is most of the media ignoring it?

Vikas Kumar, a 26-year-old Dalit youth from Trilokpuri, one of the poorest colonies of India’s capital city, was brutally thrashed by rods in broad daylight last week. Fractured in the right leg, bed-ridden and visibly traumatised, Vikas says the blows would have killed him had his people not intervened.

He says he has no idea why he was surrounded and attacked by a group, and is still figuring out the reason. But police claim, and newspapers have duly reported, that it was Vikas’s love affair with a Muslim woman that triggered the assault on him. When asked, Vikas looked nonplussed and slightly shook his head in a no.

Lying in the bed, a hapless Vikas recounts the moments just before the assault. It is the same statement he gave in a first information report (FIR) registered on 18 February against Javed, Jahid, Tahir and Gandhi (a policeman explained that Gandhi is also a Muslim, who has earned this moniker because of his bald head).

“I went to Block 20 with a cousin to help him choose clothes for his sister’s wedding, which was scheduled on the same evening. A man approached me and asked me if I was Vicky. I said I am. He then showed me a photograph on his cellphone and asked me if I am the same guy. I said yes, it is me. Three men promptly joined him and screamed ‘mil gaya, mil gaya’ (we have found him) before beating me black and blue with lathis. More men joined them.”

Vikas plays the CCTV footage on his cellphone. It shows him being pinned to the ground and mercilessly beaten. No one in the crowd intervened.

The gruesome incident was followed by at least two cases of stone-pelting between the two communities in the following days. Tempers are still high. Section 144 has been imposed. CRPF personnel have been deployed. Tension prevails and the mood ahead of Holi is downbeat.

“Who is looking forward to Holi now? All we can hope for is peace on the day,” says Ajay Tonk, a hawker, lamenting the drop in sale of gulaal and balloons.

CRPF personnel in Block 27 of Trilokpuri on Wednesday
CRPF personnel in Block 27 of Trilokpuri on Wednesday
Men play cards on a lazy Wednesday noon. The mood before Holi is downbeat
Men play cards on a lazy Wednesday noon. The mood before Holi is downbeat

A Dalit got savagely beaten for being in relationship with a woman belonging to another community. The case has all the makings of a national outrage, but its coverage has been relegated to obscure corners of mainstream newspapers.

There could be several reasons for it. It could be because of media’s inherent bias against Muslim-on-Dalit atrocities as opposed to upper caste-on-Dalit ones. Or it could be because communal tension flares up so routinely in Trilokpuri that it doesn’t surprise anyone anymore.

The most violent incident in recent past happened on Diwali night in 2014, when residents threw stones and bricks at each other and torched vehicles and a couple of shops. The trigger was said to be a Muslim youth urinating near and thus “dishonouring” a mata ki chowki that the Dalit residents had set up.

Stones were pelted for three days. The area remained under curfew was a month. Over 60 people were detained. Several were left with broken limbs, a boy had to get his leg amputated.

But it was hardly a one-off incident. Clashes erupted every consequent year. In 2015, stones were pelted by Hindus and Muslims over a parking issue. Over something as trivial as a cricket ball hitting a man from the other community, stones flew again in 2016, for a good 20 minutes. Shops were vandalised.

The area often remains under high alert, more so during the festive season.

So it is now. But what makes Trilokpuri such a communal tinderbox? Why is it continuously witnessing clashes since 2014?

When Trilokpuri simmered in 2014, several commentators wildly speculated that it was the handiwork of BJP-RSS given the Delhi Assembly elections were just months away. Historian Mukul Kesavan, while somehow relating the Muzaffarnagar riots in Uttar Pradesh to the saffron sweep in Lok Sabha elections, wrote about Trilokpuri: “Hindu activists are testing the waters, testing the limits of the politically possible in the wake of the election".

The theory proved to be just a wild speculation as the Trilokpuri parliamentary constituency voted no differently than the rest of Delhi and elected AAP candidate Raju Dhingan to power. His strongest opponent, 47-year-old former MLA Sunil Kumar Vaidya of the BJP, died two months before polls.

The police offer an apolitical reason behind the recurring clashes. “We have been cracking down on drugs and gambling. We have almost broken the back of the gangs involved. It is these jobless youths who are repeatedly using minor, everyday scuffles to flare up tension. They want to divert the police attention so they can get activated again,” says station house officer (SHO) Manoj Kumar Sharma of Mayur Vihar police station.

The ‘minor, everyday scuffles’, though, need no explanation, given the colony’s complex construct.

Trilokpuri was settled during Emergency and is one of its horrific legacies. It was hastily made a resettlement colony for thousands of slum dwellers who were evicted in a massive ‘Delhi beautification’ drive by Sanjay Gandhi. The new colony, sans drainage system and electricity connection, was divided into 36 blocks, 500 houses and two common toilets each. It was not until a few years ago that the civic body laid out a sewage system and demolished the toilets, which remained a reason for petty scuffles for a long time.

“It’s a high-density, congested, chaotic place. Such people break into scuffles easily,” says Sharma. “The residents are packed like sardines. This is not how humans should live.”

Houses stand cheek-by-jowl in Trilokpuri’s claustrophobically narrow lanes
Houses stand cheek-by-jowl in Trilokpuri’s claustrophobically narrow lanes

Trilokpuri is a working class residential colony supplying Delhi and neighbouring Noida with masons, housemaids, carpenters, factory workers and security guards.

The religious composition of this urban sprawl was replicated as per the original slums. “The original residents came from the slums of Valmikis-dominated Panchkuiyan, Muslim-dominated Turkman Gate and Hindu-dominated Jungpura,” says Ravi Saxena, chairman of Trilokpuri’s Aman Committee, which was set up in 2007 to work closely with the police to prevent flare-ups. Blocks 15, 20 and 27 are Muslim blocks, 32 and 36 have significant Muslim populations, while the remaining blocks are largely dominated by Dalits.

Block 32 was Sikh-populated before 1984 changed it. Trilokpuri witnessed one of the worst episodes of the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi post the assassination of Indira Gandhi. A staggering 350 Sikhs were killed and set on fire in this Block.

Thirty years later, it’s difficult to say whether residents co-exist peacefully, whether the aberrations are an exception rather than a norm. But what everyone agrees on is that after 2014, clashes have erupted more frequently.

Residents say they happen mostly around festivals. Last year, a Hindu shop owner in Muslim-dominated Block 32 said that on a Friday morning, just days before Diwali, he discovered a pile of human faeces on a roti at the gate of his shop. "Clearly, they were mocking Hindu rituals and were trying to incite violence. Some mischief maker wants to incite violence again. Every year, before any religious festival it's the same story. People want some sort of a communal clash it seems," he told a website.

Muslim residents, on the other hand, blame the frequency on BJP-RSS. “They have become more powerful with their government now in the centre,” says Haji Nawab Qureshi, a meat seller in Block 27, the site of the latest instance of stone-pelting.

Haji Nawab Qureshi, a meat seller in Block 27, the site of the latest instance of stone-pelting
Haji Nawab Qureshi, a meat seller in Block 27, the site of the latest instance of stone-pelting

Qureshi says it was the Dalits in adjoining Block 28 who started throwing stones, and Block 27 only responded to it. He also denied that Vikas was beaten up over a love affair and offered an alternate theory. He said that a couple of days ago, Vikas had beaten up a man in (Muslim-dominated) Block 20 market after his rehri touched Vikas.

SHO Sharma, however, said he never received any complaint regarding the incident so he can neither verify it nor relate it to the subsequent clashes.

Qureshi also said that Hindu youths have begun to increasingly needle and provoke Muslims. “When they pelted the stones, they raised slogans like ‘Har Har Mahadev’ and ‘Pakistan Murdabad’. “Mahaul kharab ho raha hai (the atmosphere is getting vitiated)”, he said.

On the other hand, as per a resident of Dalit-dominated Block 28, stone-pelting began from Block 27 in response to the arrest of Muslim youths named in the FIR.

He agreed that the rise in communal clashes is related to the Hindu nationalist BJP coming to power.

“Now Hindus speak up. Earlier, they did not do so because the then government always sided with the Muslims,” he said.

“Muslims tease Hindu girls and pass sexist slurs. Nobody dared to object in the past. Now they do. This is what’s causing tension,” he said. He added that while Dalits are mainly working class professionals, Muslims dominate the markets in Trilokpuri and gang up and attack.

More Hindu and Muslims residents offer similar theories, and one can’t help but wonder about the fate of the increasingly restive Delhi-Western Uttar Pradesh belt. It’s a religious tinderbox.

Residents also complained that the local MLA, “like most inexperienced leaders of the new Aam Aadmi Party”, have little connect with the voters and stay indoors in times of flare-ups. “[Raju] Dhingan never accompanies police in patrolling or visits houses of the affected. All peace-making is left to us,” says Sher Singh, a member of the Aman Committee. Singh recently turned a BJP volunteer.

The committee and the police say they are taking precautions to prevent any untoward incident on Dulhendi (when people play with colours) that falls tomorrow, which is a Friday. On Tuesday, influential members from both communities were made to sit together and it was decided that namaz timings would be modified and if Holi colour is accidentally sprayed on a Muslim, he would not react. Hindus are told to behave better.

Measures are being taken for a peaceful Holi. But how to prevent Trilokpuri from simmering again, remains a question.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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