Tension hangs heavy in the air at the Jamia Faridya madrasa in Malviya Nagar's Begumpur locality in South Delhi. While the teachers and the caretaker of the madrasa talk in hushed voices inside the premises, a posse of policemen keep vigil right outside.
The incident on everyone's minds is the killing of an eight-year-old madrasa student, Mohammad Azeem. The child died during a scuffle between two groups of children, one from the madrasa and the other from the neighbouring Valmiki camp slum locality. All the children involved in the fight were in the age group of 8 to 13. Four boys were apprehended for the killing of Azeem and they are currently under observation in a correction home, according to the police.
Recounting the happenings from that day, one of the boys from the madrasa tells The Quint, “We were playing gilli-danda (a game) when the scuffle broke out. They came and started abusing us and pelting stones. Five boys held Azeem and hit him against the motorcycle parked there.”
In the aftermath of the incident, a complex web of conflicting narratives has been weaved around the death. While some have given it a communal angle, others have expressly denied it and instead drawn attention to a festering land dispute in the area.
‘It Wouldn't Have Happened If He Wasn’t From a Madrasa’
While indicating that the incident might not have been an out-and-out communal one, Muhammad Mumtaz Ali, a teacher at the madrasa, does point towards some religious tension in the area.
"If the child was not wearing a kurta pyjama and a skull cap, then this wouldn't have happened. If he was not from the madrasa, then it would not have happened," he tells The Quint, anger visible on his face.
Ali points out that the incident cannot be seen as just a “coincidence” in isolation, claiming the madrasa and its students have been subjected to harassment and abuse many times in the past by those living in the nearby Valmiki basti.
"“This is a well-planned conspiracy. The adults present (at the time of the incident) were encouraging (the accused children) to continue hitting them. Even before this, alcohol bottles have been thrown around here, they do drugs here; our children have been beaten up and their skullcaps have been thrown around by them.”" - Muhammad Mumtaz Ali to The QuintEchoes from Valmiki Basti: ‘There's No Hindu-Muslim Tension in the Area’
But the moment one exits the madrasa and enters the Valmiki basti, the narrative shifts.
Pradeep Kumar Verma, the father of one of the accused boys, asserts that there's no Hindu-Muslim tension in the area, as all those around him nod vigorously in agreement. Verma also refutes the claims by the madrasa authorities that people from Valmiki basti have thrown bottles and pelted stones at the madrasa.
"“This was only a fight among children and nothing more than that. It doesn’t have anything to do with religion. Bringing in that angle would be unfair.”" - Pradeep Kumar Verma to The QuintA Festering ‘Land Dispute’
Another narrative that has emerged is that of a 'land dispute’ between the two sides.
The dispute is centred around a lane linking the madrasa and the Valmiki basti, which can be used by both sides to enter each other’s respective localities. Complaining about how people from the basti create a nuisance by throwing alcohol bottles to their side and consuming drugs, the madrasa authorities want this passageway to be blocked. But residents of the Valmiki basti oppose such a move, saying that closing the lane would cause them inconvenience.
Saroj, a resident of the Valmiki basti, indicates that by painting the killing of Mohammed Azeem as a communal incident, the madrasa authorities are trying to ensure that the lane remains barricaded.
On the other hand, those in the madrasa argue that the those living in the basti want to be able to threaten and beat up children to make them leave the area so that they can take over the madrasa’s land.
Nevertheless, in the aftermath of Azeem’s killing, the police have barricaded the passageway for now to ensure that the tension in the area doesn’t flare up.
Police Deny Communal Angle
The police have sought to completely dismiss the communal angle to the killing, saying that according to the CCTV footage, it appears to have been a spur-of-the-moment scuffle rather than a pre-meditated killing. Vijay Kumar, DCP (south), also mentions the lack of external injuries as a sign that the death was accidental.
"“Those who are saying that it’s a communal incident are lying. The incident involved children who are 11 or 12 years old. How can it be said that it’s a communal incident? You can see the CCTV footage of the incident too. Also, the victim seems to have received internal injuries and not external injuries.”" - Vijay Kumar, DCP (south), to The Quint
Kumar does, however, point out that a land dispute exists in the Begumpur locality.
"The land under dispute belongs to the Delhi Wakf Board, most probably. And the Archaeological Survey of India also has claims over it. But both the maulana and the residents of the Valmiki basti don't have any claim over it. The maulana is only managing the property," he says.
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