Uneasy Friday calm: Cops oversee prayers in north-east Delhi
For hours, Rasheed Khan sifted through the debris inside Meena Masjid in Bhagirathi Vihar and managed to find the right plugs to install the loudspeakers. The sound system, he said, survived a violent attack during the communal riot in north-east Delhi, where a mob ransacked the mosque and tried to set it on fire.
The speakers were set up for the Friday prayers, which were scheduled for 1.45pm, said Khan. But, at around 1.30pm, he added, a group of Hindu residents gathered in the vicinity, blocking the entries to the alley where the mosque is located.
In the gathering was 23-year-old Gajendra Sharma, a medical representative who sustained a bullet injury on his leg, and 44-year-old bank employee Ramesh Chandra, who sustained a head injury during violence in the neighbourhood on Monday and Tuesday. Both Sharma and Chandra said that they were heading back home from their workplaces and were caught in the crossfire between Hindu and Muslim groups.
“Men are injured here. How can we let gatherings happen under such circumstance? There is immense fear among people,” said Roopvati Gupta, a resident of Bhagirathi Vihar.
The police intervened, resorted to warnings issued through loudspeakers, and directed all residents to head back home, citing prohibitory orders in the neighbourhood, which makes gatherings of four or more people unlawful. A platoon of Border Security Force (BSF) officers fanned across the area.
The scheduled Friday prayers were cancelled.
But several other mosques in the riot-hit areas witnessed larger crowds for the Friday prayers, amid stepped-up security and police cover, as residents came out to pray.
Some mosques, such as Aulia Masjid and Bada Masjid in the North Ghonda locality, organised two batches of afternoon prayers to accommodate large crowds.
“It is not just the namaaz. Shops in this localities are now open. I need to buy vegetables and groceries for my family. Our kitchen has run out of stock,” said Mohammad Moinuddin, a resident of Brijpuri who had come for prayers to Aulia Masjid.
On Monday and Tuesday, as armed mobs went on a rampage across north-east Delhi, indulging in murder, arson, stone-pelting and vandalism, mosques in the some of the areas were attacked. These include Meena Masjid in Bhagirathi Vihar, Farooqi Masjid in Brijpuri, Maula Baraka Masjid in Ashok Nagar’s D Block and Firdous Masjid in Khajoori Khas.
Aulia Masjid, Sheesha Masjid and Bada Masjid are within a 2km radius in North Ghonda. This locality witnessed widespread gunfire violence, and at least two deaths in the violence. But the mosques were not attacked by the mob, locals said. Some residents from Brijpuri, Ashok Nagar, Yamuna Vihar and Bhajanpura also came to these mosques on Friday, saying they were looking out for a more peaceful space to pray in.
“It is sad that people cannot even pray in their own places. We had never imagined that this could happen in an areas like these where Hindus and Muslim have always shared spaces in peace,” said Manoj Gupta, a shopowner at Johnny Chowk near Sheesha Masjid.
While Friday namaaz was out of question for the Maula Baraka Masjid in Ashok Nagar, where a man climbed a minaret and put up a saffron flag next to the Indian flag which was already there, people who frequent Farooqi Masjid in Brijpuri made makeshift arrangements in the adjacent building where around 50 people offered prayers, compared to the gathering size of around 250 on any ordinary Friday, locals said.
The people living in six houses adjoining Maula Baraka Masjid, which were set ablaze, have left the neighbourhood. While some headed back to their villages, others took shelter in a police station in the absence. The saffron flag on the minaret had been taken down by authorities by Friday afternoon, when HT visited the mosque, but the tricolour was also nowhere to be seen.