I with a colleague of mine reached East Delhi’s Trilokpuri by 12:00 am on Saturday. News about alleged clashes had reached us late on Friday night. We were told that the clashes had broken out at around 8:00 pm on Friday but no one was visibly injured. Bricks and empty beer bottles were hurled to and fro interspersed with occasional gunshots. The police reached the area and restored calm. Heavy police presence in the area restored confidence and sent people back into their homes. This is what we had heard.
When we reached the spot on Saturday afternoon at around 12:00 pm, both of us happened to walk right into a mob which had assembled on the main road. Then they started hurling bricks into the air, upped with roaring jubilation and thrill. All at a physical enemy that was not visible. Terrified and taken by surprise, we ducked and ran over to a nearby car parked by the curb. We crouched behind it for over five minutes till we could run farther down to a relatively deserted and safer stretch next to a mother dairy kiosk. That was only one of the many such walk-ins we had and had walked in and out of.
“Aaj toh minimum teen ko kaatenge,” we heard a man say gleefully, brandishing a double-edged dagger which he then slipped behind his shirt and began strolling about after the crowd, after a seeming mood swing, dispersed into the several gullis leading inside.
Over the next two hours, frenzied mobs kept clogging narrow lanes and by-lanes connecting and separating one block from another. Mobs wielding long-rusted swords and rods, knives and bricks. We watched the frenzy unfold from a home we had rushed into after a sudden crowd of participants appeared around a gulli bend charging in our direction. While climbing up the stairs, we noticed bricks stacked on each stair. The housewife who had ushered us in, embarrassed, apologetically said, “Kya karein? Woh ham per hamla karenge toh apni suraksha toh khudi karni padegi.”
This senseless and directionless fury, we realised, was being whipped up for the fun of it. And, as journalists, we sensed individual families had gathered ammunition, mainly bricks and beer bottles, over the night for a final showdown on Saturday morning. A couple of hours later, my colleague followed a rag picker collecting in a sack bricks strewn over various roads. He saw the rag picker climb into a house and he heard him saying, “Chalo bhai, aaj ke raat ka intezaam ho gaya hai.”
Meanwhile, police forces took over an hour to get in sufficient troops to quell the clashes. A surprising amount of time as casual time taken to come in considering Mayur Vihar police station is a five minutes drive from Trilokpuri and heavy troop deployment over Friday night had already ensured police teams were on standby through the night. The teams were positioned outside Blocks 13, 14, 15 where the mobs had spilled over onto the main road.
Once the police blocked the gulli entrances, they began inching inwards pushing rioters and protesters back. Within an hour or more, most residents had crept back into their houses. The Delhi police armed with tear gas and lathis, the Rapid Acton Force in blue and the Central Reserve Police Force had been called in to work as one.
The atrocities started when policemen began arbitrarily searching houses and rounding perpetrators in the absence of clean evidence or proof. Almost 1000 persons were actively involved in the stone throwing and no one knows which blocks they belonged to and where they had walked to to participate in the violence. Police, clueless and worked up, therefore, randomly began banging on closed doors and shoving their lathis into houses to drive fear and establish control over residents. Most of these houses, however, happened to be in Muslim dominated areas especially in Blocks 14 and 27. The Indian Express reported that “the police have arrested 44 people — 32 Muslims and 12 Hindus” on charges of rioting as listed in the FIRs. This despite Trilokpuri comprising 80 per cent Hindus ( Balmikis) and 20 per cent Muslims. Lopsided statistics and arrests say much about what was happening on the ground.
I along with at least three other journalists was witness to police excesses committed during the arbitrary rounding up. In Block 27, Delhi police forces happened to see young boys on terraces and began banging on the door which was locked on the inside. All houses were bolted on the inside but they specifically chose three houses and broke down the locks and trooped in. Then began screaming and sounds of blunt objects hitting human bodies were clearly audible. When the police officers marched out of the three houses, they were holding by the collars young terrified and injured boys.
Of the nearly 10 boys rounded up from Block 27, one was bleeding from the eye. A lathi blow had fallen on his right eye when he was picked up from his house. Clutching at the bleeding eye, he was howling in pain. “Mujhe please haspataal le chaliye. Mera aakh phoot gaya hai. Mai kya karunga,” he was screaming while his poacher mercilessly dragged him barefeet on a million glass shards and brick chips.
Another boy’s nebula was bleeding. A lathi had hit him there. He was clutching at his skull and was in shock seeing all the blood. He was limply walking barefoot over the glass and stones. Barring these two injured youths, around three or four policemen took turns blowing their hard cane lathis on all parts of the alleged offenders’ bodies while they screamed in pain and kept falling to the ground.
Mothers and female relatives came running out howling after their sons. Senior police officers on standby told them to shut up or they would summon female cops. The drama, the howling, the screaming, the abuses and the violence continued for around 15 to 20 minutes before the women, helplessly crying began picking up bricks lying on the ground and hurling it at the retreating police officers. All of us tore ahead, ducking at the stones raining on us. The police did not let go of the boys and men despite the commotion. Then we turned left onto the street to safety.
All the boys rounded up were dumped into jeeps and a frustrated and irritated police vented it all out on the those they had caught. “Kal se naak mein dam kar rakha hai,” one policeman said through gritted teeth while repeatedly shoving his lathi through a jeep window into a detainees’ back.
The next day I saw the same boys being dragged into X-ray rooms. One was limping, the other wore a blank look, unseeing and unthinking. Another’s jeans were stained with blood while another’s hand was wrapped in bandage. They had been violated and there was not shame or hiding on the part of the police.
I was witness to how the Delhi police, had brazenly, in view of journalists, albeit without cameras employed anarchic, illegal arrests, communal and extrajudicial tactics to impose what they call ‘law and order’- a phrase which constantly equivocates with us, we who lie on the “clean” side of law and those who live outside its underbelly.