IN 2002, the photograph of Qutbuddin Ansari pleading for mercy with fear-ridden face and folded hands became the defining image of the Gujarat massacre. This time it is Mohammed Zubair, a 37-year-old man who was probably the first victim of organised violence in North East Delhi. A Reuters’ photograph of a man hunched on the road with goons raining blows on him with batons, stumps, hockey sticks and iron rods went viral. In the picture, Zubair was shown profusely bleeding from his head and hands even as two rioters had placed their foot on his back. A broken cricket stump was lying next to the distraught victim as other men stood around him to beat him. Many who saw the photograph concluded that the thinly bearded man probably paid with his life in the face of unbridled aggression by a dozen men.
Zubair, though, lived to tell the tale. Recuperating at his sister’s house in Inderlok, he told Frontline how the goons laid hands on him. “It was Monday. I was returning home in Chand Bagh after attending prayers at the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Qasabpura. After the ijtema, I bought some savouries and sweets near Eidgah. I had forgotten my mobile phone at home. When I reached Panchwa Pushta, I heard there was some communal tension in the area. If I had had my phone with me, my family would have told me to avoid the area. But there was no way of their getting across to me. And I had no clue about any Hindu-Muslim problem. I have lived in Chand Bagh for 17 years and have never faced a problem. I tried to reach home via Bhajanpura market thinking it is a crowded market, so it will be fine. But at that time I found the entire market was closed.
“It was around 3:30; I did not have a watch or mobile to remember the exact time. I was walking towards the market. There was a crowd which had gathered. People looked at me, but nobody said anything to me. At that time I could not make out whether they were Muslims or Hindus. I walked to the subway to go across the road towards Chand Bagh. As I was entering the subway, a man standing there advised me not to take the subway as it could be dangerous. He had a tilak on his forehead. I took him to be a religious man and believed him. So I resumed walking straight towards the mazaar. After walking barely a few metres I saw a stone-pelting mob. The mazaar had been burnt. I realised I had committed a mistake by walking in this direction. One of the stone-pelters saw me and rushed towards me. I held my ground and said, ‘What’s the problem? Why are you advancing towards me?’”
Even as Zubair uttered a couple of sentences to the attacker, a blow fell on his head, then another on his back. Within no time, he was surrounded by hate-filled young men who hit him hard. “A man hit me with a sword. Another man hit me with a stump. Some wore helmets, some used masks. They raised cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram’. They shouted, ‘Mullah ko maro…bolo Jai Shri Ram’. Nobody came forward to help me or protect me. No Hindu or Muslim stepped forward. The men kept hitting me. I fell unconscious from the blows.”
As Zubair lost his consciousness, the attackers believed he was almost dead. They decided to dispose of him. “I was not fully conscious, but I have a faint recollection of men holding me by the hands and feet. They shouted, ‘Throw him on the other side of the grill,’” recalls Zubair, adding, “They dumped me on the other side. I do not know for how long I stayed there. Next I heard somebody saying, ‘Let’s take him to the hospital, he is badly injured. He could die.’
“They took me to a hospital which I learned later was Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital. I remember hearing cries of pain from every direction in the hospital. The doctors asked me my name and my mobile number. I was not conscious enough to give them the mobile number. The doctors asked me who was with me. There was no one. The doctors then gave me some medicines, bandaged my head, hands and legs and discharged me. I told the doctors my head was hurt and that I was in a lot of pain. Meanwhile, I heard doctors telling each other, ‘We will have to chop off his hand.’ Thankfully, it was not about me, but some other patient. But, for a minute I was scared. The doctors discharged me and advised me to get the wound dressed every alternate day. I was not in a condition to walk. Somehow I borrowed somebody’s phone and managed to call my brother. Then my brother-in-law came to the hospital and took me to his house in Inderlok.”
Why was he attacked?
“I really have no clue. All I can say is that they did not attack me but my Muslim identity. I was wearing a skullcap and a salwar kameez at that time. With my cap, dress and beard, they realised I was a Muslim.”
Today, Zubair’s family members dress his wounds themselves as he cannot afford to go to a private practitioner often, and GTB Hospital is a bridge too far in tension-ridden North East Delhi. “I have a family. I have a wife and three kids. Somehow, I have to resume work. I was planning to start an air-cooler shop this summer. I do not know if that will be possible. I have bandages on my head, legs, knees. My ankles are still swollen. But everyone tells me I am just lucky to be alive.”