When humanity triumphed

Print edition : March 27, 2020

“Hum Ek Hain” (We are one) inscribed at a now demolished anti-CAA protest site on the Brijpuri nullah. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

A peace committee of Hindus and Muslims in Chandu Nagar, Karawal Nagar. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

There were heartwarming instances of communal harmony as citizens reached out to neighbours in distress regardless of religion.

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” Rising above the hate, violence and bigotry of the riots in North East Delhi, some men and women set aside sectarian loyalties to reinforce the idea of a pluralist India. At a time when stepping out meant risking death, a Sikh family in Gokulpuri helped save close to 80 lives. Much before the gurdwaras opened their doors to people of all faiths in need of food and shelter, Mohinder Singh and his son Inderjit transported Muslim families from the Hindu-dominated Gokulpuri to Kardam Puri, a couple of kilometres down the road, on their Bullet motorcycle and Scooty. In an hour, they had each made about 20 trips. They first took the women and children, at times carrying three passengers, and then returned to escort the men. While the women gave up their hijab, the boys had turbans tied around their heads by the Sikh family in order to protect their identities.

Mohinder Singh said: “I remember 1984 and saw a similar atmosphere developing. I have tragic memories of the time. When I rescued people, I did not think of [whether they were] Hindu or Muslim. I just rescued them. I was particularly worried for the children. They are all so innocent.”

Students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Delhi University, too, rushed to the gurdwaras to help with food and even counselling. The National Council of Churches in India not only condemned the violence but also urged churches and Christian organisations to step forward to help the victims irrespective of their faith. Volunteers of Messengers of Peace Mission, an Islamic organisation, distributed free kits of food, medicines and footwear to the victims. Impressive as the work of gurdwaras and churches was, it was the humanity displayed by the common citizen that shone like a beacon in dark times. On February 28, the first Friday after the riots, Hindu and Muslim boys joined hands to patrol the streets. They stood outside the Meena Masjid at Mustafabad to make sure no harm was done to the mosque, still locked after the first attack.

When the Farooqia Jama Masjid near Brijpuri Puliya was set on fire, Dr Rizwan Siddiqui and other residents moved around Brijpuri to ensure that there was no retaliatory violence. The young men took turns to keep vigil outside four Hindu temples in the locality for the next two days. As a result, the temples remained unscathed. In the Noor-e-Ilahi area, Hindus guarded a mosque while Muslims guarded a temple. They even sat together and sipped tea, sending out a message to attackers that they had run into a wall. In Chand Bagh, from where some of the worst atrocities were reported, men held hands to protect a temple in the colony. At Maujpur, too, a temple was protected in the same way.

Qamaruddin, Khurshid, Shamshad and Rashid, all residents of Ashok Nagar whose houses had been gutted, were helped by their Hindu neighbours who brought them tea and biscuits even as they surveyed the charred remains of their houses. There were similar stories narrated by Muslims residing in Hindu- dominated areas. In Lane 4 of Ashok Nagar, Hindu residents teamed up to protect Muslim families fleeing advancing mobs armed with batons, petrol bombs and gas cylinders. They put up some of the Muslim families at their homes until they could be escorted safely to relief camps. Khushnuba recalled: “When we left our home in Shiv Vihar to come to Mustafabad, we were were just running blindly. At that time, a Sikh gentleman called out to us. First he offered to put us up at his home. But when he realised there were so many Muslim women running for their lives, he guided them through the bylanes to Mustafabad and Chaman Park. I cannot thank that old gentleman enough. I am alive because he helped me.”

In Khajuri Khas, young Harsh Singh was alone at home when the violence broke out. His father, an employee of the Delhi Transport Corporation, was away. As some Muslim men were on the prowl, his neighbour Wahab bhai, whom he calls Mamu (maternal uncle), protected him. Wahab noticed that the house sported “Om Nama Shivay” stickers. He asked the young man to go inside, then covered the stickers.

Swami Shivanand Saraswati and Swami Punyanand of Haridwar visited the attacked mosques and presented prayer mats at the Farooqia Masjid. But the best example of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture) was on display at the wedding of a Hindu woman. Savitri Prasad’s wedding had been scheduled just around the time the violence peaked. The invitations had been sent, tent house booked, all was set. That was when the violence spread, leaving many killed and several houses burnt. Her father cancelled the wedding, fearing death and destruction all around. The local Muslims then approached her father, promising complete safety for the wedding. They not only stood guard as the rituals went on but also sent off the bride as they would a sister. “My Muslim brothers are protecting me today,” Savitri told a news agency.