Time: 8.30 pm. Location: South Delhi. While entering my home, I see five men, a little awkward in their body language, charge through my neighbour’s gate. The house adjoining mine is old and decrepit and looks ready to be preyed upon by the neo-colonisers of resurgent India. In my five years of living in this neighbourhood, I have had only customary exchanges with the inmates of this house. The occupants are an old couple. Other adults who frequent the house are the couple’s grown-up children. I also know that the residents are not the owners and have lived here for more than 25 years by virtue of the property being ‘disputed’.
The five men head to the side entrance and begin to knock down the door. I intervene to say that they should go to the front door, the only entrance to the ground floor. The men respond by saying they have come to the first floor. There is no first floor, I reply. Undeterred, they continue to force open the door. My neighbour, the old gent, comes out hearing the din and an animated conversation ensues between him and his ‘guests’. My job, I think, is done. I have alerted the residents and can carry on.
About 20 minutes later, I hear loud noises and decipher words like ‘first floor’, ‘ownership’, ‘court order’ and ‘breaking in’. I can hear a protesting female voice too, which provokes me to peep through my curtain. I find my neighbour, who is now joined by some other members of the family, mostly women, being completely overpowered by the five intruders. The altercation is still verbal but could get physical soon. At this point, I decide to intervene.
On coming out, I find my neighbour’s daughter, a lady in her early 20s, shielding the side door of the house from one of the goons, who is ready with a crowbar, waiting to tear down the door. This is a clever ploy because the goons will exercise some restraint when confronted with a young woman. But the deterrence is only temporary and the men get dangerously close to her. At which point, I shout at the top of my voice. The reaction is immediate. I am greeted with a flurry of abuses. One of them tries to scale the wall that separates our two houses. I am threatened to return to my house or else.
I somehow manage to look brave and decide to flash my press card. That seems to do the trick. Some civility enters into the ‘conversation’. The goons want to present their side of the story to me. They plead their ‘helplessness’ on behalf of their client in evicting the ‘unlawful’ occupants. Even the offer of a huge sum as ‘compensation’ could not, apparently, make my neighbours budge. My neighbours, they claim, have asked for more. I have no means to crosscheck the allegation and it is really not my business.
The Delhi Police predictably arrive when the worst is over. The goons slip away. I retreat to my house thinking, what should I do? I certainly cannot be an adjudicator. And it is not my business to judge who is in the wrong. But should I have remained a mute bystander?