First person account from Maujpur

IndiaIsmat Ara Feb 26, 2020 08:56:29 IST

When I reached Maujpur, one of the many areas in northeast Delhi affected by violence after groups of anti-and-pro-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters clashed among themselves, I saw several people scattered in different groups all over the area. I had been already cautioned by other journalists about heckling and harassment, so I did not dare take my phone out. I simply kept walking.

However, I spotted a man and stopped for a moment. “Bhaiya, kya ho raha hai?” “Dange ho rahe hain, dange (riots are happening, riots),” he said with a sheepish smile. “Sabb kucch ho raha hai, aap dekh ke aaiye toh zara (everything is happening. Go see for yourself).”

On one side, bricks had been stacked up to throw at people.

I kept walking. Between me and my friend Tariq, who had come to drop me, we had decided our Hindu names and what to say if anybody asked us why we were there. “I live here in a PG,” was going to be my answer.

After walking for about 200 meters, I saw a huge group of men standing in a corner and listening to a pundit, dressed in saffron clothes. When I got close, I clearly heard him say, “Musalmano ko jaisey hi dekho waisey hi maaro, upar se order aa gaye hain,” after which he left in a hurry. Curious and shocked, I asked one of the men who he was. “Paas ki mandir ke pundit hain ye, aap kaun hain?” “I live here inside these lanes,” I said. “Let us drop you inside,” they said.

After telling them that I will manage on my own, I escaped and started walking inside one of the lanes of Maujpur. As soon as I started walking inside, my phone rang. It was Tariq. He had disappeared amid the chaos.

“Those men you were just talking to were asking who you were. I somehow dodged them but I think now they’re following you.” I cautiously looked back and saw four men from the same group following me.

 I was scared they would catch me for being a journalist, molest me for being a girl, lynch me for being a Muslim: First person account from Maujpur

File image of Delhi Police at the site of violence in northeast Delhi. PTI

I walked at least a kilometre inside the lanes of Maujpur. I walked around the area to ditch the group of men. After walking for a while, I stopped near a house where some women were sitting outside. When the men saw me speaking to the women, they probably realised I did not live there and caught up with me.

“Media se ho toh bolo na. Jhoot bolke humare pundit jee ke baare me kyun pooch rahi ho? (Tell us if you are from the media. Why are you lying and asking about our punditji).” A verbal spat ensued between us.

The men shouted and demanded, “Why were you asking about our pundit ji?” Ultimately, I apologised and said, “I had actually came to a friend’s house here, but she is not picking up the phone now.” The women requested that they let me go and that’s when they left. Even when I was walking away from them, they asked, “humare pundit jee k baare me kyun pooch rahi thi? Kaun ho? (Why are you asking about our pundit ji. Who are you?)”

I managed to walk away. After another 100 meters, another man approached me. He was from the same group. “PG me jaana hai? Kaun si PG? Naam batao. Dost ka naam batao. (You want to go to the PG? Which PG? Tell me the name. Tell me the name of your friend).”

I said, “She is not receiving my phone call right now. I will come later. Can you please tell me how to reach the metro station?” Reluctantly and suspiciously, he told me the way out and I immediately left, walking as fast as possible.

I reached the main road after spending over 30 minutes inside the lanes of Maujpur. While I was inside, I saw groups of men standing in different corners of the area with lathis in their hands suspiciously looking at me. That’s when Tariq called me again.

“I have seen the worst today. Petrol stations are getting burnt; tyres getting burnt and thrown at people; people holding sticks and rods, and no police to control any of this. People are all prepared and well-armed to kill. Please leave that place immediately. This is their area, if they find out you are a Muslim, they will take you inside their houses and tumhara pata bhi nahin chalega.” He also asked me to hide my identity card inside my bag.

When I reached the main road, two other men saw me, walked towards me and asked, “Camera kahan hai madam aapka? Chupa ke aayi ho kya (Where is your camera madam? Have you hidden it somewhere?)” The road did not seem any safer than the lanes. It was full of people standing in groups, huddled together with teekas on their foreheads, holding huge lathis.

Another group asked me, “Zee News se ho kya?” Another man walked up to me, stopped beside me, laughed and said, “JNU se ho kya?” I pretended to laugh, and said “Arey nahin…”

By this time, it was clear that people had figured out that I was a journalist. I decided it was time to leave the place and started walking away. Along the way, I was asked multiple times where I am going. I had to invent a new place everytime and I wanted to get out of the place before I met the group which had approached me at the start. If they saw me again, they would have found out that I was not just lying about being a journalist, but also that I was a Muslim.

While I was trying to figure a way out, a group stopped me and sternly asked me, “Aapko jana kahan hai (Where do you want to go?” I quickly said, “Gurgaon”, as I had pre-decided these things. One of them said, “You should use the inside lanes and get to the Metro on the other side of the road. From there, you’ll find an auto. Take it.”

As I started walking, I was stopped by another man who said, “Nahin, aap main road se jao. Ye zyada safe hai (No, take the main road. That’s safer).” I said, “It’s scary on the main roads. There is too much violence.”

“Asli maar peet toh andar Mohammaden area me hogi.Wo mohommaden area hai, agar aap andar se gaye wahan kuch bhi ho sakta hai. (The main violence will happen inside in the areas where the Muslims live. That’s a Muslim area, anything can happen there).”

Assuming that I am a Hindu, he added, “Aur aapko main road pe kya khatra hai? Jinko darna chahiye wo mohommaden hain, ye main road par toh sabb apne hi log hain (What do you have to fear on the main road. Muslims should be afraid. Everyone on the main road are our people)” referring to the Hindu mob that stood on the main road.

Seeing an opportunity of talking to some Muslims from the area, I explained to him that I really didn’t want to take the main road and started walking inside the Muslim colony.

After a five-minute walk, I saw men wearing skull caps standing outside their houses, as if to guard them.

Firoz, a young man who had just finished offering his prayers, said, “Everything has stopped for us. Our main road has been blocked, where can we go? The only place we feel safe right now, is inside our own homes. The roads are very unsafe. We have been living in this area since we were born and this is the first time something of this sort has happened. We are scared for the women in our families.” Wishing for my safety, he asked me to get out of this place as soon as I could.

“The police are not doing anything. They are not even here. Had they been around, nobody would have burnt down Muslim shops in the area,” he added. I left the area and started walking out. I ended up on the same road where I had started but thankfully, the group that had guided me before was not around.

I spotted another huge gathering, this time on the other side of the road. I rushed to the other side to see what the commotion was all about. I saw at least thirty women, wearing saffron teeka on their foreheads, holding lathis standing in front of a Nazeer Hotel. They asked people who were looking down from the terrace of the building: “Koi musalman toh nahin hai iss ghar mein (You don’t have any Muslims in this house?).”

“Nikaalo iss ghar se musalmano ko. Agar koi hindu kisi musalman ko apne ghar me chupa ke rakhega toh chodhengey nahin. Hum uska ghar jala dengey, dekhengey nahin ki ghar Hindu ka hai (Bring out the Muslims from house. If any Hindu is trying to give asylum to a Muslim in their homes, we will not spare them as well. We will burn their homes. We won’t think twice even if it is a Hindu’s house)” They then started pelting bricks at the house.

In the over three hours that I spent there, I didn’t see even one policeman. Twice, a police car stopped and waved at the crowd. I don’t know for what purpose.

Hopeless, I sat down on the stairs of a shop for a bit. Four men, sitting nearby, started pointing towards me. Within a few minutes, a man came to me and asked my name. I knew I couldn’t answer that question. He further, with disdain, added, “Yahan kyun baithe ho? Niklo yahan se.(Why are you sitting here? Get out of here).”

After this, I knew I had to leave. If somebody asked for my ID card that would be the end of me. Thankfully, I saw a Republic TV journalist crossing the road in a car. I asked him to give me a lift till the nearest Metro. He took me in and I had a narrow escape.

Just last night, a friend who lives in Khajuri Khas, called me and asked me to listen to what was being chanted in his area. I heard consistent “Jai Shri Ram” slogans being raised.

I also heard people demanding to know the identity of the residents of the area. A few seconds later, I heard sounds of them breaking an auto. According to my friend, he was a Muslim and when he showed his identity card, his vehicle had been broken and eventually set on fire.

Those who had blocked the roads were carrying bricks, bats, lathis, sticks, rods and axes. On the roads of Maujpur, with no police or CRPF around and a charged-up mob, I was scared they would catch and harass me for being a journalist, molest me for being a girl and lynch me for being a Muslim if they found out my identity.

courtesy The Firstpost