Walking the talk this Ramzan: Exchanging, thoughts, ideas and fellowship In these communally sensitive times, conversation is the key to camaraderie

22, Apr 2022 | Shaba

It was a Friday, and I decided to go out for a walk, all alone to try and have a much-needed conversation with people in my neighbourhood. I’ve never talked to people I barely know but I wanted to try. Conversations are what will help encourage camaraderie, and peace in these communally sensitive times.

“It’s going to be a long day,” I thought to myself, as I walked down the street, to reach the main road. There’s a juice shop here that I have been visiting daily for some days now. The other day I saw two police officers unplugging the juicer machine and behaving inhumanly with the workers. I tried to record it on my phone but my friend said, “Stop it and move, from here we’ll drink juice another day.”

CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program is a unique initiative aiming to give voice and agency to the young, from among the communities with whom we work closely. These presently include migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis and forest workers. CJP Fellows report on issues closest to their hearts and home, and are making impactful change every day. We hope to expand this to include far reaching ethnicities, diverse genders, Muslim artisans, sanitation workers and manual scavengers. Our raison d’etre is to dot India’s vast landscape with the committed human rights workers who carry in their hearts, Constitutional values, to transform India into what our nation’s founders dreamt it to be. Please Donate Now to increase the band of CJP Grassroot Fellows.

But I was curious to know what happened that day and asked the juice seller. He smiled when he saw me and said, “Ma’am you didn’t stop here that day?” I told him why, and ordered a medium sized glass and when I scanned the shop’s code to pay online, I saw his name is Pawan Kumar. I asked him, “Why were the cops bothering you?” He ignored me once because there’s a crowd he has to serve. I sipped slowly so that I could wait and get an answer. “What happened that day?” I asked again. He replied in a hesitating manner once the crowd of customers had thinned. “The cops come here quite often,” I could see fear on his face. His co-worker and friend Kamlesh said they were just 16-years-old and did not want to get into any trouble.

I then just kept chatting about work, how many glasses they sold in a day etc. He replied sweetly that on a good day they sell as many as 100. “Those days I get enough to feed my family,” he said, returning to work. I walked to the next street to buy coconuts. I know this shop well but haven’t spoken to the owner. I decided to change that and broke the ice saying, “Bhaiya, yesterday you gave me a coconut for Rs 60. It was so expensive that my mother yelled at me. So today you have to give me some discount.” He laughed and said, “It’s the best quality nariyal beta, in this area you’ll never have this taste. It is from Bangalore.” We both had a good laugh and he shared that the price rise had affected everyone. He remembered my family being regular customers too. He told me he hails from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh but has been living in Delhi with his family for a long time. Thanks to inflation he too is facing a financial crisis.

His daughters and wife bring him lunch every day, he said and then proceeded to explain why the prices are so high. “We bought stock at a high price too. Now the [Delhi] government says it is giving us free water and electricity but everything is pricey. They are smart and use our tax money for these subsidies too,” he said. He felt that the middle class is not happy. “We can’t afford proper food for our families,” he said so softly that I had to strain to hear him. I sensed he too was afraid like the first vendor I talked to.

These vendors, the aam admi or ordinary citizens on the streets of Delhi, are afraid to share the problems they are facing in real life situations. They are afraid to ask who’s responsible for it.

On my way home I met my aunt Huma Mehraj, a lady with a pleasant and comforting demeanour. She’s in her 30s and hails from Karnal, Haryana, and has been living in Delhi in a rented accommodation for years. I wanted to ask her many things too but she looked worried. She told me she was stressed as her father-in-law was unwell and needed a bypass surgery. “The hospital has already charged Rs 2 lakh, now we don’t have enough time and amount to manage,” she said. I realised the lockdown and the after effects of the communal unrest had deeply affected the local economy. We once lived on the same street two years ago when riots broke out in North East Delhi. She recalled, “Those days everybody’s concern was to protect their families. You can remember our mohalla community decided to build gates on the main streets so that we can protect the area and men did night duty to protect their families?” I did remember.

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I realised the main goal is the same for everyone irrespective of religion. Yet so many people are so egoistic about their religion. “Nobody’s helping each other,” she said adding, “Back then, we shared food, chai, midnight sabhas happily. Now this place has changed a lot.” I too realised people lack empathy and many keep religion above everything. However, there’s hope for the future only when they change that and reduce the distance between communities. My aunt said she was worried about the present and the future, “we are afraid of each other.” I comforted her and walked her home.

Later, I spoke to my friend Monica, a student like me. We have been friends for about four years. She lives in Sonia Vihar with her siblings  and mother and recalled, “Every middle-class family here suffered in the communal riots of 2020.” Monica, however, is practical and says we need to move on and, “We stand for each other, and respect each other’s religion as we do our own. Then there’s hope for brotherhood again.” She said her neighbourhood is mostly inhabited by the Hindu community so they “feel much safer.”

She’s spiritual and said April “depicts unity in diversity as both communities are fasting together.” I realised that while our views, perceptions, and problems are different, what all of us want is the same: Peace.

Ramadan and chaitra navratri came together, as did other festivals. If you pass my street in the evening the aroma of pakoras, fruit chaat, biryani and other yummy feasts wafts in the air. In the Hindu neighbourhood evening worship fills the air with melodious bhajans at the same time. Children of both communities play together. The most beautiful thing I’ve noticed here, is that there’s so much stress of daily life and its struggle among both of communities, but no one has stopped their children from playing with their Hindu or Muslim friends. This is the sign of hope and peace we need.

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by Shaba, who is documenting lives, conversations around Delhi’s neighbourhoods.

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Shaba

Shaba’s family lived in Garhi Pukhta a small town in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Soon after her birth, they moved to Delhi to give her a good life. She hails from a conservative clan where a girl’s education is not considered a priority.

Shaba, who prefers to only use her first name, says she is lucky to have parents who support her. She wants to be a teacher and is pursuing a Diploma in Elementary Education and has also passed the Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET).

Shaba also wants to work to make education accessible to the underprivileged populations, and be part of a system that works towards a welfare state.

Her top priority is to make her parents proud.


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