Sunday, Jul 03, 2022
Demolition Politics

'My Shop Was Legal': Jahangirpuri Demolition Raises Questions As Victims Cry Foul

Several residents of Jahangirpuri claimed they had no idea their shops would be demolished following a joint drive against 'illegal encroachment' on Wednesday, days after the Hanuman Jayanti violence.

Aftermath of Jahangirpuri demolition drive
Aftermath of Jahangirpuri demolition drive Hardik Chhabra/Outlook

Never in her life did 70-year-old Mofia think that life would take this turn. She is sitting outside her house, mulling over what had just taken place. Her vegetable stall was razed under an anti-encroachment drive conducted by North Delhi Municipal Corporation on Wednesday, four days after communal violence occurred in the region. 

Though for Mofia, an anti-encroachment drive was not new, she had never seen so many bulldozers roaming around, media clamour and police personnel cordoning the area. "Committee wale atey the, toh hum sabji ke thele hta lete the pr abhi to ghr tod diye" (we used to remove our stalls when people from the Municipal corporation used to visit). 

Mofia thinks all this is done under some secret plan of the government, “I was watching TV, I saw that the Court has asked them to not demolish houses, but they did. It is done under some ill will of the government.” 

Mofia’s misery was doubled because officials of NDMC didn’t even leave the rubble of her demolished stall which she wished to sell to earn something, “we are poor, we know the value of waste. If they are demolishing our livelihood, they should not take the remains in trucks, we could have sold them in the market.”

Mofia's nephew Shiekh Mannan, who lives adjacent to her house, also faced the brunt of this drive. His stall and outer portion of his house including the washroom was brought down to rubble, “We all are vegetable vendors in this lane, and lived peacefully. We have nothing to do with violence. We are poor people, who work daily so that we can eat.  Despite that, we still faced demolition for no reason. My washroom is demolished, where will we take a bath?”

“I don't know why the government is punishing us. What is our fault? Some outsiders committed violence and they went away. Let us live peacefully now,” he added.

Shiekh Manju Ali and Vinod Kumar whose stalls were demolished.
Shiekh Manju Ali and Vinod Kumar whose stalls were demolished | Credit: Mayank Jain Pariccha

The locality is poor, inhabited by mostly daily wagers, vendors, and rag pickers. Locals say they have been living here peacefully for years – nothing has happened. 

A 20-meter walk from Mannan’s house lives Sheikh Atik, who runs a chicken shop. “I have had no sale for the past week because of this violence. My hens have died due to heat. I can’t keep them in the house forever, I don’t have space.” Talking about the demolition drive Atik added, “I am uneducated. My elder brother told me that a demolition drive will be conducted. So I woke up at 5 AM in the morning and put all the chickens in the house, and threw the dead ones. This is a loss of almost Rs 5,000, which is half of my monthly income.”

Vinod Kumar, a vegetable vendor has a stall adjacent to Shiekh Manju Ali's, which sells ice cream. Officials razed both their stalls. “It is the month of Ramzan and we are facing this.” Ali believes that this is being done under some planning to distort the harmony of the region. “Vinod and I have been running our shops peacefully for years in this area. There are a lot of Jamadar (lower caste sweepers). There is a Shiva temple and a Balmiki temple. There have never been any instances of violence. Why now?”

Kumar said, “In UP they are bulldozing houses of those who have done some crime, here they are bulldozing everyone's house irrespective of crime. We are suffering because we are poor.”

Some locals claim that even those who had a legal shop and all documents to present had to face demolition. Ganesh Kumar Gupta, who sells fruit juice is one of them. “I have all the documents. My shop was still razed. I told the administration that I have a legal shop, and I pay Rs 4,800 every year as a fee, but nobody listened.”

Locals of middle-class localities near Jahangirpuri like Adarsh Nagar, Model Town do not consider Jahangirpuri a safe location, saying that, “this is a place where cases of pickpocketing and theft are high,” due to “illegal migrants living in illegal structures”.Residents of Jahangirpuri, where the demolition drive was conducted dismissed them as 'rumours'. “We came from West Bengal and have been living here for years, we have documents, why are they saying we are illegal?” said Mofia.

Shiekh Manju Ali and Vinod Kumar whose stalls were demolished.A demolished mosque platform in Jahangirpuri | Credit: Mayank Jain Parichcha

On Tuesday, NDMC decided to run a special joint encroachment removal plan for two days, consisting of PWD, local body, police, maintenance department, health department, sanitation department, veterinary department and enforcement cell, of North DMC. It had also asked for 400 Delhi police personnel "to handle the law and order" situation.

The next day, Delhi BJP Chief Adesh Gupta also wrote to NDMC mayor to identify “illegal encroachment” by those involved in last week's violence in Jahangirpuri and bulldoze them. “Bulldozing” is a popular expression introduced into the political lexicon by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath with his policy of bulldozing “illegal structures of criminals”. The term became so popular that it became a poll cry in UP. Now BJP leaders of various states like MP, Gujarat and Delhi seem to have borrowed it. This pattern raised questions about over-targeting one community after the violence, which however officials of NDMC denied saying “it is a routine exercise”.

The demolition drive started around 9.30 AM. However, the Supreme Court ordered a halt soon after it started. But the drive continued for more than an hour even after the order. Till then, more than 20 shops and other structures were razed.

This issue has led to a political slugfest. The Aam Aadmi Party accused BJP of “inciting riots.” At least four leaders at senior positions in AAP including Raghav Chadha, Sanjay Singh, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, and Atishi gave almost the same statements, “In the past eight years, the BJP has settled Bangladeshis and Rohingyas in different parts of the country only to use them to incite riots," one of the statements claimed.

Asaduddin Owaisi, the chief of AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen), visited the region late in the evening and expressed regret over the statements made by AAP leaders, “It's regrettable that the AAP is calling these people Rohingyas and Bangladeshi,”. Earlier he called it “vigilante justice”. “Bulldozer will work on Ansar, Ahmad, but not on Arjun, Ajay.”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, while commenting on the issue tweeted, “This is demolition of India’s constitutional values. This is state-sponsored targeting of the poor and the minorities. BJP must bulldoze the hatred in their hearts instead.”

Earlier in the day when the demolition drive was carried out, CPM's Brinda Karat was present in Jahangirpuri and was seen trying to physically block a bulldozer while waving a court order in a bid to stop it. 

In the last month, a series of incidents of communal violence have taken place in five states, and in at least three states –MP, Delhi and Gujarat, violence followed by a controversial “anti-encroachment drive with Bulldozers”. This has raised questions over the demolition incident in Jahangirpuri as well.