NEW DELHI: Violence has abated in Trilokpuri but the area is still tense. The police have restored order but a disturbing account of the rioting – pieced together after speaking to people on both sides of the divide, most of whom do not wish to be identified – suggests that the situation, which had been building up since Dussehra, could have been defused if the administration and police had been more alert.
The three-day spiral of violence originated from a spot in Block No. 20 which came into sudden prominence before Dussehra when some locals organized a ‘Mata ki chowki’ (Bhagwati Jagran). The spot, where the entire paraphernalia came up, is right opposite and barely 50 steps away from a mosque which has been there for years.
Just before Navratras, the spot had been cleaned of the garbage that was being dumped there by the locals and picked up by the corporation dumpers. The corporation, according to some locals, had demolished a public toilet nearby and since then the spot had been virtually abandoned. So, when some charpoys appeared on the scene, a tent was erected and speakers installed, it did raise a few eyebrows. Then the bhajans began with people flocking to the spot.
When even after Dussehra, there was no sign of the congregation being wound up, those who visited the mosque began to get anxious. Old fault lines, prejudices or genuine nuisance, whatever may be the reason, the Muslims began to complain that the bhajans, allegedly being played at a high volume, were disturbing their namaz and azan. They also alleged that there was much carousing and dancing. They said the jagran organisers had promised to go away after Dussehra but stayed put. The Hindu residents say no assurance had been given and there was no such deal.
As tension built up, there was a minor brawl which was settled with the intervention of elders of the area. If the administration officials and police had been alert, the situation could have been defused at this stage. “We knew that a nasty fight was to happen soon. Violence seemed inevitable, sooner or later but no one had anticipated that it would erupt with such fury and spread to other areas,” says Tasleem, who lives in the lane adjoining the mosque.
There are many versions of what transpired on Diwali night but what everybody seems to agree on is that there was a clash between two groups. Some Muslim youths were said to be part of one of the groups. Soon, the brawl had spread and some of the Muslim youths were seen running towards the mosque around 9pm. There was a lot of brickbatting. Within minutes, the incident had assumed a communal colour and battlelines had been drawn – the Jagran organisers and some Muslim residents faced each other and the fighting escalated. No one can say for sure if there had been an immediate provocation. As the fight escalated and the youths ran out of Block No 20 in the darkness, rumours began to swirl.
“Some youths ran out saying that the Hindus were pelting stones at the mosque while some were heard saying that the Jagran chowki had been disrupted. Neither seemed to be true but by then it was too late and no one seemed too bothered about checking the veracity of these statements. “The stories multiplied as the groups went on to contact their friends and acquaintances and target members of the other community in other blocks,” said a member of the committee of the mosque who witnessed the violence and even tried to intervene. Some other residents supported his claims. But because of the climate of fear and distrust, no one wants to speak up.
It took just a couple of calls seeking help and text and Whatsapp messages to cause a full-blown riot in several blocks. “Emergency meetings were called and the ‘attack’ on the Jagran Chowki discussed. The fact that the cops had meanwhile reached the spot and rounded up some Muslim youths just added to the tension. A youth from our locality came with blood dripping from his head and in no time people vowed revenge,” says Kumar, a resident of Block 15 who did not wish to reveal his first name.
By Friday morning, the situation was out of control and the police had begun to pour in, unaware of what was brewing. Political leaders, including the area MLA, who belongs to Aam Aadmi Party, and a former MLA were nowhere to be seen, the residents said. The Imam of the mosque too went away and had not returned till Sunday noon.
It was around 4.30pm on Friday that some unidentified men opened fire which allegedly injured two people. Violence escalated and stone-pelting began at various blocks. As senior cops rushed to the spot along with riot control forces, much of the damage had already been done. For the next 36 hours, Trilokpuri witnessed unprecedented violence which finally could be put down only by Sunday morning – this was when the speakers at the Mata Ki Chowki were finally turned off, said residents.