A native of Bolpur who lives at Mohanpuri in Delhi, barely a kilometre from the riot-hit locality of Maujpur, tells Snehamoy Chakraborty of The Telegraph what he saw on Monday. The man, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of attack and police harassment, had moved to the national capital in 1990 and runs a toy shop there.
As he was speaking on the phone, commotion could be heard on the other side and the man hung up. The Telegraph could speak to him again several hours later. Excerpts from the conversation:
Our worst fears began to come true on Monday as I woke up to the chant of Jai Shri Ram that sounded more like a war cry. I looked out to see a group of people roaming through the area raising the slogan.
As I looked out of my house again, I saw not a single shop had opened. The local grocery, whose day starts early, had its shutters down. The reason was only an earshot away — a bigger group of people was coming from my left chanting Jai Shri Ram.
The frequency of the chants began to increase as the minutes ticked. Heart pounding, I spoke to neighbours on the phone. Like many of my neighbours, I skipped breakfast as we decided to guard our locality together, Hindus and Muslims. Our lives were at stake. This was the first such crisis to grip us since I came here from Bolpur in 1990.
I switched on the television set to know what was happening elsewhere. A news channel reported that several companies of paramilitary forces had been deployed in our area. We thought sanity would return soon.
A while later the sound of heavy boots marching through the streets reached us. I looked out with the hope that the law enforcers had taken over and the fear of attack would recede. But what I saw increased my fear. Police were indeed there but as they marched, a group of people threw stones at the other side under their cover. In the presence of cops, a truck came and dumped stones on one side of the road. A scripted attack seemed to be playing out before our eyes.
I had read reports of police helping goons but never thought I would witness one in my lifetime.
The stones flew past the men in combat gear who leaned on to their lathis as if to enjoy a ringside view of violence. I could not believe my eyes. My disgust gave way to hopelessness. I began to fear for the lives of my wife and my two children who study in Class VII and Class IV.
A sense of foreboding had gripped our neighbourhood since Sunday night. The fear had set in as stray incidents of violence were reported from a kilometre away from our home at Maujpur.
We — a community of people of diverse faiths — have been living here for too long to realise that all was not well. We held meetings in our neighbourhood and resolved to stay alert. Looking out of the window only increased our fear as we saw faces unknown to us had taken over the area. They were armed with batons and brickbats.
A large number of Bengali families — Hindus and Muslims — live here. What was happening before our eyes was like a nightmare and every moment we feared that the arson might tear us apart. We held on to each other like never before.
As the news of shops being attacked reached us, I feared that my sole source of livelihood since 1990, my toy store at the nearby market, might be vandalised.
As the day wilted into evening, the cover of darkness increased our fear. I kept looking outside. There was no hope. Police roamed through the area, so did the goons.
All night we stayed awake. We were all together, stepping out of our homes every now and then to check that our neighbourhood had not been breached.
I tried to venture to my shop on Monday afternoon, risking my life. On my way I found that small groups of people, armed with weapons and stones, had gathered on the main road. When I saw them stopping and questioning everyone who crossed their path, I got scared. I changed my plan and took the narrow lanes to go back home.
Concern about our lives had reached far and wide.
The president of the Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, a platform that works for migrant Bengalis, Samirul Islam, called up from Calcutta to assure that they were constantly in touch with AAP leaders in Delhi.
Although that assurance gave a sense of momentary relief, as I looked out of the window to see stones strewn all over the road, the fear returned.
After spending the whole night awake and going without a proper meal almost the entire day, I tried to catch a nap on Tuesday. But the chaos at a distance from our home didn’t allow me to close my eyes for long.
The groups chanting Jai Shri Ram took over the roads on Tuesday. One or two police vans keep coming and going. As if on cue, the goons move out of the way to let the police see that all is well and drive away. Once the police leave, the rioters return, raising a chant that is holy but has been turned into a war cry.
At a distance from our homes, an illegal checkpost has come up. I can see a motley group of people guarding it and stopping whoever is coming in or going out of the area. A neighbour said a profile check was on and those who did not match their faith were being beaten up.
As far as my vision goes from my window, not a shop has opened. Vegetables and grocery is scarce at home but we cannot get it. We have run out of milk and other essentials. If anyone takes ill, there is not a shop open to get medicine from. This is what a day of violence has done to our lives. This is not the Delhi I have lived in all these years…. (hangs up)
(A few hours later, The Telegraph speaks to him again)
It was around 5.30pm when I had to snap the conversation because a group of at least 500 armed goons attacked three shops near our house on the Mohanpuri main road off Maujpur. They set fire to the shops.
Shouting pro-CAA slogans, they moved on to throw stones at a few homes. They also set them on fire. I was scared, hiding behind a wall while peeping out. The police were looking on as they went on the rampage.
After the attacks on the shops, the police came to take control of the situation. The area is tense. It is still violent. I am sitting on the road with at least hundred others to prevent any attack on our homes. We don’t know what awaits us.