Delhi riots: From 2022’s Jahangirpuri to Sadar Bazar in 1974, a history of communal clashes in the Capital

On Saturday evening, Delhi once again saw communal violence — reminiscent of the 2020 riots which shook the Capital. A clash broke out betw...

On Saturday evening, Delhi once again saw communal violence — reminiscent of the 2020 riots which shook the Capital.

A clash broke out between two communities during a Hanuman Jayanti procession in northwest Delhi's Jahangirpuri area on Saturday evening. According to the police, stones were pelted and some vehicles torched in the violence that occurred around 6 pm.

Since the clashes took place, the authorities have arrested 21 people including the “main conspirators” behind the clashes and another person who allegedly fired a bullet that hit a sub-inspector. The police, has according to the PTI news report, also apprehended two juveniles in connection with the incident.

The police added that there was stone-pelting and arson during the clashes that left eight police personnel and a local injured. Some vehicles were also torched.

Sub-Inspector Medhalal, who sustained a bullet injury in the clashes, said the police had initially pacified the situation but a group from C-Block started pelting stones and fired on the security personnel.

The 50-year-old police sub-inspector, posted at the Jahangirpuri Police Station, recalling the evening of violence, said he was walking with the ‘Shobha Yatra’ in the area on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti on Saturday.

He said when the procession reached C-Block, some of those standing near a mosque got into an argument with the participants of the procession over alleged sloganeering by the latter.

The argument, according to the cop, turned violent and stones were pelted from both sides. “While those part of the procession were sent away towards G-Block, those standing near the mosque were asked to stay put at C-Block. But those standing at C-Block started pelting stones and came out with lathis in their hands.”

Also read: Ram Navami to Hanuman Jayanti: Here’s why Hindu festivals face wave of attacks

History of riots

This isn’t the first time that the Capital or the country has witnessed communal riots. As per data provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, there have been as many as 3,399 cases of communal or religious rioting in the country in the five year period from 2016 to 2020.

The data was provided by Union Minister of State Nityanand Rai in the Lok Sabha in response to a question by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and BJP MP Chandra Prakash Joshi.

The data showed that in 2016 there were 869 instances of religious violence; that number reduced the next year to 723. In 2018, there were 512 cases of communal riots and in 2019 there were 438 such cases. And in 2020, there were 857 religious riots.

Residents look at burnt-out vehicles following riots over at Shiv Vihar area in New Delhi in 2020. AFP

Communal riots from the Delhi perspective

Political scientists Ashutosh Varshney and Steven Wilkinson, as per a report published by The Print, reported that Delhi had lost 93 lives in Hindu-Muslim communal riots between 1950 and 1995.

These numbers don't include the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, as they classify that as a straightforward pogrom.

In 1974, trouble erupted in Delhi in the locality of Sadar Bazar. The violence was triggered by a quarrel between two Muslim youths and a Hindu boy. The small argument rapidly degenerated into a Hindu-Muslim confrontation. Arson, heavy brick-batting, and weapons firing took place.

The police were targeted by rioters, and were unable to maintain control of the situation. At the end of the riot, 11 people were killed — eight Hindus, two Muslims, one Sikh and the area remained under curfew for 44 days.

Following the ’74 violence, another incident shook the conscience of Delhi residents in 1987. Rumours of a communal massacre in Meerut-Maliana in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh led to an outbreak of violence in Delhi’s Hauz Khas area. An imam of a mosque was murdered in Hauz Khas and this led to an outbreak of riots, which saw 15 killed — 12 were shot dead by the police.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, saw riots in several parts of India. Violence also broke out in Seelampur and Jaffrabad following a rumour that a local mosque had also been attacked. About 20 persons were killed.

The Capital saw relative peace in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. But, in 2014, an argument due to loudspeakers during a Mata ki Chowki event (dedicated to Goddess Durga) organised near a mosque in Trilokpuri area on Diwali night led to violent clashes in which shops and vehicles were burnt and several people were injured. However, timely intervention from the police saved lives and no one died in the riots.

It was after the Trilokpuri riots, the Delhi Police formed Aman committees comprising of elderly members and religious preachers across communities to work as police's troubleshooters and help defuse tensions.

Delhi saw the worst in February 2020 when 53 people were killed and more than 200 others were injured. A Delhi court even described the riots as ‘worst communal riots since Partition’.

The riots broke out owing to clashes between pro and anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters in Jafrabad and spread across northeast Delhi over the next four days. Shops and houses were burnt down and even places of worship were attacked.

A report by the Business Standard said that on 23 February, the day of the riot, BJP leader Kapil Mishra had given an “ultimatum” to the police to remove anti-CAA protests blocking roads in the area.

Within hours of Mishra's speech, clashes broke out between anti- and pro-CAA demonstrators in Karawal Nagar, Maujpur Chowk, Babarpur and Chand Bagh. Police lathi-charged and used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The following afternoon, violent clashes broke out in several areas of Northeast Delhi, including in the Gokalpuri and Kardampuri areas. Clashes were marked by arson, vandalism of property, stone pelting and burning of places of worship. While trying to control the protesters, Delhi Police head constable Ratan Lal suffered a bullet injury and lost his life.

After days of violence, on February 29, the riots ended in the national capital.

The Delhi Police’s handling of the riots was questioned, however, a Delhi court had observed that city police had done its work with utmost integrity and the investigation hadn’t done on communal lines.

The Delhi High Court also noted that the Delhi riots were planned and calculated to cause disruptions and were not triggered by any incident.

“The February 2020 riots were a conspiracy, planned and executed. They evidently did not take place in a spur of the moment,” the Delhi High Court was quoted as saying, according to an NDTV report.

The court added, “The systematic disconnection and destruction of the CCTV cameras also confirms the existence of a pre-planned and pre-meditated conspiracy to disturb law and order in the city. This is also evident from the fact that innumerable rioters ruthlessly descended with sticks, dandas, bats etc upon a hopelessly outnumbered cohort of police officials.”

With inputs from agencies

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