Three Years Of Delhi Violence: Memory And Erasure

It has been three years since the violence that broke out in northeast Delhi against the background of the powerful anti-CAA/NRC protests. The investigation of the violence has left much to be questioned.

Displaced children from north east Delhi neighborhoods at a shelter camp following the violence.

It has been three years of injustice, erasure and fear for the residents of northeast Delhi. Many continue to live with the scars of the sectarian violence that began on February 22 across multiple Muslim-majority neighbourhoods. Mallika, from Bhagirathi Vihar, watched her husband beaten to death and then burnt. 24-year-old Tavleen Fatima, from Gokulpuri, lost her husband to the violence, just 12 days after marrying him on February 14. Anam from Mustafabad whose brother was killed on his way home from namaz, remembers clearly the last words he said to her before he left home the day he died. Then there is the take of Gulista Shaikh, who spent many restless days following the violence at a survivors' camp at the Eidgah ground in Mustafabad, dreaming of her marriage. She and her family had been displaced from the home in which she had grown up. Both marriages and funerals were common at the time, one of the many contradictions of life in conflict.

These stories resonate through the streets of these neighbourhoods that have since been ‘rebuilt’ to hide the scars. The families of the 53 lives that were lost during the violence - 38 Muslims and 15 Hindus - have all been compensated. The Delhi government has provided Rs 10 lakh to each of the families. But what does violence leave behind and can it be compensated for with cash? Is Rs 10 lakh enough to rebuild a home or forget a loved one lost to sectarianism? 

Three years later, the ‘investigation’ into the violence has left much to be questioned. 

The two initial ‘fact-finding’ reports that were sent to the centre blamed the violence, arson, looting and damage to property on ‘Urban Naxals’, ‘jihadis’, anti-CAA/NRC protesters and students. These were the ‘Delhi Riots 2020: Report From Ground Zero – The Shaheen Bagh Model in North-East Delhi: From Dharna to Danga’ and the ‘Delhi Riots: Conspiracy Unravelled’ – Report of Fact Finding Committee on Riots in North-East Delhi during 23.02.2020 to 26.02.2020’, submitted in May. In a July 2020 critique of the two reports for The Wire, Delhi Science Forum’s ND Jayaprakash pointed out the flaws in both the purported ‘fact-finding’ reports.

Several other reports have found that the investigation by the Delhi police, which itself has been accused of being involved in the violence or the failure to stop the violence in several cases, has been unsatisfactory and even biased. 

On the second anniversary of the violence, a group of citizens and organisations came together to present one such fact-finding report and suggest corrective measures.

Former Indian ambassador, Deb Mukharji, ex-home secretary, Gopal Pillai, historian Mridula Mukherjee, senior journalist and researcher Pamela Philipose, and former member of the Planning Commission of India and writer, Syeda Hameed, presented the report. The group alleged that the Delhi police had failed to take adequate measures to prevent the spread of the riots in spite of adequate intelligence and warning indicators of heightened tensions and threats, as reported by PTI. 

At the time, police had reportedly claimed that over 58 per cent of the cases had been solved. 

As per a February 2022 report in The Indian Express, a Delhi police officer had said that 798 of the total accused were Hindu and 812 were Muslim. At the time, a court handling the Delhi riots cases also observed that the investigation was not being conducted on communal lines.

But in the ramshackle neighbourhoods of northeast Delhi, life has changed forever. Many of the bakeries that had been burnt during the violence remain obsolete. Several families that had once lived in those neighbourhoods have now shifted to areas like Jamia Nagar, and Chandni Chowk or have left Delhi for good. 

 (With inputs from PTI)