July 29, 2021
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'The Biases Are Clear, I Am Afraid For My India': Student Who Covered Delhi Riots

I will always remember the day and date -- one of the most terrifying experiences of my life -- for multiple reasons.

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'The Biases Are Clear, I Am Afraid For My India': Student Who Covered Delhi Riots
Delhi Police personnel stationed at the road between Jaffrabad and Maujpur metro stations.
'The Biases Are Clear, I Am Afraid For My India': Student Who Covered Delhi Riots

On February 24, 2019, Delhi, the national capital of India -- a country that has thrived on its diversity for over seventy years -- witnessed deadly clashes between two groups -- one against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), another against this very demonstration. The clashes soon snowballed into communal riots and as I write this at least 22 people have been declared dead and close to 200 have sustained injuries.

But that's not it. I will remember the day and date -- one of the most terrifying experiences -- for other reasons too. Terrifying not just because I could have been subjected to physical harm but for the direction, my India has moved in. I am afraid we are on the brink of a civil war. What I saw in Jaffrabad, Seelampur and adjoining areas on February 24 is testament to the ever-increasing chasm between the two major religious communities of India. And the fissure is real -- neither a hysterical comparison made by an academician, nor an angry social media post.

Those against the newly amended law, predominantly Muslims, behind a barricade demonstrated under the Jaffarabad Metro station bridge. Roughly a km away, another group, predominantly Hindus, protested under the Maujpur metro station bridge against the anti-CAA demonstration. A huge deployment of Delhi Police and security forces separated the two groups.

My colleagues from Jamia Millia Islamia's mass communication department -- Seraj, Rishabh, Shahzaib, Gaurav and Priyashi -- and I walked from the anti-CAA protest to the ones demonstrating in favour of the law. We were on the spot to shoot for our final year documentary projects. Stones, thrown by both the sides, were strewn across the road. We walked through -- surrounded by police -- looking for images and videos, documenting the events as they happened. Despite my reservations, I am forced to call these groups as the one led by Hindus and another by the Muslim community.

The Hindu side was unwelcoming of journalists, broke cameras and didn't spare even channels like Aaj Tak. They claimed: "The media is falsely painting their protest as violent." And this claim came on a day when a head constable was shot dead and the anti-CAA protestors came under a brutal assault.

The scenes were not typical of India’s national capital. Auto rickshaws and cars had been burnt, houses were set on fire, shops were pillaged, little Mazars were destroyed, and all this under the watch of a strong police presence in the area. All of us -- in our early twenties -- were witnessing hatred on such a scale for the first time. Things looked under control, and yet we knew they weren't. There was panic among people and we could sense the volcano may erupt any moment.

When we walked towards the anti-CAA protests, a group of 50-60 policemen charged at us. A cop, named Bhupender, looked me in the eye -- filled with hate and anger -- and asked what we were doing there. While I struggled to utter that we were journalists covering the scene, Bhupender asked Rishabh to show his ID card. Rishabh showed his student ID card, establishing he studied at Jamia Millia Islamia. Next moment, Bhupender launched his lathi on Rishabh. "Abey Jamia se hai, maaro saale ko," was his response upon seeing Rishabh's ID card.

I refrained from showing my ID card even as Siraj reasoned, rather pleaded, another policeman, he became Bhupinder's next prey. Rishabh and Shahzaib were stopped and their bags were checked by police. When Rishabh confirmed his name as "Rishabh Jain", in came the next question. "Are you a communist?"

Thankfully, Shahzaib’s bag was not checked. "I can't imagine what would happen if they checked my bag which had a skull cap," he told me later. The religious profiling, on the basis of names, left Shahzaib distraught.

We were allowed to go, but not before a confrontation, totally unjustified and uncalled for. Rishabh, Seraj and Zeeshan were easy targets for just doing their job. But you know who wasn't doing their job? The Delhi Police!

None of us should have been stopped. It's the terrible crowd, who beat an innocent Muslim with whatever they could lay their hands on, that should have been contained. Those firing from over the police barricade should have been stopped. The police should have stopped the person, who fired eight rounds in the presence of security forces.

The unfortunate day brought back the memories of December 15, when the Delhi police was swift to barge into our campus and brutalise students. But despite witnessing high-pitched violence, stemming from hatred for a community, the police stood there and made little effort to control what resulted in so many deaths, injuries and loss of livelihood.

The biases are clear. We are being divided into binaries. India has gone to the goons!

(The author is a student at AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia. Views expressed are personal.)

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