Chartered accountant Sunder Sharma’s family has lived in Old Delhi for more than a century and memories of the Walled City’s rich history flow easily into his conversations. “This area is known for its traditions and old families that have lived here for generations,” he said. “We have [the poet] Mirza Ghalib’s haveli here and there is so much to be proud of.”
But an incident on Sunday night has left Sharma disconcerted. An argument between two men, one Muslim and the other Hindu, over a parking space in the congested lanes of the area’s Hauz Qazi neighbourhood resulted in a temple being vandalised. The act of desecration has cast an air of wariness in the neighbourhood.
“This was a very small issue that got hyped,” said Sharma, 60. “Everyone fights over parking. Just look at how crowded Old Delhi is. This issue is just being used for political gains.”
Kailash Narayan Gupta, 71, whose family has lived in the area since 1948, said that though the area had experienced bursts of communal trouble over the decades, there was a lot more trust between Old Delhi’s Muslim, Hindu and Sikh residents in times past.
“The curfews have become fewer but the religious extremism on both sides has increased,” said Gupta. “When Muslims come to a Hindu area, it is not like they get beaten up. Hindus are living in fear. Everyone’s tolerance is reducing.”
The Hauz Qazi incident has been discussed heatedly on social media and on television talk shows this week. Even Union Home Minister Amit Shah has taken an interest in the matter, summoning Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik on Wednesday to get a briefing about the situation.
On July 1, Patnaik’s colleague, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Mandeep Singh Randhawa, had issued a statement about the incident on Twitter. “After some altercation and scuffle over a parking issue in Hauz Qazi, tension arose between two groups of people from different communities,” he said. “We have taken legal action and all efforts are being made to pacify feelings and bring about amity. People are requested to help in restoring normalcy.”
The police said that the trouble started on June 30 at around 11 pm, when Hauz Qazi resident Aas Mohammed, 20, was parking his two-wheeler outside the home of a man named Sanjeev Gupta’s house. Gupta told Mohammed to take his vehicle elsewhere, since he usually parked his food cart on that spot. An argument ensued.
Gupta’s home is located opposite to Durga Mandir Galli, a lane that houses a temple lined with several idols.
As other residents gathered, Mohammed was beaten, the police said. He ran away, only to return with some friends. The group assaulted Gupta, the police said, and threw stones at the statues in the temple.
Three first information reports were filed: one based on Gupta’s statement, one on Mohammed’s version and a third against unidentified persons for rioting, according to The Indian Express. The newspaper added that after viewing CCTV footage at the site, the police arrested three men and apprehended a juvenile for vandalising the temple.
On Wednesday, a small crowd gathered at gathered at the temple to sneak a peek at the damage. As it turns out, the windows had already been repaired. Personnel of the Delhi Police and the Central Reserve Police Force took positions in the area and placed barricades to control the traffic.
The priest of the temple, Anil Kumar Pandey, 48, said that he had not experienced such communal tension since he moved to Delhi from Basti district in Uttar Pradesh 25 years ago. “This has happened for the first time since I came here,” he said.
Pandey, whose home is next to the temple, said that the violence occurred at 12.25 am on Sunday. “At least 200 people were there outside the temple,” he claimed. “I was very scared and I just went back into my room. Hindus are fewer in number here so there is fear.”
However, on Tuesday, both Pandey and Mufti Mukarram Sahab, the Shahi Imam of Old Delhi’s Fatehpuri mosque, appealed to Hindus and Muslims to keep the peace. “Both parties have brought their ideals together for calm and the police have also reassured us,” said Pandey.
Tarachand Saxena, 52, a member of the Aman committee that helps ensure that religious processions are conducted peacefully, insisted that the situation was back to normal. As proof of this, he said that Hindus would organise a religious procession on July 9 to mark the installation of new idols in the temple.
But Rinku Saxena, 48, was not quite reassured. On Wednesday, the third-generation caterer was standing in the temple with his child, watching as his neighbours took photographs and videos of the idols. “We have just reached a compromise because our business was suffering in the last three days,” he said.
Though he said that there were only Hindu homes in the lane, the families live in fear. “They were pelting stones on Gupta’s house the way Kashmiris pelt stones at the police,” Saxena claimed. “They want to turn this into a mini Pakistan.”
Even as residents were coming to grips with the temple desecration, social media rumours about a man being killed in the incident added to the tension at the beginning of the week. Some people got Whatsapp messages claiming that Mohammed had been killed, while other messages claimed that the temple priest Anil Kumar Pandey had lost his life.
The strength of the rumours have brought many outsiders to the area, said Abdul Baqi, 50, president of a local residents’ welfare association.
“Both Hindu and Muslim people who came from outside the area got to know about the incident on social media,” he said. “Yesterday night [July 2], some people from Uttar Pradesh came and chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram.’”
Added Baqi: “We are not afraid of our neighbours. But we are scared of outsiders.”
Among those who had come to the neighbourhood from other places on Wednesday morning were Ashish Pandey and Brajesh Sinha. Pandey, 20, a member of Bajrang Dal from Ghazipur, said that he found out about the incident from the Hindutav organisation’s Facebook page and decided to make a trip to Old Delhi to see the situation for himself.
“We have come to make sure Hindus are safe,” he explained.
Sinha learned about the incident after he received some messages on WhatsApp from other Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh members.
Sinha, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had travelled in from Palam in South West Delhi. “The media is talking about Hindu-Muslim unity but it is all false,” he declared. “There is no unity.”
Both men said that it was social media that “told the truth about the incident”.
“It is much better than the news,” said Sinha. “We want more people to know about this incident. The Hindu existence is in danger. Have you ever heard of Hindus destroying a mosque?”