Praveen (13) and Mithun (14) can’t understand why their mothers won’t let them buy enough water balloons and gulal for Holi this year. Out for Holi shopping in Trilokpuri’s Block 20 on Thursday afternoon, the two throw a fit and return home unhappy and dissatisfied. “The situation is still tense, I don’t want my son to leave my sight. He can only play outside the house with a few friends… why the unnecessary expenditure then?” said Praveen’s mother, Poonam (40).
Trilokpuri has been tense since February 20, when the first incident of stone-pelting took place between two communities of blocks 27 and 28. On February 25, another incident of stone-pelting was reported. Since then, police have imposed Section 144 in the area. Amid heavy paramilitary deployment, shopkeepers advertised their carts and shelves full of colourful gulal, water guns, balloons and snow sprays; sweet shops displayed kilos of gujiya; and residents ventured out to buy the festival necessities before the market closed at 7 pm.
Business, however, was bleak with many customers buying less than their usual share of colours and sweets. “I bought all this maal 20 days ago, before the stone-pelting happened… now it’s all going to waste. So far, I have earned a fourth of what I earned last year. Also, police make us shut shop by 6 pm… that too is affecting business,” said Babita (30), as she sits next to packets of herbal gulal in Block 20 market.
Police, however, denied issuing orders to shut the market early. “In the evening, the market gets very crowded… and Section 144 is in place. So we disperse some of the crowd, but we are not making any shops shut early. Some shopkeepers might do it on their own though,” a senior police officer said.
Maltaram (62) — who has been putting up a Holi stall every year since 1998 — said that “while things are peaceful now, people are still scared and unsure”. In another block, a sweet seller selling gujiya said, “Every year before Holi, I sell at least four-five quintals of gujiya… this year, it’s only one quintal so far. Business always suffers when things flare up between two communities.”
In Block 27, the main site of the two stone-pelting incidents, a 55-year-old butcher recalled Holi in Trilokpuri before the 2014 riots. “Our shops would be open 6 am onwards on Holi too… But this year, we’ve been told to keep the shops shut… it hurts our business,” he said. Police, however, maintained that “shops are always shut on Holi, and that this year is no exception”.
At a corner in Block 35, a group of boys chalked out their Holi plan. “But it seems very unlikely that our parents will let us go out. We too are a little scared… we saw the stone-pelting. We know it’s dangerous to go far away from home,” one of the boys said.