Batla House is a beginning of the end in more ways than one. The Metro construction stops right where Jamia Nagar officially ends and Batla House begins. The wide, even road becomes narrow. Shops and university buildings give away to workshops. Potholes, a Muslim graveyard and the aroma of biryani are the hallmarks of the area.
Buses ply slowly in the area, dodging cycle-rickshaws. Lack of footpaths forces pedestrians to walk on the road. The area has a single ATM machine and no fast food joints to speak of. Traffic lights are conspicuous by their absence and so are police on the sixth anniversary of the Batla House encounter.
Until last year, residents of Batla House faced a near curfew after a shootout between suspected terrorists and the Delhi Police Special Cell on September 19, 2008.
Largely Muslim-dominated, the area houses students from Jamia Millia Islamia. Khalilullah Masjid, used to be a favourite spot for student protesters who challenged the police “version” of events . But on Friday only namazis surrounded the mosque while Jumma Bazaar teemed with shoppers.
Residents refuse to talk about L-18, the scene of the shootout, and look uncomfortable when the word “encounter” is mentioned. Adil, a Jamia student, says, “People don’t want to be associated with an incident like this for too long.”
“Jamia became synonymous with terror. Apart from police, even locals began hunting outsiders. When my cousins came to visit, I was afraid of my house being raided,” Irshad, a student said. He says things look better now.
On March 25, two youths were picked from neighbouring Abul Fazal Enclave. Memories of L-18 returned and protests broke out in the area.
On Friday, the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA), which had been fighting the case on behalf of the suspects, released a statement.
“September 19 is not just a day to mourn the dead… but to commit oneself to upholding constitutional values of rule of law…”.
While Batla residents struggle to leave memories of L-18 behind, JTSA is trying to avoid collective amnesia.