Aftermath of riots

Scarred & scared

Print edition : March 27, 2020

This young boy is mourning next to the body of his father, Muddasir Khan, who died of his injuries after being wounded in the violence that engulfed North East Delhi, on February 27. Photo: ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

In the aftermath of arson at a tyre market, on February 26. Photo: ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

Huddled together in the back of a mini truck, a group of Muslims moves to safety in North East Delhi on February 26. Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

A family sits next to what used to be its home before a mob burnt it down. In North East Delhi on February 28. Photo: ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

In Shiv Vihar, which took the worst hit in the violence, homes such as this one, identified as Hindu by “Jai Shri Ram” written on pieces of paper stuck on its facade, were left unscathed. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

A vandalised street in North East Delhi. Photo: Altaf Qadri/AP

"Frontline" walks through the violence-hit areas in North East Delhi, where all that remains after the acts of hate are wounded bodies and psyches.

Purge of secularism

February 26, 2020, 10:30 a.m. Outside the Maujpur Metro station near Kabir Nagar, there is not a soul on the road. No vehicular traffic, no pedestrians, just a long row of policemen with stern visages, holding guns and batons. By the side of the road are burnt remains of a motorcycle and a car and a thousand pieces of wood, cardboard, tyres, iron railings and concrete lattice screens, some of them still smouldering. They have probably been dumped aside to allow for the free movement of traffic, of which there is none. Fear hangs thick in the air. I am on my way to Gokulpuri, a little more than a kilometre away, but the billows of smoke visible in the sky from Kabir Nagar portend disaster. As one black billow rises and fades into the sky, another makes its appearance. It goes on and on endlessly. Rows of tyre shops have been set afire in Gokulpuri, as I discover half an hour later.

It reminds 78-year-old Haji Yaqub of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. At that time, he had shifted with his family from Gokulpuri just hours before violence struck the colony. “Hundreds of Sikhs were butchered in this part of the city in 1984. The media did not even get to know of it for days. The businesses of Sikhs were set on fire. I saw similar hatred in the eyes of men here and decided to move my children and grandchildren against their wishes to Mustafabad,” he says. It was scarily prescient. Not many Muslim business establishments were left unscathed in Gokulpuri. Mostly tyre shops dealing in retreads, owned by Muslims from Bijnore and Muzaffarnagar, were set ablaze on the third and fourth days of the violence, which began on February 23. A mosque was burnt down, another attacked. The families that stayed behind paid the price; those who shifted to safety proved wise. It is the same story in neighbouring Shiv Vihar. Here Muslims and Hindus live in separate ghettoes. There are lanes in which Hindus prefer to live; some lanes in the middle are populated by Muslims. One would find an occasional Hindu house in a so-called Muslim lane or vice versa. But it did not help anyone. Says Nazish Khatoon, a resident of Gali 17 for the past 30 years: “We have never had any problem in Shiv Vihar. We used to live amicably with Hindus. Things changed after [Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader] Kapil Mishra’s speech. I did not hear the speech but got to know about it later when I suddenly found the atmosphere had become quite tense. It was Monday [February 24]. We were all at home. My father-in-law, a heart patient, was with me. We remained trapped at home the entire night as goons roamed around threatening to set our houses on fire. We bolted the doors and moved to the roof and called the police for help. They arrived only in the morning. The policemen brought us out of Shiv Vihar to Chaman Park. As soon as the police arrived, we ran out barefoot. The goons then took hold of the house and looted everything. We had saved something for our daughter’s wedding. There was my jewellery too. My husband makes rusk and bread. His savings were there too. They took everything and set the house on fire.”

Does she recognise any of the faces?

“I did not. They were probably outsiders. Most of them wore helmets and masks. Tell me who wears a helmet inside a house? It is only when your intention is to kill that you do not want to be recognised that you wear a helmet inside the house,” Afsana answers on behalf of Nazish. Afsana, too, was similarly dislocated from her house in Shiv Vihar Gali 21. “Our lives were saved by the police. But tell me, could not the same policemen who brought us out of our homes have reined in the goons? Were they so powerless that goondas holding pistols and batons scared them? No, the fact is, it was all a collusion. First the goons raised objectionable slogans. The Muslims got scared. Then the police escorted them out safely. Once the residents were out of their houses, they were looted and burnt. It was planned to the last detail. It could not be spontaneous,” she adds.

Barbarity in Ashok Nagar

In neighbouring Ashok Nagar, the scene was repeated to perfection. Masjid Maula Baksh has 11 shops around it. Ten shops belonged to Muslims, one to a Hindu. When this correspondent reached there on Sunday, March 1, one shop alone remained open; others were charred beyond recognition. All the Muslim shops were gutted. Behind the mosque is a lane where four Muslim families reside among 21 Hindu families. Each Muslim household was looted and burnt. All done systematically. And with precision.

“I understand they were all outsiders. I have lived here for 40 years and never faced any communal issues. Even when there was tension, our Hindu neighbours tried to calm us, help us. But how did the outsiders know the exact addresses of Muslims?” asks Shamshad, whose house and shop were reduced to ashes. “My son has a pavement shop selling footwear. He had brought fresh stock just a day earlier. The stuff was lying at home. The looters came, tried every all the shoes and chappals, and chose what they wanted. They also took other things like fridge, TV, cooking stove. They even took the vegetables and eggs we had stored when we first heard of the violence. Once they had robbed the house systematically for a couple of hours, they set it on fire. The police took us to the Jyoti Nagar police station when we complained of communal slogans being raised. While we sat at the station, our houses were looted, then burnt. We returned to find all our lifetime’s earnings gone. Tell me, could it have been possible without the support of the police? And that of the local people?” he says.

Mohammed Rashid, 43, who shifted to Delhi from Bulandshahr 12 years ago, reiterates the sentiments. His daughter is sitting for her Class 12 examination. Her textbooks, notebooks and admission card were part of the stuff burnt in his small house behind the masjid. “I am an autorickshaw driver. I was saving money for my daughter’s wedding and son’s admission to college. He is in Class 11. But nothing is left, not even a plate or a spoon. Who can rob with such patience and confidence without police support?” The only thing of note left behind was Rashid’s bike which was reduced to a mangled contraption. It had no petrol in it, he says. Six days after the incident, the police took it away as a piece of evidence of the violence.

Men in uniform

Incidentally, though the men in uniform were guilty of inaction or delayed action at best, or collusion, as proved by some authentic videos, at worst, some of them suffered too. The house of Border Security Force (BSF) jawan Mohammed Anees in Khajuri Khas was burgled and set on fire and retired Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) head constable Aish Mohamed’s house was gutted in Bhagirathi Vihar. In both cases, their respective forces compensated them. While the CRPF gave Mohammad a cheque for Rs.11 lakh, the BSF decided to rebuild Anees’ house and hand it over to him as a gift for his wedding, which was due in a few months.

Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a compensation of Rs.1 crore for the family of Delhi Police head constable Rattan Lal, who was slain in the line of duty. “Politics of hate and violence will not be tolerated. The common man of Delhi did not indulge in violence; outsiders, some political elements, are involved in it,” said Kejriwal.

The Delhi government was found wanting in the hour of crisis. As Irshad Alam, a resident of Mustafabad near Tayyaba Masjid, says: “We understand that the Delhi Police is under the Centre [Union Home Ministry]. The Chief Minister could not have arrested Kapil Mishra or stopped the first instance of violence. But if he had visited the area with his Ministers after the first day, a message would have gone down to everyone that the Chief Minister cared for them. Going to Raj Ghat [Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial] or asking for the Army to be deployed after three days was just political action without any honesty. Even the relief measures are inadequate.”

Status report

According to Rashid, Shamshad and others, there was no relief camp set up by the Delhi government and hardly any volunteers of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) reached in the first five days after the violence. “We have been sleeping at relatives’ places. But for how long? The government, Central or State, has not even set up a rehabilitation centre here,” says Rashid, in the presence of his neighbour Khurshid, whose house too was reduced to ashes.

The findings of a status report filed by a team of rights and political activists comprising Anjali Bhardwaj, Annie Raja, Poonam Kaushik, Geetanjali Krishna and Amrita Johri states: “Based on the ground situation and talking to affected people, it is clear that the Central and Delhi governments have failed in providing any modicum of relief to those affected or displaced by the recent spate of violence. In each place, families which had to abandon their homes due to violence are taking refuge with their relatives or have made private arrangements in different localities or are staying in temporary accommodation provided by private individuals.”

When the Delhi government did set up relief centres and accommodation at Eidgah in Mustafabad, it was way too far for residents of Ashok Nagar and Jafrabad. Going there was itself fraught with danger. It left the residents dependent on the goodwill of their relatives. On March 1, this correspondent found 15 people living cheek by jowl in a warehouse in Chaman Park. Similarly, families were cramped inside tiny rooms in the lanes of Karawal Nagar and Babu Nagar where the Islah Public School doubled as a medical centre.

Retaliatory attacks

However, the violence was not all one-sided. There were instances when the Muslim community retaliated. The Hanuman Mandir in Shiv Vihar was vandalised. At the clinic of Dr Lokendra Singh in Bhagirathi Vihar, every strip of medicine was singed by fire. Shakuntala Devi’s little shop nearby too was badly damaged. A few steps away in Brijpuri, a mob attacked Chaudhary Niwas, the abode of doctors, and burnt it down. As was the house of the Kaushiks. Says Vijay Kumar: “They came armed with a big drum of petrol and plastic bottles to set every thing on fire. Nobody died, but nothing is left of the house.”

The Kaushiks’ house is a minute’s walk from Farooqia Jama Masjid, which, too, was set ablaze. It was also close to the site of the protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) at Mustafabad. The site too was burnt. Although the women there escaped with their lives, the pandal, rugs, and banners were all used to makes balls of fire. The mosque and private residences near Arun Modern Public Senior Secondary School were not spared either. Two cars parked inside the school premises and the school bus were charred.

Rajdhani Public School and DPR Convent School in Shiv Vihar too bore the brunt of the attack and were, in fact, used as launch pads by goons to spread across the area, commit their crimes and retreat to safety. Says Delhi Minorities Commission Chairman Zafarul Islam Khan: “The schools share a common wall. The goons wore helmets and hid their faces. They remained there for 24 hours. They had arms and giant catapults, which they used to throw petrol bombs from the school roofs to other houses. They used heavy ropes to move from one school to another.” Also destroyed were a hundred hand-pulled carts and 11 tractors parked at the neighbouring Dr Ambedkar College.

The hate speech

Coming back to Maujpur, amid the silence of the grave, I find myself standing barely a couple of yards from the place where Kapil Mishra made his allegedly incendiary speech on February 23, giving the Delhi Police three days’ time to uproot the peaceful anti-CAA protesters from Chand Bagh, Jafrabad, Mustafabad and other places. The women had been raising their voices against the discriminatory law through entirely peaceful means for more than five weeks when Mishra threatened to take the law into his own hands. As Mishra spoke, Deputy Commissioner of Police (North East Delhi) Ved Prakash looked on making no attempt to cut short his hateful speech. It was the harbinger of what lay in store for the residents of North East Delhi.

The anti-CAA protesters were removed from Jafrabad by Tuesday (February 25) evening. Elsewhere in the area, men were murdered. Women were raped and murdered. Houses were looted and set afire. Mosques were desecrated everywhere, and in some cases, reduced to ashes. A temple was vandalised, a dargah consigned to flames. The elderly and people with disabilities discovered that the raging mob was unhindered by scruples of conscience. An 80-year-old woman, waiting for the birth of her grandchild, was burnt alive, and a differently abled man, who earned his living by selling mobile recharge coupons on his rickshaw in Chand Bagh, was taunted, mutilated and murdered. As many as 52 people lost their lives and more than 450 were injured. Hundreds of houses were looted and set ablaze.

Five days after the violence began, more than 30 bodies lay in mortuaries at Guru Tegh Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, where most of the victims were taken, and Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital. The much smaller facility, Al Hind Hospital in Mustafabad, acted as a first-aid centre, tending to patients before they were referred to bigger hospitals.

Judicial intervention

Getting to hospitals was itself no mean task in an area where purveyors of hate had spread to every highway and lane and merchants of death lurked around the corner. They initially obstructed ambulances trying to take the critically injured to GTB Hospital. It needed the intervention of the advocate Suroor Mander, who approached the Delhi High Court seeking police protection for ambulances carrying the victims of the violence.

In a rare move, the Delhi High Court heard the plea at midnight on February 25-26. The matter was heard at the residence of Justice S. Muralidhar, with Justice A.J. Bhambhani joining him. In the presence of Joint Commissioner Alok Kumar, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rajesh Deo, and the Delhi government’s counsel Sanjoy Ghose, the judges ordered the lice to provide safe passage for ambulances and fire engines and also send requisitions for adequate number of ambulances to private hospitals. It helped some victims.

GTB Hospital registered 20 deaths in the first three days of the violence, which started within half an hour of Mishra’s threat. Sunil Kumar, Medical Superintendent, said: “We received 189 patients till 11:30 on February 26. Seventeen patients were dead on arrival. Three died during treatment. We discharged most patients soon after admission, but as of Wednesday [February 26] afternoon, we had around 30 patients still.”

The figures soon rose to 50 odd, and the number of mortalities went up to 34 here. “Most patients were in the age group of 18 to 35 or 40,” he said, adding: “Around 70 per cent of the patients had bullet or stab injuries. In some cases they were serious, in others there was just a little graze.”

Even as doctors treated the impacted in GTB Hospital and LNJP Hospital, allegations flew thick of communal virus striking a section of the medical practitioners. A report filed by the non-governmental organisation Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) claimed: “Far from providing healing from the trauma that victims have faced, the public health system itself has ended up inflicting secondary trauma through acts of commission and omission.”

Some patients from Karawal Nagar and Bhajanpura, too, alleged that they had not been given copies of their treatment documents and medico-legal papers, which would help them get their treatment elsewhere. The JSA report also contended that the injured were released without proper documentation of serious injuries and discharged against their wishes without the extent of their problems being ascertained.

The allegation proved true when Mohammed Zubair of Chand Bagh was almost lynched near the mazaar at Bhajanpura. He suffered grievous injuries to his head, feet, legs, knees and back in a mob attack. He was taken to GTB Hospital in a dazed condition on February 23 as the first victim of the violence. However, the doctors discharged him after bandaging his open wounds and giving him some painkillers. They did not carry out investigations to find out the extent of his injuries, his head in particular. Nearly 11 days later, he told this correspondent: “I go to a private practitioner in Bara Hindu Rao for treatment. I will see if he can do an ultrasound or other scans there.”

Hate and distrust

By Divya Trivedi

A lone bike stood smouldering in the middle of the deserted highway. Remnants of the preceding hours’ rampage littered the main Wazirabad road. An ambulance drove around in loops looking for a way to get into the colonies through the blocked roads. A couple of teenaged boys hacked away at a burnt cycle rickshaw. They told me not to take a video of what they were doing.

This was beyond the Trans-Yamuna area, north of Shahdara, where, according to the Mishra Commission, the first murder during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots was recorded. Driving through these areas, it was hard not to draw parallels with the 1984 carnage, though one tried to dispel preconceived notions.

As one neared Karawal Nagar, one of the few Assembly seats the BJP won in the recently concluded election, a pattern of targeted destruction became apparent. There were a few vehicles, handcarts and cycle-rickshaws, all burnt and blackened. Not a single shop was open on the empty roads. The congested, low-income colonies with cheek-by-jowl houses were segregated according to religion. Jaats and Gujjars constituted most of the area’s old inhabitants, their lanes separated from Muslim colonies by grill gates, long pipelines, or numerous nullahs (canals) criss-crossing the area.

Karawal Nagar was where the BJP got most of its votes during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and Manoj Tiwari emerged a winner. In 2015, Kapil Mishra won the Assembly seat from there; he was still with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) then. In the three days and nights of violence that engulfed the area in February, Mishra was widely blamed for having instigated the mayhem. Frontline spoke to eyewitnesses and retraced the steps of the rioters to ascertain the sequence of events.

Chand Bagh

On February 23, soon after Mishra delivered his speech, a large group of communally charged youngsters marched towards the Syed Chand Baba Dargah on the main road in Chand Bagh. They jumped a five-foot-high divider from the Hindu-dominated side of Thana Road, chanting the Jai Shri Ram slogan. In videos that emerged, boys barely in their teens were seen being handed petrol bombs and tyres to throw on the dargah, which caught fire. Emboldened by the inaction of the policemen standing around, the crowd ran towards the road between Chand Bagh and Khajuri Khas.

The first house on that road belonged to Bhure Khan, who was just about for sit down to lunch with his family. When he first heard the commotion, he thought it was a minor scuffle that would soon die down. But as the crowd surged and the police fired tear gas shells at his house instead of controlling the crowd, he realised this was not going to end well. In a split-second decision, he gathered his family, about 15 of them including the aged and the young, and jumped terraces to escape to a relative’s house in another colony. When he came back a day later, his home was completely charred and the shops on the ground floor were burnt beyond repair. The fruit carts outside had been burnt along with the fruits. All vehicles belonging to the family were burnt. A shop right next door, however, was untouched.

Chand Bagh resembled a war zone. Along the Dayalpur main road that led to the Eastern Yamuna Canal, shops, houses and vehicles belonging to Muslims were charred beyond recognition. Debris, glass shards and chunks of bricks carpeted the roads, making it impossible for vehicles to move. One had to literally pick one’s way through now hazardous materials to walk a few paces to anywhere. Tension and fear hung in the air like gas that could combust at a moment’s notice. Entire lanes were barricaded behind corrugated sheets, ropes, tables and handcarts, and in all of them there were numerous stories of how rampaging mobs chased, attacked and abused Muslims. Victims told Frontline that the mobs did not comprise local residents but “outsiders” who had most probably come in from surrounding Hindu areas. Instead of helping the victims, policemen had run with the mobs, pitching in with tear gas shells, hand grenades and stones to target the victims.

Taj Mohd, a former councillor of Nehru Vihar, tried to organise a peace meeting by rallying around Hindu and Muslim neighbours. “Five hundred metres away from here, at Sherpur Chowk, a bunch of miscreants are sitting right now. Last night they were chanting religious slogans and provoking us: ‘Choodi pehenke baith gaye ho kya ghar pe? Baahar aao’ [Are you sitting at home wearing bangles? Come out!]. They were also intermittently firing guns. The armed forces are not removing them. Along with the DCP [Deputy Commissioner of Police], we conducted a peace march with a flag. But they did not listen to us even with the DCP present and instead raised slogans about Modi and mullah.” The peace march made its way back with great difficulty, its members fearing for their lives.

He said that earlier Gujjar and Muslim leaders sat together and sorted things out through dialogue whenever there were skirmishes between the communities. “But this time it is different. The rioters are not willing to listen to anybody,” he said, with terror in his voice. He was surrounded by local residents who narrated the horrors they had faced. A bullet hit a 15-year-old girl in the hand as she stood on her balcony. An e-rickshaw showroom was first emptied of computers and laptops and then set on fire. An Ashrafi pharmacy was burnt down. A mobile phone shop was looted, while a cloth shop was looted and burnt. Someone has had two sons missing since the violence started. And through it all, “the policemen sided with the Hindu rioters and fired tear gas shells at us”.

Between Chand Bagh and the main Karawal Nagar road lies the Eastern Yamuna Canal. A crowd of photographers, local BJP leaders and Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel stood around as three bare-chested men tried to pull out something from the garbage heaped in the canal. It was the body of Intelligence Bureau officer Ankit Sharma. His uncle, Sudhir Sharma, recognised him from his outstretched arm but persuaded the manual scavenger to show his face for confirmation. While the first reaction of all present was that he was murdered by a Muslim mob, statements made by his brother later contradicted the allegation. He said Ankit had been dragged away by a mob chanting Jai Shri Ram when he stepped out of the house to check on the situation.

Beyond the canal was a predominantly Hindu locality. More than 20 cars parked in a lot were burnt and damaged. The remains of a wedding feast being cooked were still simmering above it. The building next door, the tallest in the area, belonged to the now suspended AAP leader Tahir Hussain, who has since been arrested on charges of murdering Ankit Sharma. Chunks of bricks thrown from its terrace lined the street below like red snow. Govardhan Bhatt alleged there were drums of petrol stacked inside. He accused Hussain of facilitating the violence. While it was hard to verify the accusations one way or the other, what was certain was that Hussain would soon be made a scapegoat by the authorities, egged on by his persistent Hindu neighbours.

Mustafabad

In Chand Bagh, local residents asked this correspondent to visit Shiv Vihar, the place worst affected in the violence. As rumours flew thick and fast on the ground and on social media, I decide to check it out. About 2.5 km from Chand Bagh, Shiv Vihar is inside Mustafabad. Trucks full of Muslim men were fleeing the area with whatever belongings they had managed to salvage, giving an inkling of the state of terror in Shiv Vihar. A few young boys milling around with minor injuries on their bodies told Frontline that they could hear the sounds of firing until four in the morning. Some 40 of them had been injured in the stone-pelting that both sides had engaged in, they said. Three corpses lay under the street lights for hours, but the policemen did not let them touch the bodies. Three schools in the area were destroyed. The Arun Modern Public Senior Secondary School got burnt when the shop next door belonging to a Muslim was set on fire. But the principal and security guard of the school blamed Muslim mobs. “The parents of the Muslim children who study here ignited the fire,” the principal alleged. The school is close to the Farooqiya mosque, which was attacked and burnt. The mosque and the madrasa attached to it had supported protests against the CAA in the Brijpuri puliya close by. Hindu sentiment against the protesters was palpable in the reactions of the area’s Hindus, who said they had been “tolerating” the Muslims sitting on the roads but participating in arson was no way to protest. They seemed to be, wilfully or otherwise, unaware of the role of Hindu mobs in the arson.

Further away, two more schools were destroyed. As with every other property in the area, schools were also identified as either Hindu or Muslim. In a rare scene, the DRP Convent School on Brijpuri was being guarded by the police, who were not guarding anything or anyone else in the entire area. The policemen told Frontline that it was a Hindu school that was attacked by a Muslim mob. The Rajdhani Public Senior Secondary School next door, a “Muslim” school, was also attacked, but the policemen made light of it.

On the lane next to Rajdhani School, “Pal Dairy wali gali” in Shiv Vihar tiraha, everything was completely gutted. Behind it was Mahalakshmi Enclave, where Hindus alleged that Muslim mobs had engaged in violence. Gas cylinders thrown from the school buildings lay in gutters around their homes, and they showed cars that were burnt. An iron gate separates the colony from a Muslim neighbourhood. Residents said the local people were not involved in the violence and asserted that all the miscreants had come from outside. They accused the owner of Rajdhani Public School of facilitating the violence.

There was no way to check the veracity of the accusations and counter-accusations. The only certain thing is the veil of hatred and distrust that seemed to have descended over these localities. Everywhere, the police had failed to take cognisance of the targeted violence and stop armed miscreants from attacking Muslims. In this situation, some Muslims took it upon themselves to retaliate and protect their homes and neighbourhoods from rampaging mobs. This was a departure from the past, when the victims of targeted violence did not attempt armed self-defence. The retaliation seemed to have pushed back some Hindus and forced them to focus on guarding their own homes and families. Conversations with both groups affirmed this theory. But, as has become the norm, instead of booking the aggressors, the Delhi Police cracked down on the victims of the pogrom.

Engineered mayhem

By T.K. Rajalakshmi

The genesis of the engineered riots in parts of North East Delhi, which claimed over 50 lives, can be traced to the counter mobilisation against the protests against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). In the area where it all began, that is, beneath the Jafrabad-Maujpur-Babarpur metro, lies a narrow middle lane on a wide stretch of a road called Asha Ram Tyagi Marg. On one side is Seelampur and, on the other, Welcome Colony, demographically mixed areas though Muslims are in slightly larger numbers here compared with other areas in North East Delhi. On almost every pillar that props up the metro track was inscribed “No NRC” and “No CAA”, as were the boundary walls on either side of the road. Women had been sitting on protest on this lane for over a month, on the pattern of the Shaheen Bagh protests in South West Delhi.

Not far from the Seelampur police post, on one side of the pavement was a tent, also a site of anti-CAA protests. A little further down the road was Kardampuri, where, next to a nullah, a tent had been pitched for similar peaceful protests. These were all “mini Shaheen Baghs” that had cropped up in several areas of Delhi. Today, the tents lie all torn and tattered, evidence of the havoc that was unleashed on the unsuspecting women on February 23 and after. It was a Sunday, and as was the practice, women had congregated at the respective protest sites, including under the middle lane of the Jafrabad metro line.

On that same route was located a temple, around which a slightly belligerent crowd began to gather. Earlier in the day, BJP leader Kapil Mishra addressed a gathering and threatened to remove the protesters within three days if the police failed to do so. A few days earlier, the Bhim Army had given a call for a Bharat Bandh on February 23 to protest against the Supreme Court order on reservation. In solidarity with the call, the women who were sitting on the anti-CAA protest came onto the main road and sat in a dharna. As has been the case in each of these sit-ins, women formed the core of the protests. But they were flanked by men who stand by in support. The group that had gathered near the temple started pelting stones at the protesters on the stretch between Jafrabad and the Maujpur metro lines.

Frontline tried talking to Hindu shopkeepers and people near the temple about the events on that day. Barring one youngster who said briefly that the stone-pelting began from the temple side, no one was willing to give any details. There was no violence here other than stone-pelting.

A little further down the road is Kardampuri, where a volunteer of the Aman Ekta Committee set up by the Delhi Police said that had the police acted in time, the carnage would not have happened. Farzana, a resident of Kardampuri, said: “I saw it all happening from my terrace. They threw the blankets and mattresses of the protesters into the nullah. Vardivaaley saath mein thi [the men in uniform were with them]. Everyone saw, and everyone knows. Nothing can be done. It began from Maujpur, then Kardampuri. There were close to 3,000 women protesting on this entire road. There were around 500 pro-CAA people, but the police were with them.”

“Do you know why there was no violence in Chandni Chowk? It was because business there is controlled by Hindus,” said Farooq, a young man. In the riot-affected areas, he said, people were “just surviving”. The violence and the arson were targeted against Muslims, their lives, their homes and their property. At the T-point of Asha Ram Tyagi Marg, on the right is the Muslim-owned Gokulpuri tyre market, located hundred metres away from the police station. The entire market was gutted on the evening of February 24 evening. Further down was Shiv Vihar, the worst affected area in the riots. It was perhaps the burning Gokulpuri market, with the police nowhere in sight, that served as a wake-up call after the euphoria over the Donald Trump visit.

On the left of the T-point was Wazirabad Road. On this stretch, Bhajanpura, Yamuna Vihar and Khajuri Khas witnessed similar sagas of arson and murder. The Uttar Pradesh border is not far from Gokulpuri. A CRPF jawan on duty said the violence was the handiwork of “outsiders”. “I didn’t sleep for three nights continuously. Only today I have given my uniform to be washed. The clashes were preventable. The border is just across. Anyone can come and slip through unnoticed. After the sealing of the border, there has been little trouble. If the Army had not been called, there would have been much greater loss of life. Rioters took advantage of the situation,” he said. Personnel of the Sashastra Seema Bal, a paramilitary unit, stopped journalists from entering the area as some shops were still smouldering on February 27, two days after the arson.

Panic had set in. Kamil, a tabla player in Khajuri Khas, said there was an announcement during maghrib (the sunset prayer) that people should not step outside their homes. He also said that his area, which had more Muslims than Hindus, ensured that no miscreant entered or caused damage to the temple or the Hindu families living there. “We discouraged community members from congregating near the temple,” he said. He said the area was dominated by Gujjars, who were the original landowners. “Who started it at Jafrabad-Maujpur is not the issue. Why did it start at all? Do not the citizens of this country have a right to protest against a law they feel is bad for them?” he said. Kamil’s cousin’s home in Brahmapuri was looted.“It is being projected as if it was the fault of the minority community. How is it that there was no problem before Kapil Mishra gave his mischievous statement?” Kamil asked.

Mishra was recently given Y-grade security. No first information report has been filed against him for his hate speeches.

'We feel safe in the daytime'

All people in the riot-affected areas Frontline spoke to said they no longer felt safe on the road after sundown, especially the shortcuts along the open drains. Many Muslim families have shifted out from residential areas dominated by Hindus to places they feel are “safer”. Mohammad Yunous, a faculty member of Zakir Hussain College, shifted from his flat in Loni on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border despite being assured of safety by his Hindu neighbour. “I am from Bengal, from a family of teachers. My neighbour Deepak Kumar told me I had nothing to fear, but I did not feel confident after hearing about all these incidents in the area. I moved out immediately,” he told Frontline.

Zahir, who owns a belt shop, told Frontline that the riot was deliberately started: “Our fight was with the government, not with our neighbours. Police ne poori choot de di. Do din ke baad aaye. Karobar khatam ho gaya [The police gave the miscreants complete licence and arrived only two days later. Our livelihoods are ruined].

Frontline met a harassed-looking Rizwan on February 27 on the main road in Kardampuri. A resident of nearby Gokulpuri, he had sought refuge with some relatives in Kardampuri as his house was razed to the ground on February 24. He said: “They targeted us. I must have made 500 calls to the police. The standard response was ‘bhej rahein hain’ [we are sending]. My Hindu neighbours told me that the police did nothing and watched the loot happen. If they had fired one shot, all could have been saved. The jungle raj here is worse than in U.P.” Section 144 had been imposed in the area and a policeman waved him away, not allowing him to speak anymore. “Please do something about this,” he said before leaving.

The route to main Mustafabad, where Haji Younus of the AAP won with a huge margin, can be accessed through Brijpuri. Here shops belonging to both Hindus and Muslims were looted on February 25. Arun Modern Public Senior Secondary School, owned by a former Congress legislator, was attacked. So was the Farooqi mosque, next to which was an anti-CAA protest site on the culvert of a drain. “There was firing from both sides, close to 90 rounds maybe,” said Pyare Mohammad, a shoe-seller whose shop was looted and burnt. The office of property dealer Yoginder Singh on one side of Pyare Mohammad’s shop was untouched. On the other side, Qayoor Ali’s software shop, which opened into the school, was looted and burnt. The school, where most of the pupils are from the minority community, was partially gutted and the vehicles parked on its premises, including Yoginder Singh’s, were burnt.

According to Yoginder Singh, before the riots there had been apprehensions that the anti-CAA protests would lead to something untoward. He disapproves of the protests.

But Neetu Chaudhary, cashier of the partially gutted Arun Modern Public Senior Secondary School, did not agree. “We never had any problem with the anti-CAA protesters. In fact, they used to help the children form a queue after school hours as this road is very congested. They used to tone down their slogans and singing during school hours. I don’t understand how they are to blame for this. The attackers were wearing helmets and had covered themselves with damp blankets, probably to prevent getting singed,” she said, recalling what she had heard from the school’s watchman. (Women in other areas also said that rioters wore helmets.) “We tried all helplines. The police post at Dayalpur isn’t far away, but no one came. On phone they reassured us. The fire service came only the next day, on February 26, at 4 a.m. Everything had been burnt by then, including admit cards for the tenth and twelveth exams,” Neetu Chaudhary said. She also said that the home of one Muslim was attacked as people suspected there was firing from the rooftop. N.K. Automobile Repair showroom owned by a Muslim in the Hindu area of Brijpuri was set ablaze, but the adjoining shops were left untouched. “He must have set it on fire himself” was what majority community members had to say about it.

Rizwan, a tailor who was at Farooqi Mosque when the attack happened, said around a hundred people carried out the attack. The mosque had a madrasa too, he said, where young boys were staying. “We were saying our evening prayers when they attacked. One boy died there and then in the firing. We picked up another body from under the bridge. When we tried to pick up the injured, they fired at us. Our muezzin tried pleading with them, but to no avail. The police were also there, abusing us. Then both Imam Mufti Tahir and the muezzin were beaten up. The police were not there to protect us. We escaped from a back door into the lanes behind. The CCTV was broken so that there wouldn’t be any proof. I escaped miraculously,” he said.

At the Chaman Park Mustafabad relief camp, a young woman who had been a participant in the protest at Brijpuri, told Frontline that she and others took refuge in the mosque after a protest march on February 25 was attacked by a mob, and that they were witness to a young man being killed. “We did not utter a word lest we be exposed. But we saw our young men being beaten and burnt and thrown in the nullah,” she said, weeping as she recounted the horror. After everything quietened down the next day, the women left Brijpuri for Mustafabad.

“Where Muslims were in the majority, there was damage to some Hindu homes and property. Where they were in a minority, they were attacked, as in Shiv Vihar, Karawal Nagar and Khajuri Khas,” said Bilal Hashmi, a telecom service operator whom Frontline met at a Mustafabad relief camp. There were three police stations in a radius of 10 kilometres—Dayalpur-Mustafabad, Gokulpuri and Karawal Nagar—and none of them seemed to have responded to frantic calls for help.

'What does government want from us?'

Inside a house in Chaman Park of Mustafabad, which turned into a relief centre, at least a hundred women were huddled together with their children. They were residents of Shiv Vihar, where Muslims are numerically weak (30 per cent, while Hindus make up 70 per cent of the residents) compared with the main area of Mustafabad. Fatima, a woman in her twenties who had taken part in the anti-CAA protests was in tears as she recalled the ordeal: “The tension started on Monday, February 24. Around 10:30 a.m. we saw angry crowds on the street. There were residents from Johripur as well as outsiders. We saw them burst gas cylinders to blast open homes. There are eight Hindu homes in our lane. They said they’d save us, but we couldn’t believe them,” she said. Sadia, another young woman, had fled with 15 others of her family, the youngest a baby of five months. “We fled in the dead of night. We saw them attack homes with gas cylinders. Aakhir sarkar humse chahti kya hai? [What is it that the government wants from us?] Don’t we even have the right to protest?”

On February 23, several young women from Shiv Vihar had left home to join the women at the Brijpuri culvert. Twenty-something Shahana, a resident of Mustafabad Extension, was among them. At around 4 p.m., they marched to C-Block Yamuna Vihar and squatted on the main road. “We were 200 or so. We felt that as the government was not listening to us, we needed to take our protest to the main road where we would be seen and heard. Sirf Azaadi ke naarey lagaa rahe the [We were only shouting slogans of freedom]. We even did our namaaz on the road,” she said. Most anti-CAA sit-ins by women have been all-night affairs, and the young women of Mustafabad-Birjpuri-Shiv Vihar had wanted to do the same. But at around 10 p.m., Shahana said, a mob shouting “Jai Shri Ram” began approaching them. A car drove right up to where they were sitting and some people got off from it and began calling out loudly. “The stone-throwing started immediately. The police were there trying to push us into the green buses but not doing anything to stop the stone-pelting. One of the attackers came close to me and threatened me, ‘Ab tum log chamaaron ka saath dogey?’ [So now are you with the untouchables?]” she said. The reference was to Dalits and the Bhim Army’s call for a Bharat Bandh. Some 20 women ran towards the Farooqui mosque in Brijpuri for shelter, only to find that it, too, was under attack. It was here that the women saw some young men being killed by the rioters. “I saw them burn a young boy in the library that we had put up at the protest site,” said Shahana, sobbing. “I can’t forget that scene. The police were handing tear gas shells to the rioters. I have not been able to sleep since that day.” She said that the rioters fired at them from a school, which turned out to be Arun Modern School.

Shiv Vihar

Bilal Hashmi from Shiv Vihar said he was at home on February 24. Around noon he heard shouts of “ladai ho gayi hai” (fighting has started). “I saw people running towards Shiv Vihar, shouting that Muslims had been attacked. Stones were flying in all directions. Dono taraf se pathar baazi thi lekin Mussalmaan yahaan kam hain [there was stone-pelting from both sides but Muslims are fewer here],” he said. Hashmi moved to Mustafabad that very night with his family. So did Nizamuddin, whose wife, Raziya, said that she had to drag her aged mother-in-law who could not walk. The stone-pelting went on for 14 hours.

Most Muslim families in Shiv Vihar are from parts of western Uttar Pradesh such as Mainpuri, Etah, Etawah and Farookhabaad. They sold their land to settle in North East Delhi. Many have lived there for almost 15 to 20 years. “We have nowhere else to go to. We have no choice but to return to our homes. Aaj tak aisa manjar nahi dekha [We have never witnessed this kind of a terror before],” said Nizamuddin, originally from Bijnor. Ikram Malik, in whose house several families from Shiv Vihar had taken refuge, said that some 2,000 people had been displaced from that area alone. “Here in Indira Vihar, there are two Hindu families and a temple. They have nothing to fear from us. Many have gone back to the villages. Some are in the Babu Nagar area, sheltered by families like us,” he said.

When Frontline visited Shiv Vihar on February 27, it was like a ghost town. Barring paramilitary forces and the occasional stray dog, the streets were empty. Two schools, belonging to two different communities, had been burnt; a mosque, shops, cars and homes belonging to chiefly Muslims had been set ablaze. “The electricity supply was cut off. The violence began at 3 p.m. on February 24 and went on until 2 a.m. It was only on the 26th that we started coming out, but because of Section 144 we couldn’t assemble,” said Ashok Sharma, whose paint shop was set ablaze. “But the Muslims suffered greater losses. It was very wrong, whoever started this. Even in 1992 [the year the Babri Masjid was demolished], nothing happened. I called several times for the police. No one came. Kisi ka baap maraa, kisi ka beta gaya [someone had lost a father, someone a son],” he said.

Tabrez Alam narrowly escaped getting killed. “I was returning from Bhagirath Vihar. Some men shouting slogans accosted me with swords. I begged them to spare me. An old man appeared from nowhere and took me away. I owe my life to him,” he said.

Inside the desolate lanes of Shiv Vihar, some homes had pieces of paper with “Jai Shri Ram” inscribed on them stuck on front doors. These were untouched by the violence, lending credence to the theory that local residents helped rioters to pick out Muslim homes and target them for arson and looting. “Dalits in Johripur saved many Muslim families,” said Waasil, a social worker. Elsewhere, too, people said that Dalits came to the rescue of Muslims. But Omkar, a resident of phase 7 of Shiv Vihar, said that “the looters were jamadaars [cleaners belonging to the Scheduled Castes] from Johripur”, but the allegation could not be verified. He added that the violent mob had some 2,500 people and Muslims suffered the most. “For three-four days there was no police here. It was only after the RAF [Rapid Action Force] and the CRPF came that there is a feeling of safety,” he said. Around 350 Muslim homes had been targeted in Shiv Vihar alone. Many Muslims were convinced that there were many local residents in the mob from Jagdamba Colony.

Local hand

Muslim homes were set on fire and looted in Khajuri Khas Extension in Karawal Nagar Assembly constituency. Mehboob Alam and several others had sought refuge in Muslim-inhabited Chandu Nagar Colony. “The lane in which I live is a mixed locality. My house is the first one in the lane. They threw stones at us from neighbouring homes, and our Hindu neighbours watched it happen, doing nothing. I could identify all of them. They were local boys,” he said. When he finally got through to the police, they said they were coming in 10 minutes but never did. Two rows of Muslim homes, one on Karawal Nagar road and the other in Khajuri Khas Extension, were attacked. In the market, too, Muslim shops were singled out and burnt. Naved, an eyewitness, said that on February 23 two truckloads of people came shouting “Jai Shri Ram” and told everyone to down their shutters. “They first burnt Khan Communication and looted it and then started throwing stones at Sanjar Chicken Shop. The owner, Mumtaz, told them to stop. They vandalised his shop and burnt it,” he said. Salman, who owned a money remittance and tour and travel business, said his shop was looted in the night. “Who is going to compensate me?” he asked. Salma Begum, Asad, Saddam, Md Amir Hussain, Mohd Muna, Khatitullah, Rabina Khatoon, Mohd Razzaq, Md Shafi Alam, Najmool Khatoon, Mehtoon Khatoon, Amir, Abdul Mannan, Noor Salam, Mohd Amjad, Jamshida, Ruksana (both widows)—all narrated stories of destruction and loss. They said the attackers were all local residents led by local BJP leaders of E Block, lane number 4. A sub-inspector, Hardesh Kumar, was also involved, they alleged.

Politics and the place

Of the five Assembly constituencies in North East district, the violence was concentrated in the four contiguous constituencies of Karawal Nagar, Mustafabad, Gokalpur and Ghonda. In all four seats, where the proportion of Muslims is higher than the capital’s average, the votes in the recent Assembly election were completely polarised and almost equally divided between the AAP (48 per cent) and the the BJP (47.5 per cent). The seats were also equally divided, and the fight was closer than in the rest of the city. Compared with the Assembly election of 2015, the increase in the BJP’s vote share in 2020 in these four constituencies was phenomenal, from 33.7 per cent in 2015 to 47.5, a much higher gain than the average for the city (which saw an increase from 33 per cent to 39 per cent). This helped the BJP wrest Ghonda and Karawal Nagar from the AAP, and Mustafabad (which was with the BJP in 2015) was lost only because a major part of the Congress vote in 2015 moved to the AAP. (In 2015, the Congress got 31.7 per cent of the vote and came second after the BJP). In Gokalpur, while the AAP retained the seat, three-fourths of the Bahujan Samaj Party vote in 2015 (20.6 per cent) shifted to the BJP and only the remainder went to the AAP.

If the percentage increase in votes between 2015 and 2020 is considered, it can be seen that while the total number of votes went up by 11 per cent in these four constituencies, the BJP vote increased by 56.5 per cent and the increase was significant in all constituencies. The votes of the AAP actually fell in Ghonda and Karawal Nagar (owing to the Kapil Mishra effect as he had represented Karawal Nagar earlier) and this was compensated for by a massive increase in Mustafabad (by 98.5 per cent) and a more modest increase of 24.2 per cent in Gokalpur, where the BJP vote increased by 75.6 per cent. It seems clear that the BJP’s attempts to create a polarisation on religious lines during the Assembly election AAP obscured the otherwise the clear evidence that North East Delhi’s communal violence was just waiting to happen.

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