Note: This story was first published on March 3, 2022 to mark the second year of sectarian violence in northeast Delhi in 2020. It is being replugged as part of Outlook's coverage of three years of the 'Delhi riots' (Feb 22-Feb 28) and the erasure that follows violence.
New Delhi: North-East Delhi resident Mallika will never forget the chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ amid the shrieks of her husband. On February 25, 2020, a mob of rioters entered her house on the third floor in Bhagirathi Vihar and beat her husband to death. She had hidden him under the bed after her landlord informed her that armed mobs with torches and ‘sariyas’ were going from door to door and hunting down Muslim men. But they found him. “They beat him and bludgeoned his head with the rods. He kept begging for mercy till the time he died. My 12-year-old daughter asked them to stop in the name of humanity. They said, “We don't consider Muslims human”. They killed him in front of our eyes,” Mallika narrates. That was not all. “After killing him, they dragged his lifeless body down three flights of stairs and then torched it before throwing the charred body in the nalla (high drain)”.
Mallika is one of the scores of women who were widowed during the 2020 northeast Delhi riots. On the second anniversary of the horrific riots, Mallika and other victims of the sectarian violence came to the heart of Delhi to remind the world that for them, the horror was not yet over. Mallika recalls how she had to escape her home by putting ’sindoor’ on her forehead and pretending to be a Hindu. “They unzipped my infant son’s pants to check whether he is Muslim. They wanted to kill him too. I managed to save him that day,” Mallika tells Outlook.
Families of the 53 lives that were lost during the violence - 38 Muslim victims and 15 Hindus - have all been compensated. The Delhi government provided Rs 10 lakh to each of the families. Imrana Bibi, whose husband was shot dead while on his way to pay his children’s school fee, has eight daughters and no bread-earner in the family. “We are living our days out using the compensation money. But we don’t know what will happen in the future. 10 lakh is not enough to feed, educate my daughters for life or marry them off later,” Imrana sobs. Families of minor victims were given Rs 5 lakh and Rs 2 lakh was given for injuries. Victims, however, claim that the cost does not cover the psychological trauma and life-long social debilitation. Apart from the lives lost, many victims were faced with bankruptcy after rioters looted and burnt their homes and shops.
Not just trauma, many victims of riots continue to live with constant reminders of the attack. Mohammad Vakil, a resident of Shiv Vihar, lost his eyesight forever after a mob of rioters threw acid on his and his daughter’s face. While his daughter’s face was burnt badly, Vakil never got to see it as he went blind almost instantly after the attack. A small respite, he says.
At the end of the panel of riot victims was class 9 student Sameer. Formerly a bright and cheerful boy, Sameer today is scared to raise his eyes or his voice in public. He was hit by a bullet in the spine on Feb 23 which left him paralysed waist down. He has been trying to get back to his studies but his physical condition has prevented him from stepping out. Sameer’s case is also a reminder of some of the glaring questions raised by victims and civil society activists during the investigation of the cases of violence during the riots. By February 25, at least 70 gun injuries had been reported by victims of the riots. “If the violence was spontaneous, then how come the rioters had guns and arms? This was not just random mob violence but a targeted attack,” says Aasif Mujtaba, founder of Miles2Smile. Mujtaba, who was one of the organisers of the anniversary event said that the purpose of bringing the victims out in public scrutiny was to remind the audience of the injustice and betrayal done to them. “And justice has still not been served. The perpetrators of violence are out while those who protested for the rights of victims have been put behind bars,” Mujtaba tells Outlook.
Mujtaba was referring to the host of anti-CAA protesters and activists who was part of the Shaheen Bagh protests who were arrested over the course of the past two years in connection with the violence such as Khalid Saifi and Ishrat Jahan. Both were arrested on February 26 in connection with several cases of violence and incitement. According to Mujtaba, a total of 755 FIRs were registered by in connection to the violence. In these, 935 Muslims were accused and 820 Hindus. One of these cases is being investigated by the Special Cell, 65 cases are being investigated by the Crime Branch and the rest are being handled by local police.
“These numbers tell a lie. These numbers try to depict the incident as a both-sides violence case whereas, in reality, it was a targeted attack against Muslims. Look at the way they torched the shops in some streets with both Hindu and Muslim owners. In the Bhajanpura market, for instance, there are around 40 shops, only two of which are owned or rented by Muslims. Only those two shops were torched,” Fawaz Shaheen of the Quill Foundation says. He adds that the “pogrom” in north-east Delhi was just a way to thwart the growing anti-CAA/NRC protests and throttle dissent by perpetuating violence against the minorities. “The real targets were the protesters who were asking questions from the government. Many of them are now in jail,” he adds.
Former Delhi Minority Commission chairman Zafarul Islam agrees with Shaheen. “The attack and the following investigation were just ways to destabilise the anti-CAA/NRC protests by blaming them and the victims themselves for the violence,” Islam says.
He adds that the DMC’s fact-finding report found glaring discrepancies in the way police behaved during the riots. On Feb 27, 2020, a pregnant woman had accused the Delhi Police of beating her with lathis at a peaceful anti-CAA protest site in Chand Bagh. She received 35 stitches from the incident. The incident later found a mention in the fact-finding report’s section on the role of the police. The report found several testimonies from victims who said that despite repeated attempts to contact the police during the days of the riots, no help came. “The police were dumb spectators and in some case, they even helped,” said Mohammad Vakil, who now wears a thick, perfunctory black goggle to protect his defunct eyes from further damage. A Muslim couple in Ram Rahim Chowk who had escaped their house in time before the mob arrived on Feb 25 said they tried to contact the police several times but no one came. Police arrived over half an hour after the incident and the mob had already moved on by then after plundering and pillaging through the homes of residents and burning their belongings.
“The report shows how a lie has been propagated as the truth. And when I said that the attacks were targeted, I was immediately attacked by trolls on social media,” Islam says.
The fact-finding report is the only official documentation of the violence that unfolded from February 23 onward, the same day that BJP leader Kapil Mishra gave a controversial speech in front of police officers, warning anti-CAA protesters of consequences if they did not vacate the protest sites. Before that, incendiary speeches were also made by Union Minister of State Anurag Thakur. In February last year, a Delhi court had directed Delhi Police to file an ‘Action Taken Report’ based on a complaint by activist Harsh Mande, seeking an FIR against Mishra for inciting violence against Muslims. The Delhi Police is yet to file any response.