India’s Gurugram, a busy hub near Delhi, sees communal violence, shocking residents

The violence first broke out in neighbouring Nuh, after Hindus and Muslims clashed during a religious procession by Hindu nationalist groups Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Nirmala Ganapathy

Nirmala Ganapathy

The Straits Times


People search through the rubble of a scrap shop that was vandalised by a mob following clashes between Hindus and Muslims. PHOTO: REUTERS/THE STRAITS TIMES

August 3, 2023

NEW DELHI – Information technology and commercial hub Gurugram, where top multinational companies like Google, Microsoft and American Express have offices, was on edge after a spillover of communal tensions from a neighbouring district.

The violence first broke out in neighbouring Nuh on Monday after Hindus and Muslims clashed during a religious procession by Hindu nationalist groups Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Hundreds of Hindus taking part in the procession reportedly took refuge in a temple, which was surrounded by a violent mob.

Five were left dead in the Muslim-dominated district, including two police officers and a Bajrang Dal activist.

The outbreak subsequently spread northward to Gurugram, which is a little over 20km south of capital city Delhi.

Dozens of small shops and cars were set ablaze or vandalised, as mobs targeted businesses mostly owned by Muslims – a minority in the district – over Monday and Tuesday.

Mr Ashaphak, whose name has only one word, hid in a neighbouring building as a mob went on a rampage through his eatery Avan Dhaba, breaking windows and furniture, in Badhshahpur on Tuesday.

“They were looking for me. All the boys I employ are Hindus. I serve only vegetarian food. But they still targeted me,” said Mr Ashaphak, who has since fled Gurugram after filing a case at the local police station nearby.

He remains agitated. “I will stay in my village in Uttar Pradesh for now. I am scared for my life. But I want justice.”

An armed mob about 100-strong attacked a mosque in Gurugram, setting it on fire. Deputy Imam Mohammad Saad was later found dead with multiple stab wounds.

The 22-year-old mosque official was supposed to return home later that day to his village in the state of Bihar, some 1,000km away, and had assured his family that he was safe, his brother told local media.

“He reassured me that the situation was normal, as at least two police vehicles had been deployed outside the mosque,” his brother Shadaab Anwar, 30, told The Indian Express newspaper.

People stand in front of an eatery after it was vandalised by a mob. PHOTO: REUTERS

Gurugram MP and junior federal minister Rao Inderjit Singh on Tuesday said provocation in Nuh had come from both Hindus and Muslims. “Who goes to a procession carrying swords or sticks? This is wrong. A provocation took place from this side too. I am not saying there was no provocation from the other side,” he told The Indian Express.

Gurugram, which is also known as Gurgaon, is dotted with ultra-luxury residences, offices of top multinational companies, dozens of malls and top-rated golf courses.

The district in Haryana state is also home to slums and villages, where thousands of migrant workers live while taking on roles such as maids, cooks and security guards.

With a population of 1.2 million people, Gurugram city – the core of the district and part of the national capital region – is a destination for upwardly mobile Indians who live in the dozens of secure gated societies.

Which was why Mr Pulak Agarwal, an entrepreneur who is the chief executive of Inchpaper, an e-commerce venture, was shocked to see violence unfold just outside his home on Tuesday. A row of shops was set on fire in a village next to his luxury, high-rise residential complex of 900 residences.

“It is very shocking that something like this happened in Gurgaon. I saw the fires as people vandalised a row of shops including butcher and food joints (on Tuesday night),” said Mr Agarwal who uploaded a picture to his Twitter account.

“A riot like this has spread to Gurgaon for the first time (as far as I know). In this village outside, there was no Hindu-Muslim hostility. Everyone was living peacefully.”

The household help and housekeeping staff in his high-rise apartment are migrant workers living in the vicinity, and most have fled to Delhi, fearing further violence, he said.

Police officials said the situation was back to “normal” on Wednesday, and all educational institutions and offices were operating. But traffic was lighter than usual.

Many schools switched to online classes, and many offices also issued work-from-home orders to employees on Wednesday.

“I will not send my child to school this week. I am not taking any chances,” said a mother, who did not want to be named.

So far, 116 people have been arrested for the Haryana violence, said its Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.

“The overall situation in the state is normal,” he said, as he appealed to the public “to maintain peace, calm and brotherhood”. He has also sought additional police troops.

Amid the uneasy calm, members of the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad have carried out protests in Delhi against the Haryana violence.

Back in Gurugram, some migrant workers fled their houses in fear of further violence, while those who remain are gripped by fear, despite assurances from the local authorities that they are working to prevent further violence.

“I don’t know what is happening. We were all living peacefully. Now suddenly there is all this violence,” said Ms Labli Khatoum, a cook whose 18-year-old son has been accompanying her to and from work as a safety measure.

“My family says it’s not safe for me to go to work on my own,” she added.

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