18-year-old Anam Khan has become a “zinda lash” since the death of her brother, Shaban, three years ago. She hardly speaks and when she does, it is to complain of nightmares. Her 24-year-old brother died of a gunshot wound in the sectarian violence that broke out in northeast Delhi on February 23 onward and raged on for four days, leaving 53 dead and nearly 700 injured. Shaban, who had been a welder by profession had gone out to get a welding machine in the Chand Bagh area on February 24 when he was shot in the leg. He was admitted to Guru Teg Bahadur hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.
Shaban had remained missing for three days before the family was informed. One of his younger brothers, Faizan, who runs a purse shop, states that though the family received the Rs 10 lakh compensation from the Delhi government, Shaban had heavy debts. “Rs 10 lakh does not compensate for the life of my brother,” he states. Shaban’s father Azir Ahmed Khan adds that no chargesheet has yet been filed in Shaban’s case and no arrests have been made. “They say that there is not enough evidence and no witnesses,” he says.
Shabaan lived in Bhagirathi Vihar, one of the areas that were ravaged by sectarian violence in which mobs were accused of going door to door looking for Muslim men and killing them. A few homes away from Shabaan’s house lives Mallika with scars that refuse to heal. Her husband Musharraf had been dragged out of his hiding spot under the bed in his house and bludgeoned to death before being burnt in front of her and her children by a Hindu mob who ransacked her house on February 25. Musharraf, who was a labourer, was the sole earning member of his family including two young daughters and an infant son. After the death, Mallika now is the sole breadwinner and has incurred a lot of debt which the government compensation has not been able to cover.
Mallika’s story is similar to that of Mustafabad resident Imrana who is now having to raise her eight daughters alone after her husband Mudassir was killed in the violence. “Is Rs 10 lakh enough to raise eight daughters?” she asks. Mudassir was killed on his way back after paying his daughter's school fee.
The complaint against the meagre compensation is common with the over 15 women who were widowed in the violence. Most of the cases have not seen convictions yet.
Last year, Mallika, Imrana and other women widowed during the 2020 pogrom had taken to the stage at a press club event in Delhi to mark two years of violence and made tearful entreaties to authorities to deliver justice. Another year on, Mallika who now lives in a rented accommodation in Gokulpuri with her two children (she married her eldest daughter off), Mallika fears that her husband’s killers might get away. “We cry in front of the camera. We have told our story a million times. Nothing happens,” she states.
Nine persons have been arrested by Delhi Police who filed a chargesheet in Mallika’s husband Musharraf’s murder case. But the wheels of justice have moved slowly for most of the victims and relatives of victims killed in the violence.
Following the riots, 695 cases of arson and rioting were filed by the northeast district of Delhi Police in the Karkardooma Court. By February 20, verdicts have come out in just 47 cases and 36 of them have ended in acquittals. As per senior Delhi Police officials, a majority of the acquittals are due to eyewitnesses turning hostile. In several cases, justice seems to be delayed due to inconsistencies in Delhi Police’s investigation. A recent report by the Indian Express has noted several instances of delays on the department’s part in identifying the accused, signatures have been found to be missing on arrest reports, lack of reports filed to senior officials with details of the accused or their involvement. In several cases, police testimonies did not stand the test of trial, leading to acquittals.
All the eleven that have been convicted are Hindu and a majority of them have been given a lenient punishment since many have already passed the imprisonment term or portions of it in custody. Some of the witnesses who turned hostile have claimed that have been going through “memory loss”, the Express report noted.
Acquitting four men who had been accused of vandalising and torching a medical store in Bhagirathi Vihar on February 25, 2020, Additional Sessions Judge Pulastya Pramachala said, “I find that charges levelled against the accused persons, in this case, are not proved beyond doubt. Hence, accused persons... are acquitted of all the charges levelled against them in this case”.
Meanwhile, 18 persons have been charged with UAPA and of them, nine continue to languish in jail. These include student leaders and activists like Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Gulfisha Fatima, Shadab Ahmad, Meeran Haider, Shifa-ur-Rahman, businessman Salim Khan and others. Asif Iqbal Tanha, Safoora Zargar, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and politician Ishrat Jahan who had also been arrested have since been granted bail.
The 18 have been charged under not only the UAPA but also other stringent sections of the IPC for “overarching conspiracy” in the most crucial FIR (59/2020).
Civil rights activists and a number of fact-finding reports have blamed the Delhi Police for conducting “biased” investigations. But for victims of the violence, investigations are now the second priority. Mudassar Abbas, brother of 22-year-old electrician Ashfaque Hussain, says that the death of his brother had left the family deeply traumatised. Hussain had been killed by a Hindu mob in Brijpuri Pulia on February 25 2022 along with two other Muslim men. A chargesheet has been filed in the case (FIR no. 159/2020 PS Dayalpur). Abbas says that he dearly misses his brother and adds that even if his brother’s killers get caught and sentenced, “it wouldn’t bring back Ashfaque".
A hesitant calm prevails in the neighbourhood that has since been "rebuilt". Hussain's Hindu neighbours claim there is peace in the neighbourhood. But the lives that were affected by the violence like those of Anam, Mallika, and Abbas, refuse to move on.
(With inputs from PTI)