The simmering wounds of the Batla House ‘fake' encounter are still fresh, even as the Congress scrapes through at Jamia Nagar
Samarth Pathak Delhi
The last two months have been nightmarish for the residents of Jamia Nagar, situated near the university of Jamia Millia Islamia in south Delhi. The area has been under scanner ever since the Batla House ‘encounter' whereby two youngsters, alleged to be ‘terrorists', were shot dead in the predominantly Muslim locality. The ‘encounter' - widely believed to be ‘fake' - became the centre of a nationwide political storm after locals, Jamia students, teachers, and civil society groups pointed out big holes in the version of the Delhi Police Special Cell. Two months later, the residents are still trying to come to terms with the killings and the subsequent developments which have shaken their lives. The stereotyping of the entire community as "terrorists", following the serial blasts across India, seems to have instilled a sense of fear.
Jamia Nagar is a cluster of seven "unauthorised" colonies. It is home to people from diverse backgrounds, spanning all strata of the society. A walk through the labyrinth of bylanes provides a glimpse of its demography. From students pursuing their higher education to migrant labourers and rickshaw-pullers supporting their large families; from IT professionals looking for security and affordability to government officials biding their time; from old-timers sitting in the balconies watching the hustle bustle in their gali to young blood from villages dreaming of making it big in life, Jamia Nagar provides them a familiar haven. (There is also, no choice - because mainstream colonies don't usually ‘rent out' to Muslims, not even students, journalists or professionals).
The anger and resentment against the political system is palpable. The UPA regime's hesitancy to order a judicial probe into the Batla House encounter remains a sting in their hearts. A faculty member at the Jamia, requesting anonymity, says, "Why is the Congress so defensive about the encounter? It is clear that they do not wish things to come out in the open. Just targeting innocent citizens without evidence is tyranny. There are many loopholes which need to be plugged and answered. If people are raising questions, is it not the responsibility of the government to answer it?"
These views are backed by many. Yet, deep down, they know that the matter has been effectively buried now, especially in the wake of the Mumbai terror strike (see box). The focus has shifted from the "fake encounter and false charges against the youngsters" of Batla House to Mumbai - people believe justice can't be expected in the near future. This is a tragic and reluctant acceptance mixed with deep angst and anger.
Some locals believe that the Congress has "backstabbed" them. According to Shahid Anjum, an IT professional: "Many feel that the BJP is openly against the Muslim community. But after the encounter and the eventual branding of Muslims as extremists, even the Congress is being seen as a foe. Innocents are being targeted, tortured and imprisoned without being granted a fair trial. The foundation of the Indian Constitution is being shaken. This is sickening."
The arrest of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur in the Malegaon blasts, and the emergence of Hindutva extremist forces are also fervently discussed. Syed, a Jamia student, says, "Terrorism in any form is wrong, since it goes against the basic tenets of all religions. Yet, blaming a particular religious community for every heinous act is unjustified. Are not the acts of the RSS and the Bajrang Dal also terrorism? Is not the Kandhamal violence condemnable and punishable? Then why is no action taken against the perpetrators? It shows the hypocrisy of the authorities, and their two-faced persona." Another student, Sanjay Kumar, adds, "I feel even the media is to be equally blamed. They are supposed to be socially responsible, but even they are biased. When the encounter happened, almost all media channels flashed that the police killed two terrorists. If it has not been proved, who gives them the right to brand any suspect as a terrorist? Also, the term ‘Islamic terrorism' is wrong. Recently, the sadhvi and other Hindutva activists were accused of causing terrorist activities. Did any media channel flash ‘Hindu terrorism'? Why associate an entire religion with the acts of a few people?"
Shockingly, some people living in Jamia Nagar still fear the police. In recent times, many locals have been taken in for interrogation, claim residents. Says Khalid Azeem, a shopkeeper, "Earlier, I used to feel safe when I saw a police van patrolling. Now I feel a foreboding when I hear a siren. Innocent Muslims are being detained across the country and looked at with suspicion. The government must work towards restoring peace and confidence in the minds of the people and not just play with the sentiments of all Indians."
Ever since the Batla House encounter, the Congress, which has been elected in this area since the last 14 years, has received scathing criticism. That is why, in the recent Delhi assembly elections, Parvez Hashmi of the Congress faced tough competition from Mohd Asif Khan of the RJD in the Okhla constituency, which Jamia Nagar is a part of. The poll results indicated that most votes from Jamia Nagar went in favour of the RJD. Yet, the Congress made it due to support from other localities of Okhla, winning by a miniscule margin of merely 540 votes. Clearly, most Jamia Nagar residents are terribly disappointed.
Besides security and terrorism, development of the area is an important issue. The only MCD dispensary here is dysfunctional. Residents have to depend on local doctors. Lack of proper transportation and problems of waste disposal is persistent. Drains are stinking and blocked, and filth is spread all over in many lanes. Residents complain that they have to buy mineral water bottles since the fresh water available is unfit for consumption. Roadside eateries are dark and dingy, with flies buzzying. Says Arif Siddiqui, a local, "Pervez Hashmi has not done anything since the time he has been in power. Asif Khan has taken up issues and genuinely tried to solve them. If there is a blocked drain and you complain to Asif, he would personally visit and get it cleaned up. He is accessible. I really wish he had won."
Yet, there is the unanimity of the voiceless. "There is not a single politician who is an authentic leader of the people. A leader represents and gives a voice to the people. He resolves their problems and keeps his word. I have been living here since the past 25 years and have seen various elections and politicians. What I have not yet seen is - Change," says Mohammad Shafi Beg, a property dealer.