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Hardlook: Under CCTV canopy, drone gaze

According to Trilokpuri MLA Raju Dhingan, insecurity has crept into people’s lives. He finds the situation “ridiculous”.

Written by Sarah Hafeez | Delhi |
Updated: October 26, 2015 4:44:12 am
trilokpuri , trilokpuri riot, riot, cctv camera, camera business, drone, trilokpuri drone, delhi news, indian express Residents have bought and installed a total of 922 cameras in Trilokpuri following the clashes last year. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

A year ago, riots unsettled the resettlement colony in East Delhi. Trilokpuri appears calm now, with authorities keeping a close watch, but residents admit they struggle to shake off fear. The riots, say residents, hurt the property market. According to Trilokpuri MLA Raju Dhingan, insecurity has crept into people’s lives. He finds the situation “ridiculous”. SARAH HAFEEZ walks down the area and meets residents to present a ground report. 

CCTV cameras have sold like hotcakes in Trilokpuri in the last one year following riots that erupted in the area on Diwali. Distributors say business has been unusually good in the resettlement colony, which has a predominantly Dalit population.

Residents have bought CCTV cameras, as have the police. Residents, with guidance from police, have installed them at vantage points. Authorities have covered all block intersections and public areas.


As Diwali approaches, police have their guard up. “We have engaged shopkeepers, hotels and residents for covering the colony by surveillance cameras for their own security. We have guided them on which cameras to be bought. Residents have bought and installed a total of 922 cameras, most fixed on electric poles in main chowks outside shops and hotels,” says B S Gurjar, DCP (East). “We have, with our own funds, purchased and fixed 12 cameras in police check post areas in Trilokpuri over the past year.”

What’s more, two drones are also hovering over Trilokpuri, which saw a brawl between Balmikis and Muslims on Diwali night escalate into riots a year ago.
At least 17 people were injured in the 2014 riots in and around three blocks with a mixed population and, at least, two shops were burnt. Police arrested 44 people — 32 Muslims and 12 Hindus.

Orders prohibiting unlawful assembly were imposed in the area for days after the clashes. For the first time, the police used drones in a law and order situation of this nature to scan rooftops and terraces for arsenal and bricks.

Police and residents remain cautious. Clashes are not a closed chapter in Trilokpuri. Since the riots, four petty incidents threatened to snowball into communal flashpoints. Residents credit the police for acting promptly on all four occasions to quell trouble. According to sources, youngsters egged on by local leaders made divisive speeches and gave slogans during Ganesh Chaturthi and the Kanwariya season this year. Police presence prevented matters from worsening, say the sources.

Police have deployed three companies and two companies of reserve police force. An additional DCP-level officer is monitoring law and order in Block 20 where a Mata ki Chowki was the vortex of the communal flare-up last year.

Taziya processions concluding the observance of mourning in Muharram, Saturday, proceeded peacefully in Trilokpuri, including Block 20, says DCP Gurjar. The security deployment will be in place till the close of Diwali celebrations. Joint Commissioner of Police (Eastern range) Sanjay Beniwal, who was present in Trilokpuri Saturday, says, “Hindu residents distributed sherbat to members of the Taziya procession as a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity.”

This year, the police did not allow a Mata ki Chowki, a makeshift shrine, to be set up in Block 20, which houses both Muslim and Balmiki families. The colony, set up by the Congress government in 1976 to house the people displaced in slum clearance drives in South and Central Delhi during Emergency, was also one of the worst hit parts of Delhi during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

A police van rushed to Block 20 Tuesday at about 2.30 pm after reportedly learning of residents setting up a chowki. The police removed decoration material from Block 20 and stayed put there through the week, much to the annoyance of some. “Give us the names of those who complained about us. Tell us who they are… we will sort out among ourselves, in our own way,” 38-year-old Rajkumari shouted. She told The Indian Express, “Why should we be stopped from worshipping our gods and goddesses?”

Despite police vigil, a sense of fear and insecurity has not left people, especially those directly affected last year’s clashes. Israr Khan, owner of readymade apparel store AtoZ, says he has not stocked up for Diwali this year. “Last year, my three-storey shop was torched even when section 144 was imposed and police personnel were seated right outside. I had stocked the floors with shoes and garments for Diwali, when I make phenomenal sales. When my shop burnt, I lost around Rs 1.3 crore. This time, I have not repeated the mistake. I got CCTV cameras fixed so that I have evidence if something happens again.”
Tarana, his daughter, shows bank papers against gold loans taken to restart the shop six months ago. Police did not register an FIR in the case, claiming it was a short circuit which sparked the fire.

Tension and suspicion still grip residents, who have demanded their blocks be secured by metal gates. “After the riots, residents contributed and got iron gates fixed outside their lanes,” says Salima Khatoon, a resident of Block 15.

The riots last year have taken a heavy toll on some of the injured. For Arjun, 16, and his friend Ajit, 17, who were struck by police bullets during a crossfire with rioters, school has been an irregular affair since. Arjun has not attended school for eight months after recovering from the bullet injury in his head.
“The principal is not allowing him to continue lessons, but he is adamant and does not want to repeat a year. He is no longer the same person, losing his temper at the smallest of things. He no longer meets his friends. We are just thankful he is alive. A bullet going through someone’s face and head is no small thing. It’s a miracle he is alive,” says his mother Malhar.

There are other costs Trilokpuri is paying. Arjun’s cousin Sunil, 28, says young women and their families are rejecting marriage proposals from the area. “Now, no one wants to give their daughters in marriage to someone living in a place like Trilokpuri. First there was 1984 and then 2014.”
Arjun, Malhar and Sunil mention Israr and his shop when they recall last year’s clashes. “We used to buy clothes from that shop,” says Arjun. “After the fight and my illness, I have not gone back there.”

Property pays the price for riots

Several rooms which served as tailoring and embroidery units in Trilokpuri’s mixed blocks lie vacant now. Many of the young people from other states who lived in these rented accommodations were detained or arrested in the three days of rioting last year.

AtoZ apparel store owner Israr Khan had rented out three rooms in the shop to a group of 14 tailors who worked there. Of those men, says Israr, police detained many when the first round of stone throwing began last year. All 14 left for Bihar after the riots. “The rentals have dipped, which is okay, but no one is coming into Trilokpuri to work. All the three rooms in my shop have been unoccupied for the last year and I am losing out on more than Rs 10,000 every month,” says Israr.

Azad who worked with Israr and was among those arrested says, “We had come to the city from Gaya to earn a living and never made any sort of trouble. Yet, this one sudden incident turned us into criminals. My brother had to bail me out, with a heavy sum of money.” Azad adds he returned to the city only a few months back and set shop in Anand Parbat this time, taking a room on rent. “I am making less money, but it is better than working in Trilokpuri. It is us migrants who are first picked up by police because we are soft targets.”

In Trilokpuri, the property market has been hit too. Among the families that sold their homes in Block 28 is Babu Khan’s. His shop was torched last year. Babu, 25, sold his house to a Balmiki family and moved back to his father’s house in Block 27. In Block 28, comprising 500 houses, 8 of the 11 Muslim families have sold their homes. In the adjoining Block 27, however, where 350 of the 500 families are Muslim, only 12 families have sold their homes in the past year.
“I moved the courts with evidence and photographs of my shop burning while the police stood watching. The court ordered an FIR to be lodged. I installed two CCTV cameras in my shop after rebuilding it. I am keeping my shop, but not my house. This area has become too dangerous for us to live in. I have small children,” says Babu.

Property dealers say there is a community-specific trend to the sale of homes, especially in the areas where the clashes were most intense, such as Blocks 14, 15, 20, 27 and 28.

Ram Rahim Property dealers’ owner Ramesh says, “Most of the people buying and selling property have been showing a preference for blocks where people of the same religion dominate. Hindu families this year bought homes in block numbers 13, 14, 24, 25, 26 and 36. Muslim families, however, are selling their homes and buying new ones in Muslim-dominated areas of Delhi such as Okhla, Old Delhi or Seelampur and Najafgarh.”

One major change in the last one year is almost no one from outside wants to come and settle in Trilokpuri, say property dealers. Earlier they had customers from Ghaziabad, Patparganj, Ashok Nagar, Kondli and neighbouring areas. “This year most of the buildings have been bought by residents of Trilokpuri, neighbours buying from neighbours,” says Ramesh.

The property rates in Trilokpuri, say residents and property dealers, plummeted after last year’s clashes. Houses worth Rs 25 to 30 lakh a year ago are available for Rs 20 lakh or less today, says Ramesh. And commercial buildings which cost between Rs 85 lakh and Rs 1 crore last year are now available for Rs 70 lakh. This, when the metro line under construction in Trilokpuri had everyone excited about property prices shooting up, he adds.

Ramesh’s friend and fellow property dealer Rafique says, “Dhanda manda hai (Business is dull). I don’t want to say more.”

Block 28 resident Sunil, advised his friend who wanted to buy a house to look at Block 20 in Trilokpuri. His friend retorted, “I Googled Trilokpuri. The first few search results throw up images of streets carpeted with red bricks and police in anti-riot gear patrolling. Who would want to live here, where there is a fight every other day.”

Plan to get the entire neighbourhood gated within three years, says Raju Dhingan

How did the communal clash happen?
The clash, in the first place, was not communal. It was a small fight between drunk youths which spiralled into clashes all over Trilokpuri. It was planned and orchestrated to polarise voters before the elections. No one saw it coming. After 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Trilokpuri, there was never such a big clash, though small fights kept happening. Once they broke out, I went around every block with police officers, holding peace meetings. I patrolled the streets at night, at the chowks where most fights usually start.

What has changed since then?
Firstly, the mark of development of a place is the health of its property market. Trilokpuri, in that sense, has gone back around 10 years. The growth in property prices achieved in a decade or more with planned development fell in days. Despite prices being low, no one is willing to buy in Trilokpuri because of its image as a place where fights break out every now and then. Those who wanted to trigger this fight did not care or think before doing so. Now, both communities are suffering. The other thing is the insecurity that has crept into people’s lives here. No one feels secure. The situation is ridiculous. I have got tired of the fights which break out here. Like one which happened two weeks ago when a group of youths verbally abused a woman and their families got into a fight, throwing stones. It was given a communal colour. I get calls, at least two a day, about “dange ho gaye hain”. All of them turn out to be small skirmishes with rumours floating around.

What is being done to handle these problems?
There are constant demands to get gates fixed in every block. Last year, I used up a lot of money from the MLA LAD (Local Area Development) fund to get 150 gates fixed. This year, after I was voted back again, I have got a sanction to get 100 more gates fixed. But I can’t possibly spend all the money only on these measures. Pipes and sewers, lights and lamp posts also need to be fixed. I plan to get the entire neighbourhood gated within three years.
Also, I have got surveys conducted in all blocks by CCTV camera companies. I will be spending money on installing these within three months. Police have been collecting money, around Rs 2,000 from every shopkeeper to buy and install cameras at chowks like the one in Block 27. However, the collection is being done in an unscientific way. They are collecting much more than they need to buy a camera.

Have people in Trilokpuri become a divided lot?
No. There is nothing like that. There are always some people who want to create trouble. There are always trouble mongers. But the residents, more or less, live in harmony. The problem is over population. So many people living with such few resources.
Fights are bound to occur. Youth are unemployed, labourers sit idle at the mandi with no one demanding their services. Most youths with no jobs take to drugs and drinks. These people are the first to aggravate things when a fight breaks out.
And no matter how old we become as a country, India will always be divided on regional, religious and lingual lines. These fractures exist in Trilokpuri as much as they do anywhere else.

A year on, no charge sheet

Police are yet to file charge sheet in Trilokpuri riots cases. Reacting to a police report on the investigations, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on October 16, asked the Delhi Police Commissioner to speed up the probe and submit a fresh status report within six weeks.

After the riots last year, the police filed three FIRs. According to the police, the first FIR dated October 23, the day of Diwali, says a PCR call was made at about 7.57pm from Block 20. Police reached the spot and saw locals throwing bricks and stones at each other. In the clash, four cars were damaged.

The FIR states that a local lit a cracker and flung it at someone’s door, triggering the fight.

The second FIR, the next day, reports mobs near Block 27 and 21 hurling stones at each other. Police tried to disperse the crowd but failed and resorted to lathicharge and lobbed teargas shells.

In the third FIR, a group of Muslim residents argued and fought with a police officer near a masjid in Block 27. They also locked him up following which senior police officers reached the spot. By then, a crowd gathered near the masjid and started throwing stones at police personnel.

At this point, police announced section 144 CrPC prohibiting unlawful assembly, but the crowd continued throwing stones at the police.

In a report to the commission on July 20, the additional DCP (East) said the police were searching for other accused persons.

Joint Commissioner of Police (Eastern range) Sanjay Beniwal said, “We have been responding to questions in Parliament as well as the National Commission for Minorities besides the NHRC.”

(With inputs from Mayura Janwalkar)

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