"We Have Been In Jahangirpuri Since 70s. Modi Wants To Declare Us Bangladeshis"
Muslim residents in Delhi's Jahangirpuri area have called out politicians and media for their xenophobic campaign.
On the morning of April 17, a day after New Delhi's Jahangirpuri witnessed communal violence during a Hindu religious rally, Sheikh Rafique was woken up with a loud bang on his door. The police barged in and asked for his 22-year-old son Sheikh Zakir. They took him away without explaining any reasons.
Since then, the family alleges they do not know where Zakir has been kept. "When we go to the police station to enquire about our son, they shoo us away," says Zahoora, Rafique's wife.
But the detention of their son is not their only worry. Rafique spends all his day watching news on TV which is dominated by a brash coverage of the events — clashes, arrests and subsequent demolitions— in Jahangirpuri.
"I grew up here. I am neither a Bangladeshi, nor a Rohingya." Rafique says responding to a xenophobic campaign launched by Hindu right-wing ecosystem, including leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party, Bhartiya Janata Party and sections of mainstream media since the day of violence.
"I have papers of the land in West Bengal that I inherited from my father and grandfather," he said as he showed revenue records and a character birth certificate issued in 2010 by a Gram Panchayat in West Bengal's Purba Medinipur district. "He is an Indian by birth and he was born at Kalipur," according to the certificate.
As the violence ensued on the evening of April 16, the first prominent person to resort to the dog whistle of calling the Muslims of Jahangirpuri as Bangladeshi was Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader in Delhi known for his provocative hate speeches.
"The settlement of Bangladeshi infiltrators is now daring to attack the citizens of India," Mishra said in a tweet in Hindi. "Now it has become necessary to remove illegal infiltrators from the country by checking the papers of each of them."
Prominent figures as well as garden variety trolls in the Hindu right-wing ecosystem followed Mishra in drawing a link between Muslims in Jahangirpuri and Bangladeshis and Rohingya. Fervent calls for the demolition of their properties were mixed with the allegations of encroaching on the land and living illegally.
Giving in to the demand and taking cue from the Madhya Pradesh government, the BJP-run North Delhi Municipal Corporation issued an order for demolition of encroachments in Jahangirpur. On the morning of April 20, the bulldozers moved in and began demolitions. However, the demolition had to be halted after a status quo order from the Supreme Court.
In the ongoing campaign, BJP leaders including South Delhi mayor Mukesh Suryan targeted Arvind Kejriwal demanding that the AAP Government in Delhi should take strict action against Rohingya and Bangladeshis.
"Kejriwal is giving free space, electricity and water to Rohingya who are extremist Muslims and indulge in violence and robbery," claimed Khemchand Sharma, the Delhi BJP spokesperson. "Kejriwal works to rehabilitate illegal Bangladeshis but cuts power and water supply to Hindus and Sikhs who have come from Afghanistan."
But the campaign effectively hit the headlines on Wednesday April 20 when instead of dispelling allegations about itself, the top leadership of AAP launched a similar tirade against BJP. In the process, the party essentially added to the disinformation and hate campaign against Muslims of Jahangirpuri and also Rohingya refugees.
"BJP has settled these Bangladeshis and Rohingyas in Delhi in order to foment riots. If one wants to know when the BJP plans to create the next riot, ask them to give a list of places where they have settled Bangladeshis and Rohingyas," said Raghav Chadda, the party's national convenor.
"It is the work of BJP who have illegally placed Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslims in different parts of the country to provoke riots," Atishi, the AAP's MLA from Kalkaji, said.
Manish Sisodia, the Deputy Chief Minister added on to the insinuations claiming "if the BJP reveals how many Rohingya and Bangladeshis have settled and where, we will know where the next riot will happen."
But Rohingya activists dismissed the labelling of the community as rioters. "We condemn this campaign that is being run in the media. We are peace loving and law abiding people. We are not here by choice and will go back to Myanmar once the situation improves," said Sabber Kyaw Min, director of the Rohingya Human Rights Initiative in New Delhi.
The Central Government informed the parliament in 2017 that an estimated 40,000 Rohingya are living in the country. According to media reports, as many as half of them possess valid UNHCR cards.
India does not have a refugee policy and is neither a signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. However, a recent statement by Human Rights Watch said India is bound to respect "the prohibition of refoulement [which] has become a norm of customary international law".
Back in Jahangirpuri, residents BOOM spoke to dismissed the allegations of being illegal foreigners claiming they are rightful citizens of the country.
Most of the Muslim residents here are originally from West Bengal. They moved to Delhi in the 60s and first settled in slum dwellings on the banks of the Yamuna. In the mid-70s, the government relocated them to Jahangirpuri.
"Indra Gandhi brought us here from Yamuna. Most people here are rag pickers or rickshaw pullers," says Sheikh Babloo. "There was no talk of Bangladesh ever. But since Modi came to power, people are dividing on Hindu-Muslim lines. Now they want to declare us Bangladeshis."
Rasheeda, whose husband Sheikh Farid lost his cart to the April 20 demolition drive, asked rhetorically: "Does Kolkata fall in Bangladesh?"
The family has preserved electoral identity cards of everyone including their grandfather and father like prized possessions. "This (allegations of being Rohingya and Bangladeshis) is a drama being played by Godi media. The main issue is that we are Muslim," says Farid.
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