“Drugs or liquor,” asked a teenager, smoking pot with his friends on a dark and cloudy July night in a Delhi park, boasting how they could freely use the sprawling green space for “anything” they want….writes Nikhil M. Babu
There was no security around and the park — like most city parks — was also not lit properly to make it safe for evening or night strollers.
The reporter visited three DDA-maintained parks after sundown — the scenes of a double-murder, the lynching of a 20-year-old man, and an attack on a freelance woman scribe — and found conditions the same even after the three chilling crimes in the past four months raised questions about the safety of Delhi’s public spaces.
It was past 10 p.m.
Shahnawaz, 19, also called “Raja”, was sitting in a circle with six friends, giggling aloud and playing cards in east Delhi’s Sanjay Lake park where 20-year-old Sanjay Giri was lynched by a group of people for allegedly molesting a four-year-old girl.
Shahnawaz was interrupted by a friend’s tap on his shoulder who brought a small marijuana-filled pipe to his mouth. Raja took a drag with cupped hands. “Everything goes on here. Ganja, smack drugs or liquor,” he said, extending the smoking pipe and offering a drag.
“Sometimes police come and guards don’t check at this time,” said one of Raja’s friends, tasked with keeping watch in case the police, or someone else, arrived on the scene.
There were at least three groups of people in the park.
A section of the boundary wall was broken and the barbed wire had been pulled down. Bottles of beer and alcohol, some broken and others still intact, were strewn around. Empty packets GoCone, a pre-rolled paper used chiefly for smoking marijuana, were spread all over.
During the one hour spent at the park, none of the guards patrolled the area. At least 11 guards are tasked with guarding the park during the day and eight at night — in three shifts.
People at a nearby tea stall shared tales about how these “miscreants” would snatch mobile phones and assault people around the park where Giri was beaten to death on June 8.
The accusation that Giri molested a minor has not been proven and no one has been arrested in the lynching case so far.
The mother of the four-year-old alleged victim denied her daughter was molested. “It’s you people (the media) who told twisted stories,” she said, closing the door and refusing to speak.
Giri’s father, Tirubhuvan, 50, said his son fell victim to the wrath of the “addicts” who occupy the park at night.
“Tell me what are these people doing in the park at night,” he asked, sitting outside his two-room under-construction house near the park.
At the Picnic Hut in Ashok Vihar in north Delhi, 45-year-old freelance journalist Aparna Kalra was attacked in April.
She said she gone for an evening stroll when she was pushed to the ground and attacked apparently by a drunk person. She had to undergo a major surgery.
More than two months later, things have not changed much.
Bharat Singh, 53, a resident, is a regular evening walker. “After the (Kalra) incident, a couple of lights worked. Now, even those have stopped. A couple of months back, I was sitting in the park when I heard a woman shouting. By the time I reached her, two youths had snatched her phone and fled. This happens often.”
As other visitors also voiced security concerns, a group of boys playing cards, taking swigs of beer and liquor were sitting in another park nearby – a smaller park.
A senior police officer said that Kalra’s was the only criminal incident reported from the two parks. “There are no drinking or other problems. There are guards and regular police patrol.”
At Rajiv Gandhi Swarnjayanti Park — also called Japanese Park — in Rohini, two youths were stabbed to death on February 14.
Four months hence, the place still appears still unsafe. A guard at the parking lot of the park told this correspondent he could come to drink or be with his girlfriend after 8 p.m. when every other person has left the park.
“If it’s only for drinking, then you don’t have to wait till night, you can drink now.”
The guard confided that there was no fixed “fee” and one can give whatever one feels like. “Our supervisor pays the police, so that they don’t come inside the park for checking.”
But DDA denies safety concerns without giving any explanation of how crimes and other misuse happen in parks under its jurisdiction.
Udai Pratap Singh, vice chairman of Delhi Development Authority (DDA), said blithely that they conduct “regular inspections” and there was a web system in which anyone can register complaints.
The Public Relations Department of the civic body said security of parks was mostly outsourced and every park was inspected twice a day by officers of the rank of junior engineer and assistant director.