Jamia Nagar in New Delhi has been vilified in certain sections of the mainstream press and called ‘mini-Pakistan’ and ‘unsafe for Hindus.’ This TCN exclusive breaks the myth about the area by recounting stories of communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims living in the area.
Shadab Farooq | TwoCircles.net
NEW DELHI — Every morning, 32-year-old Pawan Kumar Tiwari, the caretaker of Shiv Shakti Mandir in Jamia Nagar, New Delhi gets up to clean the temple area, and plays the morning bhajan on loud speakers while waiting for Mohammed Atif (36), a friend of Pawan’s and a daily visitor of the temple, to arrive.
Atif daily walks to the Yamuna Ghat in the morning. The way to ghat goes through the temple. “To enter the ghat, open the temple gate”, Pawan jokes.
The temple is located on the banks of the Yamuna river in Geeta colony near Okhla Head.
The duo boat along the river Yamuna when Atif arrives after performing the Fajr prayers. Pawan operates a boat service around the ghat for 50 rupees per round but the service is free for Atif.
“We never knew who was a Muslim or who was a Hindu in school. We just knew individuals by their names, never by their identities,” said Pawan.
“My father came here in Jamia Nagar in 1957 when there were only a few buildings in the region and most of the land was jungle,” recalls Pawan’s father, Asa Ram Tiwari (68), the temple’s priest. “We have never witnessed communal unrest in the neighborhood. Residents live in peace and harmony.”
Following the Batla House incident, the area was vilified by the mainstream media. Since then, the area has been branded as “mini pakistan,” a term some section of the mainstream press use for Muslim neighbourhoods in India.
“All of this is false and part of a politically motivated agenda to separate us and make us fight,” said Vijay Pal (50), owner of Kunal Photo Studio in Okhla Main Market.
Meherbaan (30), who owns a mechanic shop, makes sure to send Vijay Pal a cup of tea and a biscuit before he opens the studio shutter. “Meherbaan does it on a daily basis as if it were a ritual,” acknowledges Vijay Pal with a smile.
When Vijay Pal was attending his customers, he recalled how Jan Mohammed, Vijay’s class monitor in class 5, came to help save a temple in Nai Basti, Okhla Head, after a false report circulated some years ago in the neighborhood that some Hindus had entered a mosque in Jasola, near Jamia Nagar and some Muslims had gathered around the temple. “He stayed tall and in front and made everyone calm,” Vijay said.
“There have been incidents where cab drivers and autos have refused pickup and drop service to the area,” Mashkoor Alam, a media studies student at Jamia Millia Islamia told TwoCircles.net.
“This was witnessed during the anti-CAA protests when drivers mostly refused to come in the area, calling it ‘mini-pakistan’ and unsafe,” he said.
Mashkoor goes on to say that the vilification increased after Jamia students organized a march to overthrow the controversial citizenship law.
“Bring those people to me who say Jamia Nagar is unsafe for Hindus,” said Kamlesh, a 61-year-old Hindu woman who has lived in Jamia Nagar for 45 years and runs a small shop near Tikona Park. “In the fifteen years that I have worked at this shop, I have never felt fear, only love,” she said.
“In reality, Muslims are doing everything to safeguard us and our religious sites”, said Sweety (28), a Hindu resident of Noor Nagar, where a fifty year old temple was given protection by the Delhi High Court with the help of Muslim residents of the area.
Another Noor Nagar inhabitant, Syed Faizul Azeem (Arshi), was the one who filed the plea with the Delhi high court. “There is a growing divide between the two communities (in the country),” Faizul remarked, “but all sides should make efforts for peace.”
“There will be various attempts to break the bonding,” Faizul said, “But we must all ensure that it never breaks.”
According to Vijay, the Muslim community’s assistance in protecting the temple, was appreciated by people.
“There are hundreds of examples of love between the two communities,” said Ashok Kumar Mehta (42), better known as Ashok Bhai, who runs a tea shop near Jamia Millia Islamia, a popular hangout for university students and locals.
“I have been running this business for the past 22 years, and it’s growing because of the love and harmony between us.”
“They may call Jamia Nagar whatever they want,” Vijay said. “But it was Meherbaan and Junaid who came to my rescue when false information was spread, resulting in a stampede-like situation in several sections of Delhi during the anti-CAA/NRC protest,” he said. “Meherbaan came over and instructed me to close the shutter and go inside. He told me ‘we will keep an eye on you outside and won’t let anything happen to you.’”
Shadab Farooq is TCN SEED-Fellow. He tweets at @shadabfarooq_