Hauz Qazi in Chawri Bazaar is like any other part of Old Delhi. Over crowded and bustling with a cacophony of noises – from the hand-rickshaw puller making his way, residents zooming about on bikes to tiny shops lining both side sides of the narrow lane.
But since June 30, 2019 the area has turned into a fortress.
A parking scuffle, a desecrated Hindu temple and at the heart of it all – fake news.
BOOM looks at the events of June 30 and role of fake news in taking the area to the brink of a communal riot.
Many residents of Lal Quan in Chawri Bazaar area where the incident happened spoke to BOOM on the condition of anonymity.
A FIGHT OVER PARKING
According to locals, on June 30 at around 9.30 pm, an argument broke out between one Sanjeev Gupta and one Aas Mohammed.
Mohammed was parking his bike outside Gupta’s house to which the latter objected. There was a fight between the two over it.
Stealing glances at the Cenral Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel sitting near his shop, a shopkeeper says, “Mohammed would pick fights with everybody and the police were also aware of him. That day, Gupta and Mohammed got into a heated argument with friends of Gupta joining the fight and then someone hit Mohammed.”
According to news reports and locals, Mohammed brought some of his acquaintances, and beat up Gupta. The shopkeeper added, “It was a fight between two people. Such fights happen routinely but who knew that because one of them being a Hindu and other a Muslim would be a problem?”
“Don’t mention my name. But please say that I am a Hindu. I have lived here since I was born but this is the first time I have to identify myself by my religion,” he quietly adds.
THE FIRST FAKE MESSAGE
Another local businessman says that at around 11.30 pm on June 30 he received a message on WhatsApp.
“The message said a Muslim boy had been beaten up by Hindus and that people were protesting outside the police station against it.”
This local businessman and his friends reached the police station and saw a crowd protesting. “They told us a Muslim man had been lynched by Hindus. Everybody was angry. Some chanted “Allah Hu Akbar”. I believed them. How can so many people be wrong?”
BOOM accessed one of the messages received in a group where most of the members are Muslims.
The protests outside the police station lasted till 1 am. A video of local leader Ubead Iqbal Siddiqui asking protestors why they were at the police is also viral in the area. Siddiqui can be heard asking the protesters what happened and one of them replies, “the same that is happening in the country. A Muslim boy has been killed.” (Wohi jo hote aaraha hai desh mein. Ek Muslim ladke ko maar diya hai)
To this, Siddiqui asks, “because of his religion?” (Mazhab ki wajah se? ) and the gathered crowd all agree and say, “haan mazhab ki wajah se”
When Siddiqui asks them what was the name of boy the crowd says, “we don’t know”
A HINDU TEMPLE IS VANDALISED
While the protests were happening outside the police station, a group of youngsters alleged to be Muslims gathered outside Gali Durga Mandir. The shrine with a small temple, located right opposite Gupta’s house, is in a tiny walled bylane in Laal Kuan area. The bylane houses only Hindus, most of them halwais (caterers). The shrine with statues of various gods is the entrance of the lane.
The structure is not that of a typical temple, idols are in fact housed in a shrine, lining a side of the wall just after one enters the Gali Durga Mandir lane.
“At around 12.30 am a few men gathered outside the temple and threw stones at the idols, said a resident of the Gali Durga Mandir lane. Another resident chipped in angrily, “they were all Muslim boys. They even set fire to the temple.”
When asked to show the burnt remains, the locals said, “We were here, we saw everything, why do you want proof?”
While local leaders and the police have brokered peace between the communities with some of the Muslim leaders suggesting that they pay for the rebuilding of the temple, Hindus staying in the temple lane don’t seem satisfied.
“Whatever everybody says, we are a minority here. They came and attacked a temple, what stops them from attacking us? We did not go and attack any of them. So why did they come to the temple?” asks a resident of the lane.
A lone CCTV facing a part of the temple recorded the incident. BOOM was able to obtain the footage from the night in question. The CCTV footage recorded at 12.40 am shows a few of them hurling stones. The temple is not visible in the footage.
While the locals could not identify the men throwing stones, the Hauz Qazi police station arrested ten including four minors and booked them for rioting and desecrating the temple. Police decline to reveal names of those arrested.
FAKE MESSAGES SENT TO HINDU RESIDENTS
At 2 am, a message in Hindi started doing the rounds especially to Hindus in the area that “Muslims had attacked Hindu women and destroyed the temple and Hindu leaders were sleeping”.
BOOM accessed some of the messages sent that were viral.
This was followed by two more messages inflammatory in nature alleging that Muslims had attacked Hindus in the area with knives and guns.
FAKE MESSAGES CLAIMING MOSQUES IN THE AREA ATTACKED
At around 4 am on July 1, many locals most of the Muslims received false messages claiming the Fatehpuri masjid and the Lal Masjid both located within ten minutes from the temple had been pelted with stones.
“Schools were shut and we couldn’t send our kids outside. So all they did was see these kind of messages being spread and very justly got angry,” says a resident who owns a hardware shop close to the temple lane. “Yes, there was a fight. But why is the fact that they were Hindu and Muslim such a big deal? Why couldn’t it have been dealt with like all other petty fights in the city,” he asks.
Following the attack on the temple, the situation at Hauz Qazi worsened. The police called for additional forces and CRPF and Rapid Action Force personnel set up stations in the area. When BOOM visited Hauz Qazi, CRPF, RAF and Delhi police personnel could be seen stationed outside most shops. The entry to Hauz Qazi was guarded by two CRPF vehicles.
‘INSTANT FACT-CHECKING’ BY LOCAL YOUTH
In the midst of the communal tensions, a few youngsters took it upon themselves to debunk the viral false disinformation being shared. Abu Sufiyan, who founded the Facebook group Purani Dilli Waalon Ki Baatein, was one of the few who headed the team doing ‘instant fact-checking’. Sufiyan says, “I am a resident of this area. While the Muslim population is higher compared to the Hindu population, the area is a peaceful one. People conduct their business and even celebrate festivals together. It is a area steeped in heritage but now everybody just knows it as the area where a Hindu-Muslim fight happened.”
Sufiyan and Mohammed Rahim, a reporter with ETV Bharat stepped out as as they received the first message claiming a mosque had been pelted with stones. “I went to Fatehpuri masjid and found that nothing like the message claimed had happened. I spoke to the Imam of the mosque who told me he too had received such a message,”Sufiyan says.
Sufiyan showed BOOM a clipping of a newspaper which said, “20-year-old Muslim man was dead after being thrashed by Hindu family”.
He explains that the viral clipping was from a Hindustan Times article dated July 2, about the clashes in the area. “The news appeared on the front page of the paper with a continuation on another page. The front page story ended with the line, “Police said that around 12.30am on Monday, word spread in the locality that a…” with an addition that the rest was continued on another page.
The continuation was simply titled ‘clashes’ and started with, ’20-year-old Muslim man was dead after being thrashed by a Hindu family.’. Sufiyan says, this clipping went viral in the area with captions that Hindus were killing Muslims boys. “The first line saying ‘word spread’ and proving that a fake message led to Muslims protesting outside the police station was missing from the clipping. A genuine news article about the clash was used to spread fake news and cause communal tension,” he says.
BOOM checked the epaper of the HT and found this to be true. The full para is, “Police said that around 12.30am on Monday, word spread in the locality that a 20-year-old Muslim man was dead after being thrashed by a Hindu family. This, police said, led to people vandalising a temple in the vicinity and desecrating the idols. This led to another group assembling to chase away and attack the group that was allegedly vandalising the temple.”
Sufiyan and Rahim over two days went to the mosques which messages claimed had been attacked and posted videos from the area to show that nothing of that sort had happened.
A Facebook live from Purani Dilli Walon Ki Baatein debunking the claim that Lal Masjid had been attacked.
Mandeep Singh Randhawa, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) dismissed all questions about fake news fuelling communal tensions in the area. Speaking to BOOM, Randhawa said, “The area is fine now. There are no problems. No such messages were doing the rounds.”
Hauz Qazi is now open for business, shopkeepers sell their wares while sipping tea in the afternoon sun, children run around oblivious to the recent events that shook the walled city. While the situation is no longer tense, anger lingers in the by-lanes with many fearing those who have been their neighbours for years.