"Hum India ke hai, kal bhi thhe, aur aaj bhi hai (We belong to India, we were from here, and remain Indian)," says Zareena Bibi, peeking out of the veil covering her face. A resident of Jahangirpuri slums, 37-year-old Zareena was born and brought up here after her family migrated to Delhi in the 1970s to look for work.
Like Zareena’s family, the haphazard alleys of Jahangirpuri are largely populated by Bengali-speaking Muslims, who trace their ancestry to West Bengal’s Kolkata and Medinipur districts.
“My entire childhood has been in Jahangirpuri, living alongside Hindu neighbours. Never have we witnessed an incident of a similar kind, where Muslims and Hindus have fought with arms and weaponry on any religious festival,” says Zareena.
“Not a single Muslim here has ever raised an anti-Hindu slogan or demanded any temple around the area to be demolished. We have co-habited for years now. Then why suddenly, us, the Muslims?” says Jamila Hassan, a resident of Jahangirpuri for 45 years.
Jahangirpuri is witnessing a heightened communal tension following the violent clashes on Hanuman Jayanti on April 16. Hindu groups had organised processions to commemorate the occasion with shobha yatras. The processions turned violent once the group reached the Jahangirpuri Jama Masjid, where evening prayers were being held. Since then, the area has seen stone pelting, attacks on police personnel and arrests being made.
According to a media report, a Muslim resident claimed that one of the Hindu men had said, “Hindustan mein rehna hoga, to Jai Sri Ram kehna hoga (If you want to live in Hindustan, you have to chant Jai Shri Ram).”
On Wednesday, acting on the orders of the North Delhi Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation brought out bulldozers to raze the masjid, stalls and houses as part of a "regular anti-encroachment" drive to demolish illegal constructions. Despite the Supreme Court issuing a stay on the order earlier the same morning, the demolition drive was launched and carried out for around an hour and a half. The incident has now infuriated Muslim residents, who spoke to Outlook on how Hindu-Muslims have lived in harmony in Jahangirpuri, for years now.
“In Block G, there are two temples side-by-side. On their ground floors and around them, there are shops owned by Muslims. Has there been any feud among the communities?” asks Sheikh Assanor (36), as he shows the temples -- Shiv Gauraksh Mandir and Prachin Shanidev Mandir -- around.
Meena, another resident of the jhuggi (slum) for the past 47 years, reiterates how they are invited to a Hindu marriage in the locality and how Hindus also come to celebrate Eid with their fellow neighbours.
Jahangirpuri, a Muslim-majority area, has families who migrated from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and so on. Yet, it has been alleged that the area is occupied by Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslims.
“We are a community of different-language speaking Muslims, but there has been no discrimination between us. Our children grow up together and we never see anyone as ‘illegal migrant’ here,” says Meena.
Flashing his voter ID card, Sheikh Assanor says, “I was born here in 1986 and I belong here.” Zareena adds, “My entire childhood was spent here and my children were also born here. We have all the documents, so how can they call us illegal immigrants?”
Their stories were repeated verbatim to Outlook by several other Muslim residents, each one talking about how their forefathers had moved to this mohalla from West Bengal, hoping to eke out a living. “We are not infiltrators, we all have the required documents.”
According to media reports, several officials, political leaders and locals have alleged that the violence had been caused by “illegal Bangladeshi Muslims” and “Rohingya Muslims” residing in the area.
However, residents who spoke with Outlook denied that any Rohingya Muslims live in the area. “When it comes to asking for votes, then they never talk about Rohingyas and Bangladeshi Muslims. It starts after the election is over. Why?” asks Zareena.
Land allotment in Jahangirpuri
In 1975, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi undertook the task of beautifying New Delhi, slums in areas including Minto Road, Thomson Road, Mandir Marg, Gol Market and Chanakyapuri were demolished overnight.
The displaced people, mostly Dalits, were allotted other places to stay, in Jahangirpuri and Mangolpuri. Each family was given a small piece of land measuring 22.5 sq yd to build their homes.
However, over the years, families started expanding as more and more people thronged the area, making Jahangirpuri one of the most densely populated areas for Dalits, migrant workers, ragpickers, daily wagers and so on.
A political slugfest
“The violence was planned as a trigger for riots between Hindus and Muslims,” says Meena, adding, “Hindu-Mussalman saab pyaar mohaabat se rehe rahe hai (Everyone lives here in peace and harmony).”
“These are the dirty politics of the BJP to create a communal divide. They don’t even consider that Muslims are marking the holy month of Ramzan now,” said Sheikh Assanor.
Jamila reiterates, "Ever since the incident, not a single politician from the ruling AAP or BJP has come to visit us. It has only been the leaders of Congress, who truly care for us."
The locals believe the BJP is now acting on the ‘bulldozer’ politics popularised by the Yogi Adityanath-government of Uttar Pradesh.
Addressing the media on Thursday at Jahangirpuri, Congress leader Rajesh Lilothia said, “When Modi has encouraged livelihoods by selling pakodas, he should also consider an alternative option for these people to earn their livelihoods. How can you raze their properties and shops without prior notice? There are rules to be followed."