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‘Those two minutes did not end’: Days After Carnage, A Delhi Muslim Neighborhood Grapples with the Aftermath

The walls of the mosque are covered with soot and charred copies of the Quran lie stacked inside a rack. He said that if the attackers thought that by burning the copies of the Quran they can erase it, “they are mistaken. It is stored in our hearts. We can write it with our eyes closed.”

Mustafabad, NEW DELHI: They made the last phone call to their home sometime between 8PM and 9PM. “We are just two minutes away,” they told their mother Asgari, “But those two minutes did not end.”

Asghari lives in Mustafabad, a congested locality predominantly inhabited by Muslims in the northeast of New Delhi, India’s capital. The area last week convulsed with the worst kind of communal violence in decades, leaving nearly 50 people dead – the majority of them Muslims.

For four days the Hindu right-wing mobs swept through the streets, setting fire to Muslim homes, slums, shops, mosques, and a shrine while police did not come to the rescue of the victims. The men chanted the Hindu slogan ‘Jai Shree Ram’ which means glory to Lord Ram, a Hindu deity.

On Wednesday (February 26), Mohammad Amir, 30, and his nineteen-year-old brother Mohammad Hashim were returning from their grandfather’s home in Gaziabad, a township in the outskirts of New Delhi on a motorcycle when a mob intercepted them near Gokalpuri, a locality close of Mustafabad. The mob lynched them to death and threw their bodies in a dirty stream. They also set fire to their motorcycle.

But for the whole night, the family had no news of the duo. The next morning when the violence had subsided a bit they went to the police station and filed a missing report. “We had just feared that they would be lying injured in a hospital”, said Babu Khan, the father of the slain brothers.

At the police station, the police initially dodged them but as Khan pressed the officials to get him to talk to the policemen who were on duty, they showed him a video and asked to identify the bodies. “I identified them by their clothes,” Khan recounted, “They (the mob) had stabbed their faces beyond recognition. Even beasts don’t do that.”

The family still don’t know how exactly the mob killed Hashim and Amir. They have not yet received a copy of the postmortem report. But Asghari, the mother, saw the bodies at the hospital the next day. She described the gory condition of her younger son, Hashim. She said: “I saw the younger one. I saw his body. They had cut his throat and stabbed his windpipe.” She pointed towards her own throat with her hand holding prayer beads:

His cheeks were bruised. Allah knows whether they had shot him or stabbed him. His cheeks had holes as if they had screwed those holes into his face. The blood was oozing from his neck and his shroud was also stained with blood.

“I cannot tell you what they (the mob) had done to him. What shall I tell you? I cannot describe that. I have lost everything. How will I ever forget this pain.” Asghari said, her voice breaking with sobs.

The lynching of the two boys has left the family in distress and anger. Khan, the father, bemoaned that if his sons were killed in stone-pelting clashes, it would have made some sense. “But they were innocent.”

Image Credit: Tanushree Bhasin.

A gutsy woman, draped in a burka, who had visited the mourning Ashgari blamed the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Home Minister Amit Shah, both staunch Hindu nationalists, for the violence. She said that Muslims do not like Modi and Amit Shah and that is the reason they are facing violence.

She said that the right-wing mobs vandalized the mosques “but we took proper care of the temples.” And vowed, “But God willing we will keep the brotherhood among communities intact.”

Her claims are testified by the fact that the temples of Mustafabad are standing untouched and worshipers go there as usual. The shops of Hindus are also open. The claims were further proven right by our conversation with Ramdas Yadav, a caretaker of a grand temple in Mustabad. “I have been living here from last forty years and I have never encountered any problem from the Muslims,” Yadav said. “We live in peace here.”

“The passions were running high so we could have also damaged temples or burnt their shops,” said Mohammad Faisal Malik, a Muslim youth of Mustafabad who is right now part of a team of local volunteers who distribute relief among the survivors of the violence. “But it is not what humans should do.” In fact, when some boys tried to attack the sweets shop of a Hindu, people like Faisal quickly intervened and stopped them.

Image Credit: Tanushree Bhasin.

But Hindu extremists set ablaze several mosques including Al-Farooqia Masjid, which is situated close to a bridge on the sewage stream that divides Mustafababd from other localities. “The floor was covered with blood that we cleaned,” Faisal recounted. The walls of the mosque are covered with soot and charred copies of the Quran lie stacked inside a rack. He said that if the attackers thought that by burning the copies of the Quran they can erase it, “they are mistaken. It is stored in our hearts. We can write it with our eyes closed.”

He said that the mob attacked the mosque while worshipers were inside, busy offering the Maghrib Salaah (evening prayer).  He said that the Muezzin, the Imam, and many of his students were injured in the mob attack. “They had dragged the Muezzin, his face is completely bruised with scratches.”

Image Credit: Tanushree Bhasin.

Faisal expressed his discontent over the treatment of Muslims in India who are protesting against the new citizenship law (citizenship Amendment Act or CAA) that discriminates against Muslims while easing the path of naturalization for people from other religions. The experts warn that the law can become a tool for large scale disenfranchisement of Muslims if the government conducts the process of citizenship tests. “Our only crime is that we tried to fight for our rights,” Faisal bemoaned. “We have lost that right too.”

Faisal recollected that some boys from Mustafabad showed courage and retrieved the injured Muzezzin from the mosque in the middle of the night even as security forces did not allow access. He was initially given first aid at a small hospital called Al-Hind Hospital in Mustafabad. While recounting the brutality of the mobs, Faisal’s eyes welled up with tears. “We can not describe the violence we have witnessed here,” Faisal struggled to recall. “There is no value for human beings. There is nothing left. They are killing us because we are Muslims.”

While the mobs were ruling the streets day and night it was this hospital where the injured, including those with bullet wounds, were treated. The crises were massive and the hospital faced a shortage of ambulances. Dr Mehraj Ekram said they placed the injured on a stretcher and navigated the narrow lanes of the locality. But the police had installed barricades on the main road and demanded identity documents of the injured. Dr. Ekram recalled:

After many requests, the police said that they will open the barricade but will not call an ambulance. A policeman prodded the injured with his cane to ascertain whether he was dead or alive.”

The police have been accused of being complicit and in many cases chose to side with mobs. The police in New Delhi comes under the central government headed by Narendra Modi of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (The BJP), which draws its ideology from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the RSS) – an ultra-right-wing socio-political organisation which borrows its ideology from the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler. It was only after the court intervened and ordered the police to act quickly and decisively to bring the situation under control did any action take place.

After the violence subsided a bit, volunteers and organisations poured in the ravaged areas and began relief work. A camp for the survivors has been set up in an Eid-Gah (a ground for Eid prayers), where survivors who fled the violence as mobs torched their homes in localities like Shiv Viar, Ashok Nagar, Karawal Nagar, and Yamuna Vihar have taken shelter under tents. Some live with their relatives in the neighburhoods around the camp.  The relief workers from civil society have set up a community kitchen and legal aid desks. The lawyers help the poor survivors with applications to be filed for seeking compensation from the government.

Raseena, a woman we met in the relief camp was crying uncontrollably. She told us: “They looted our property that we had amassed from the last fifteen years. They turned our homes into ashes. They have left nothing behind.” A woman consoling Raseena tells her to find solace in the fact: “Jan to Bach Gayi (At least you are alive).”

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