IN a pogrom where almost every lane has a tale of sorrow, Qamar Jahan’s story is not just worth a tear or two but a scathing indictment of a state that has instilled fear in its citizens. Like dozens of other women, Qamar Jahan lost everything she had in the violence. The mob looted her house in Shiv Vihar, then torched it. She ran for her life and managed to escape to the relatively safer Babu Nagar in Mustafabad.
When the crowd of men in masks and helmets surrounded her house, Qamar Jahan had barely a minute or two to escape. There was not enough time even to pick up her precious jewellery of a gold chain and a pair of earrings. Yet, she managed to hide her Aadhaar card, believing, rather erroneously and tragically, that as long as she had it with her, she would not be thrown into a detention centre. “Even my house was torched; I wanted to live with my family at my home, not in a detention centre,” she told this correspondent five days after the attack.
“I used to live in Loni earlier. Then a few years ago we shifted to Shiv Vihar, Gali number 22. I have two children. My husband is a tailor. He works out of home. One of my daughters is married; her two young children were with me on Monday [February 24] when the incident happened. The other daughter is 12. We were at home. From morning, there was palpable tension in the area. I thought the goons would go to eat before coming to kill us. I quickly made our breakfast and prepared to leave. I saw some men had climbed to the roofs of some houses in the neighbourhood. They wore helmets and were setting the houses on fire. I told my husband, ‘Let me drop these babies and my daughter in Mustafabad. They will be safer there.’ He agreed. He stayed at home.”
However, even as she tried to take the girls out safely, Qamar Jahan realised there was a big crowd down the lane. “Men were coming from the Johripur side. They had dumped many bodies in the nullah. Later, the media talked of bodies dumped in a nullah in Gokulpuri, but nobody talked of the bodies in the Johripur nullah. Most of the dead were Muslims; the residents were predominantly Hindus. A handful of Muslims in that lane were butchered. The police did not come to their rescue. They threw acid at two of my neighbours. I heard there were bodies lying in Auliya Masjid and Madeena Masjid. As I stepped out, a Hindu man advised me not to go down that lane as it was dangerous. I changed direction and ran towards Mustafabad via a crematorium. I had nothing with me except the clothes on my body.”
As Qamar Jahan fled the scene, her house was destroyed and torched. “I left the house. I was about to take a piece of jewellery my husband had gifted me. I thought the crowd might try to lay its hands on me to take the gold chain. I left it at home under the mattress. But I ran to the roof of the house. Some waste material was lying there and a broken tricycle. I hid my Aadhaar card there. I thought nobody would think of burning the trash. Four days after we left, my husband went back home. Everything was charred. I told him to go to the roof. He found my Aadhaar card, his card and those of the children lying safely there.”
But why did she try to protect her identity card rather than her precious gold chain?
“See, if we get to live then I can have another gold chain. But if we do not have an Aadhaar card, the government can throw us into a detention camp. Then what will be the use of the gold chain?” asks the 45-year-old housewife.