The wounds that will not heal easily

The wounds that will not heal easily

Representative image

Waiting for the body of her brother Musharaff near a mortuary, young Fareen narrated her brush with death, which is a story of both hope and despair at the same time. Her husband Asif was brutally beaten up by a mob of around 50 people in their house in Mustafabad while Musharaff was dragged out and killed. Theirs was only one of two Muslim families in the locality. Scared, they wanted to flee to a place of safety.

But their Hindu neighbours were apprehensive about them leaving the locality, as they knew a mob, including women, was waiting in nearby area. As the scared family insisted on moving out, their caring neighbours found a way out and asked Fareen, her mother and sisters to change their ‘hijab’, put on ‘sindoor’ and lipstick to pose as Hindus. The women neighbours accompanied them, but seeing the mob, Asif was sent back. The women and Fareen’s young son moved forward.

The mob was suspicious about a group of Hindus moving out. A neighbour told the rioters that they were Hindus but the mob was not convinced.“Are you Hindus? You will be killed if you are not,” one among the mob told Fareen and the others while instructing his men to check whether the boy was circumcised. Fareen and family escaped just because the young boy had not been circumcised yet!

There are several instances of people giving shelter to other community members as well as standing guard for religious structures and other buildings, depicting that many people even in the riot-hit areas had not contracted the communal virus that spread through north-east Delhi. While there are numerous stories of hope in times of despair, the riots gave more worrying signs by the way it spread, the inaction of police and authorities. Children as young as 12-15 years were armed with rods and sticks and were seen being part of the mobs in several areas, while women also joined some as the violence spread. All appeared prepared for the violence as many of them wore helmets, too! Threats were hurled. In some instances, Muslims could not enter Hindu majority localities and vice versa.

Ambulances were stopped to ascertain the religion of the injured while the outnumbered policemen stood helpless. Food supply was running out and several people who went out to buy milk and food articles did not return home but ended up in the grave. An 85-year-old woman, Akbari, was suffocated to death in her house when a mob of at least 100 people set ablaze a five-storeyed building while her son was out buying milk. One of the most worrying things was the extent of use of guns in the Delhi riots. Earlier riots and violence saw rods, swords, pick-axes and petrol bombs being used. This time, the additions to the hate armoury were acid and firearms on a large scale. Hospital authorities say almost half of the at least 42 people killed in the violence that started on February 23 evening had been shot dead. Almost 30-35% of the injured too suffered bullet injuries, indicating the planning that went into engineering the violence. That illegal firearms are easily available in the National Capital Region (NCR) may not be a good sign for the security establishment. Adding to the worries, WhatsApp was used to mobilise rioters as well as provide information about targets.

As in any riots, there was an exodus – authorities may argue as to the numbers – besides an impact on the local economy. The riot-hit areas had a lot of families involved in small-scale home-based industries like handicrafts, garment and toy-making. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots saw the attackers breaking the economic backbone of a large number of affected families, the 2020 riots in north-east Delhi is also having an impact. With several losing their houses and manufacturing units being burnt down by the rioters, it may be difficult for them to re-invent their lives in times of economic slowdown. Besides, a number of migrants from Bihar and UP who worked in these small units will be left without jobs at a time employment even in government mandated schemes like MNREGA is decreasing. Social and economic infrastructure was also targeted. Schools, petrol pumps and shops bore the brunt. A fellow journalist who covered the riots summed up, “some areas looked like Syria, with big holes in the walls of houses. They bore the impact of cylinder blasts. These areas resemble a war zone, and that’s no exaggeration.”

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