March, 2019: Come sunset, and the cramped streets of Basai Darapur are taken over by “outsiders”. The locals — residents of this west Delhi urban village for several decades — stay indoors. Rowdy elements clog the streets, with liquor, meat and drugs available freely, they say.
A resident Jitendra Kumar shows a cut mark on his chin; a group attacked him recently with blade and snatched his mobile phone, he says.
Had it not been unavoidable, Dhruv Raj Tyagi wouldn’t have ventured out either. But his daughter complained of severe migraine. Around 1 am on intervening night of Saturday and Sunday, he took her to a nearby hospital on his scooty.
The rowdies stabbed him to death.
Dhruv’s cousin Ankit Tyagi says that while returning from the hospital, a group of young men standing on the street passed lewd remarks at the girl. Dhruv dropped her home and went back to confront the men, some 200 metres away in the same lane. Fearing a scuffle, the girl sent her younger brother Anmol to the spot.
She would see them both severely injured shortly later.
It was Riyaaz Ahmed, who first saw the wounded men lying in the street. “I was awake, waiting for sehri. When I heard the commotion and went out, I was shocked to see uncle lying in a pool of blood. Anmol was also bleeding profusely,” Ahmed told Swarajya.
Ahmed seated them on his scooter and took them to the hospital. After doctors referred them to a bigger hospital, Ahmed brought them home for a change of clothes.
In the ambulance, Dhruv dropped some information about what had unfolded.
“Uncle told me the confrontation got ugly. One of the men sent word inside the house that ‘samaan lekar aao‘ [fetch us things]. The women handed them a butchers’ knife,” says Riyaaz. “Uncle had been stabbed seven times. Anmol sustained a deep wound in his stomach. It looked like a hole.”
Dhruv, 51, died on Sunday morning. His son Anmol, 18, is battling for life.
The Moti Nagar police have arrested the alleged killers, Mohammad Alam and his father Jahangir Khan, and booked them under sections 302 (murder), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman). Two juveniles found involved, from the same family, have been sent to an observation home.
The murder involves two religious communities and tempers are running high.
Neighbours say Khan’s family are recent migrants from Bihar and live in a rented property. Khan is employed as a private security guard; his wife works as a housemaid.
“This is an industrial area. Thousands of labour class, in fact lower labour class people, live in Basai Darapur on rent. Most are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The influx has been immense in the last four-five years,” says Ahmed, who owns a real estate business.
Ahmed himself is a native of Bihar but his family shifted here back in the 1970s. His is among the few ‘local’ Muslim families in the area, and neighbours say they have been living peacefully for decades.
It is the ‘outsiders’ — and the residents distinctly identify them with their religion as ‘Momdons’ [lingo for Mohammedans] — that they collectively express a problem with.
Balendra Pratap, a local who runs a grocery shop opposite Khan’s house, says the migrants are heavily into crime. “The elder ones are still okay. But the young boys have no fear of law,” he says.
Pratap, who owns a two-room tenement above the shop, says his family perpetually lives in fear as “unke muh kaun lage” [who wants to get involved with them]. “They keep that big knife in their house,” he says.
His wife Geeta says the tenants constantly fight among themselves and there is never a moment of peace for her.
Inder Singh, who runs a grocery shop in the colony, says the migrants have children in dozens and it’s easy for the youths to get into crime. “Hindu youths, with two-three siblings, don’t do this. But these people feel answerable to none, not even their own parents,” he says. “You must have heard it was the women who threw the butchers’ knife from the window?”
Gopal Das, another resident, says that the way those youths infiltrate the streets at night is enough of a sign that they are criminals. “Kya koi sharif aadmi raat ko sadak par hota hai?” [Is the gentry to be found on streets at night?] he asks.
Ahmed’s neighbour Kiran Kharbanda clarifies there are no inter-religious tensions beyond the outsider-local conflict.
She says Ahmed’s family has close ties with hers, and indeed with the rest of the colony, and they celebrate all festivals together. “When we do jagran or Saraswati puja, it’s Ahmed’s house that supplies water and snacks. They are also the first to receive prasad,” she says. Ahmed says Dhruv was like family to him and had even helped him financially during a low phase. And that his death is a personal loss to him.
Everywhere around the village, residents complain of migrant influx and express fear of them. “Come here after seven. You will see rehris [carts] all around selling meat. They openly drink in the streets and brazenly keep the bottles on the carts. They go around on motorcycles and create a ruckus. And if they find someone walking alone, they attack him in packs and rob him,” says Shubham Singh Tyagi, a shopkeeper. “Only last month, they attacked a sardar in the street next to ours.”
Residents have no trust in the police. They say the police encourage them. “Sabke paise bandhe hain [police takes money from them],” says Santosh Gupta, who knew Dhruv well, and called him “Raju”.
“We have given several written complaints about their behaviour but nothing has come out of it. At times, the cops catch them but release them after taking bribe,” he says.
Santosh says the police are well aware of all that’s happening. “Why can’t they patrol streets in the night and stop these goons from standing in groups? The truth is, police exist only to make money and these goons seem to have it in abundance,” he says.
In absence of police protection, the residents have adjusted their routine to avoid these “goons”. They wrap up their day early, don’t allow women to step out after evening, go out in groups for urgent errands and avoid certain routes.
“My work requires me to carry cash and I am always very, very careful and wary of going out after evening. I don’t let my sisters step out alone,” says Ahmed.
“Dar kar hi rehna padta hai [we are forced to live in fear],” says Santosh. “Raju thode dabang they [Dhruv Raj was a bit fearless]. He was one of the few men people looked up to and often went to for advice,” he adds.
After the shocking murder, the ‘migrant problem’ has taken an alarming and urgent tone. The residents have planned a meeting of all village representatives next week to decide on a solution themselves.
Anand Tyagi told Swarajya, “we have decided to hold a panchayat soon. We will ask for urgent police verification of all the tenants in the area. We will also appeal to people to not give rooms to Muslims — the criminal and petty types. They can live in tents.”
Ved Prakash Tyagi, father of Dhruv, agrees. “It’s a nice proposal,” he says.
Locals say the boycott of Muslim migrants is the only solution in sight as they must maintain Hindu character of the area.
“It’s a 500-year-old village. It was an all-Hindu village despite war with the Mughals,” says Deepak Arora, a resident. “When war broke out between Rajputs and Muslims, the Rajputana family shifted here. That’s how it got its name ‘basai‘, which means to settle down. Until these people came in droves, we had been living peacefully for years.”
The local Hindus here largely comprise Tomar Rajputs, Tyagi Brahmins, Baghels, Valmikis, Jaatavs and Sainis. Arora says that even until three-four decades ago, the village had remained a Hindu area despite some Muslim immigration from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. “The recent influx is fast changing this character,” says Arora.
Some residents blame the ruling Aam Aadmi Party for the unregulated migration and for “emboldening” them.
Naresh Kumar is a local Bharatiya Janata Party worker and his friend Rajeev Gupta is a Congress party worker. Both say they are political activists only for elections and their comments on AAP are made as locals.
“It’s common knowledge that it is these migrants and jhuggi-jhopdi [shanty] dwellers who are a core vote bank of AAP. These people are everywhere around Delhi now. AAP has emboldened them,” says Kumar, and goes on to share an incident of 2015.
“There is one Ramgarh colony of Punjabis nearby. The residents had got it cleared of carts and rehris. Soon after AAP came to power, these migrants grouped in hundreds and raised slogans of ‘hai hai‘,” says Kumar.
This correspondent visited Ramgarh colony and a resident testified to this. “We were all left terrified. Their rehris are back in business,” he said.
AAP’s Girish Soni is the current MLA from Madipur, in which the village falls.
Gupta and Kumar took this correspondent to a terrace and showed a sprawling vacant plot owned by Delhi Development Authority. Thickly covered by trees and bushes, the plot has become a den for criminals, they say. “They gather here, bring women, drink, eat meat and make a noise. All anti-social activities happen here. The police look the other way,” says Gupta.
Gupta says the migrants are so “emboldened” that a lane is now called Garhia colony, after Garhia in Bihar where they migrated from. On Muharram, they fill the area with green flags and take out a procession in thousands, he says. Every Friday, they throng the local mosque in hundreds for joint namaz.
“Look at their sense of entitlement,” says Kumar.
He says the locals feel threatened at this public display of their numbers and growing assertiveness.
Some residents blame it all on ‘greedy’ Hindus. “It is the Hindus, mostly Tomars and Tyagis, who have given their houses on rent to these folks and shifted elsewhere, leaving us to bear the brunt,” complains Balendra Pratap. “They carry out no verification, ask for no identity cards. When police comes, they bribe them into silence,” he adds. The average rent the migrants pay is around Rs 3,500-Rs 4,000, he informs.
Rajeev Gupta takes this correspondent through a narrow lane adjoining Khan’s and shows locks on several doors. “These are families that have sold off and moved out. About 10 per cent of the locals have shifted out in the last four-five years,” he says. Geeta Devi says if she had money, she would have left the godforsaken place too.
The migrants themselves were not willing to talk when this correspondent approached them in their one-room factories. They know they are more hated and unwanted right now than ever. In fact, several migrant families have shifted out temporarily, locking their rented accommodations. The accused’s family fled on Sunday itself.
But it’s not just that migrants feeling the heat of the simmering anger. Some locals too are in a fix.
Owner of a factory that operates in the colony, Tyagi by caste, was undecided on the call for mandatory police verification of migrants. He said he agreed in principle but wasn’t sure if that was possible. He suggested regular police patrols as solution.
When pointed out that it was wishful, Tyagi remained silent and went back to his work.
Tyagi needs the migrants for his business. Political parties need migrants for votes. House owners need them for rent. And perhaps this is why the spirited calls for boycott will fade away soon, as they have in several other Delhi pockets after similar gruesome crimes.