Janhastakshep: a campaign against fascist designs
An investigation into incidents of violence at
‘Majnu ka Tilla’, Delhi.
Press statement Dated: 28th Oct, 2014
Different newspapers reported repeated incidents of violence in the ‘Majnu ka TIlla’ area near Delhi University on the 23rd of October (Business Standard, 24th Oct.) and again on the 25th of October (Hindustan Times, 26th Oct.). The reports specifically talked of clash between two ‘communities.’
It is evident that concerted efforts are being made by the Hindu fascist forces to stoke communal passions in different parts of the country, either in the name of ‘love jihad’ or ‘Go raksha’ (protecting cows against slaughter). The National Capital Region of Delhi has also not remained untouched by these developments where communal tensions have come to fore through the trumped up issue of cow slaughter in Bawana village and the communal riots engineered on the occasion of Diwali in Trilokpuri locality. Given this background, a genuine concern was felt by Janhastakshep regarding the nature of violence that took place at ‘Majnu ka Tilla’, to address which an investigation team of Janhastakshep comprising of teachers and students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Delhi University (DU) visited the violence affected area on the 27th of October.
The team comprised of Dr Vikas Bajpai (Assistant Professor, JNU), Ameen and Sayan Dash (both students of JNU), Dr Ish Mishra (Prof, Dept. of Political Science, Hindu College, DU) and Himanshu, Sheetal and Ziyad (all students of Hindu College).
To begin with, it need be stated here that the violence that rocked ‘Majnu ka Tilla’ did not involve a clash between the Hindus and Muslims. It was a clash between two dalit communities, Balmikis on the one side and the Sansi community on the other; both communities living opposite each other in the same area. Even though violence at ‘Majnu ka Tilla’ was not communal conflagration in the sense of a clash between two religious communities, our investigation brought out some very disconcerting facts which seem to have gone unnoticed by the society hitherto, especially in the wake of communal overdrive of the Hindu communal forces.
Findings of investigation
- ‘Majnu ka Tilla’ area, which is popularly known for a large population of Tibetian refugees and the Tibetian market, is also home to a large number of refugee families that migrated from the present Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947. Among the refugees are a large number of families of ‘Sansi’ community which originally hailed from Rajasthan, but had later settled in Pakistani Punjab and then migrated to India at the time of partition. They were provided small plots in the area in 1957, by the Congress government of Pt Jawaharlal Nehru and have lived here ever since.
- Just across the road, opposite to the locality of the ‘Sansis’ is the colony of ‘Balmiki’ community, a community which has traditionally engaged in the sanitation profession. The locality of the Balmikis initially set out as a MCD colony for its sanitation workers, but later as the population increased, a number of encroachments out grew the original colony, which is now much dwarfed in size as compared to encroachments.
- Both the localities come under Ward No. 72 of the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi).
- While a sizable number of people living in the Balmiki colony are working as sanitation workers with the MCD (both regular employees as well as on contract basis), those among the ‘Sansis’ are either engaged in petty businesses or work as casual laborers.
- In both the communities, there is a large section of youth that is unemployed, besides being either illiterate or lowly educated.
- On face of it there did not seem to be much difference in the economic well-being of the people of either community with most of the people belonging to either lower middle classes or poorer sections.
- Both these communities have lived largely peacefully, without a single incidence of such major confrontation in more than 50 years of their existence as neighbors. Hence, the present incidence of violent clash is indeed a big exception.
- Actual events of violence:
- The initial clash is said to have taken place on the evening of Diwali between some teenagers apparently over bursting of crackers.
- This initial incident snowballed into a major confrontation by around 11 to 11.30 pm on the 23rd of October, when a big crowd of people went about smashing vehicles parked on the main road, after which a heavy bout of brick-batting is said to have ensued between the people from either side.
- However, there seemed to be little clarity as to the exact identity of people involved in smashing of vehicles. Some among the Balmikis put the entire blame on the other side, while asserting that their youth acted only in self-defense; while others, especially some women to whom the students talked to separately in their houses, said people from both sides were responsible for instigating the violence.
- The people from the Sansi community, to whom we could talk, appeared more reasonable in saying that wayward elements from either side were responsible for the violence, and they did not appear intent on putting any one sided blame.
- However, while the team did notice two boys with injuries to their arms, sustained in police action after the violence, there did not seem to have been any injuries on the side of the Sansis.
- After the violence on the night of Diwali, there is said to have been fresh violence next morning. As per some persons in the Balmiki community, this was again said to have been instigated by the Sansis. However, no confirmatory report as to this could be obtained through the interviews of a cross section of people from either side.
- Simultaneously, efforts seemed to have been made by people from both the communities to restore peace and atmosphere of amity, which resulted in a peace march being staged on the 25th. Even on 27thOct. there had been a round of negotiation between the elders of the two communities in the morning and preparations were afoot in the Sansi locality for another of such negotiations in the evening when our team was visiting the area.
- The elected representative of the people – neither the local counselor and the MLA (both from the Congress Party), nor the member of Parliament from the area, the Union Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, evince any interest whatsoever in trying to resolve the issues between the two communities.
- Role of the police:
Some persons in the Balmiki locality, claiming to be the leaders of Safai Mazdoor Congress, alleged that first the police did not come to their rescue, despite their repeated phone calls to the police control room; secondly, even when the police came they were mere bystanders when the boys from the Sansi locality were attacking them.
This however, did not appear to be true because, firstly, the police post is just round the corner of the Balmiki locality, and secondly, some other persons of the community said that the police did intervene to control and disperse the mob engaging in violence.
Some residents from either side also said that the police had prevailed on both the communities to initiate a peace process. In conversation with the team, the sub-inspector incharge of the local police post rubbished the charge of any partisan role played by the police. He said that the police had dealt with the situation in a very even handed manner and that a total of 6 persons (all adults), three from either side, had been arrested by the police and charges of rioting had been brought against them.
The present episode of violence apart, a serious charge leveled against the police by persons from both sides was its involvement with and patronage to illegal activities in the area, especially sale of illicit liquor and narcotic substances. The police, it was alleged, was making money in this way. While it was not feasible for the team to investigate this in any detail, the involvement of police in the political economy of such illegal activities is a well acknowledged and accepted fact.
- Reasons for this violence:
As has already been pointed above, none appeared to be very sure of the exact sequence of events that led to the reported violence. But it seemed amply clear that a relatively minor incident, either a dispute over crackers or that involving gambling between the youth of the two communities snowballed into a major confrontation. This aspect was reiterated even from the version we could get from the local police post incharge.
This seems to be a clear pointer to the possibility that had timely action, right at the beginning of the dispute, been taken by the police, the further snowballing of events could possibly have been avoided. The fact that the police post is just adjacent to the area of dispute, and that admission by the officer in charge of the post that he along with some of his staff was on duty on the 23rd evening in the area, gives further credence to our contention.
A more disconcerting fact, as to the possible reasons of violence, that came to light during our conversations with the people of the area points to a much more deep seated process of lumpenization that seems to be afflicting the youth of our society, especially those from the poorer sections.
People from both the communities expressed a deep seated concern that due to unemployment, or only low paid casual jobs of temporary nature, a large section of youth finds itself frustrated and unable to meet its genuine aspirations for a decent life. This frustration among the youth has rendered them liable to a number of social evils, among which the usage of various intoxicants has emerged as the most prominent in both the communities under question. The increasing usage of liquor and other forms of drug abuse has had an impact on the behavior of the youth by deforming their mental and psychological make up. This was identified as an important reason to increasing incidents of day to day violence in the area, a fact that was prominently stated by the officer in charge of the police post as well.
In a scenario when there has been a sudden rise in communal temperature in the country after the coming to power at the Center of the ‘Modi Sarkar’, the fact that the violence that rocked Dalit communities living in ‘Majnu ka Tilla’ was not between two religious groups, can hardly be taken as any respite of sorts. Rather, the deep seated societal processes that seem to be taking a toll on the morale of our youth, as pointed above, are an ominous pointer of things to come. There have already been instances from different parts of the country where the Dalit youth are being used as a tool by the Sangh pariwar in their game plan to communally divide the society. The youth, that are being lumpenized by very clearly identifiable and reversible societal and economic processes can serve the dangerous purpose of adding fuel to the communal passions being stocked in the country.
Modi Sarkar, came to power by promising ‘acche din’ (good days) for the youth by creating jobs for them. However, by further intensifying the economic policies of the erstwhile UPA government, which led to higher levels of unemployment, and mass under-employment, the only jobs that Mr Modi’s government seems to have chalked out for the youth of the country, especially those from poorer sections, is to indulge in self-destructive activities of a reactionary nature to keep the society divided.
- Delhi government should ensure immediate restoration of amity and brotherhood between the Balmiki and the Sansi communities living in ‘Majnu ka Tilla’ area.
- In order to control and eliminate different illegal activities in the area, the government should investigate and take strict action against the guilty police officers under whose protection these activities are prospering.
- A policy be evolved to provide economic and social security to the youth, especially those from the poorer sections.
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(Dr Vikas Bajpai) (Prof . Ish Mishra) (Ameen) (Saiyan Dash)
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Dr Vikas Bajpai
Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi – 67.