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9 bulldozers, ‘just following orders’: Eyewitness account of Jahangirpuri demolition drive

iWitness — the story behind the story of ThePrint journalists’ experiences on assignment.

New Delhi: Hundreds of policemen thronged the streets of Jahangirpuri Wednesday morning— it was the only sight anyone could see. 

It was around 10 am, and the heavy security deployment was on account of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation’s anti-encroachment drive, to demolish allegedly illegal structures in the northwest Delhi locality, which had witnessed communal clashes Saturday. 

There was an eerie silence in the lanes. Residents of the area, Hindus and Muslims both, remained inside their houses. Even the children, who had roamed outside after the clashes, stayed in as an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty lay over the area.  

At around 10:30 am, police barricades were removed to make way for two bulldozers to roll into the narrow roads. And within minutes, the demolition drive was flagged off, and the bulldozers began their work.

A stall is demolished during the demolition drive at Jahangirpuri in northwest Delhi on 20 April | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
A stall is demolished during the demolition drive at Jahangirpuri in northwest Delhi on 20 April | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

Three small food and tea stalls on the footpath of Kushal Chowk — the epicentre of Saturday’s clashes — were the first to be bulldozed. One belonged to a Muslim woman who begged officials not to bring down her shop; the bulldozer went on to demolish not only the shop, but also a portion of her house that had been extended. 

By this time, between 11.10 and 11.15 am, the Supreme Court had issued an order to maintain the status quo and halt the demolition drive — but that didn’t stop the bulldozers. 

Another juice corner, which belonged to a resident named Anil Gupta, was razed. Over the sound of the bulldozers, he screamed that the Supreme Court had ordered a halt to the demolition drive. But his voice went unheard, and his shop was brought down. 

Local residents penned in by gates protest during the demolition drive at Jahangirpuri on 20 April | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Local residents penned in by gates protest during the demolition drive at Jahangirpuri on 20 April | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

At around 11.30 am, police barricades in the path to a Muslim-dominated area were removed. Two bulldozers entered the lane and destroyed a few shops and extended tin roofs that were adjacent to the local mosque. One such shop, selling mobile accessories, belonged to one Ilyasi; another was a ‘Masjid Tea Stall’.

Then, one of the bulldozers broke the external metal gate of the Jahangirpuri mosque, and the two small walls on which the gate was standing. But the mosque was not touched. 

I managed to ask the bulldozer’s driver why the gate of the mosque was broken; he hurriedly said, “We are not breaking the real gate of the mosque. The extended gate that is coming up to the road — we have orders from the top to break it.

It was around 12 pm now, and bulldozers started moving towards the temple on the other side of the road. But by this time, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat had arrived, and she tried physically standing in the way of the bulldozers. Some residents who were penned in the lanes by gates also began to protest. Delhi Police personnel then escorted Karat to the nearby tents. 

At around 12:30 pm, almost an hour and a half after the Supreme Court had issued its order, the MCD officials received a copy of it and the demolition was stopped.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)


Also read: ‘No one listened’: Jahangirpuri residents cry after bulldozers raze ‘illegal’ shops & structures


 

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