New Delhi: Shabiha was nearing the full term of her pregnancy when riots broke out near her home in Northeast Delhi’s Shiv Vihar last February. Her husband and in-laws knew the only way to save the unborn child was to run away from their home, even though that also meant risking their lives. The family was able to come out of the violence unscathed, and Shabiha delivered her child on 4 March 2020 at the Mustafabad Eidgah relief camp.
ThePrint had met Shabiha at the relief camp last year before the child was born, and her foremost worry at the time was a healthy delivery. Now, when ThePrint visited Shabiha again last week, she said her child Arsh is healthy. “I didn’t think he would survive, but Arsh is healthy and alright. It was truly a miracle,” Shabiha said.
But now, she and her family have a new worry — that Arsh has to now grow up in what they call a “highly communal and broken atmosphere”.
“We worry about his future. When we returned home, people around us said ‘bhagode phir aa gaye (the deserters have returned)’. I am worried about how we will bring him up in a place that is no longer what it was before the riots. Today, everything is hateful beyond repair,” Shabiha said.
The Northeast Delhi riots in February last year killed as many as 53 people — 38 Muslims and 15 Hindus — and drove a sharp wedge between the two communities.
One year on, ThePrint visited families in the riot-hit areas, as well as the places of worship that were targeted, only to find that for most, the social dynamics of the area seem to have changed for good.
An air of trauma, despair and resentment still envelops the riot-affected localities of Shiv Vihar, Karawal Nagar, Mustafabad, Chaman Park, Kardampuri and Brahmpuri.
While some say they don’t believe one particular community should be blamed for the deaths and damage to property, many others cannot bring themselves to forgive the “other side”.
‘All Muslims are the same’
For Naresh Saini’s family, there is no possibility of moving on or forgiving. The 32-year-old Naresh was hit by a bullet in the torso while he was out on the street in Brahmpuri on 24 February, and succumbed to the injury on 4 March.
Naresh had rushed to the main road, along with some others, to safeguard a temple nearby when he heard that a mob had entered the area, his sister-in-law Suman Saini said.
“We heard they (the killers) were outsiders, but how does it matter? All Mohammedans are same, they can’t be trusted,” said Suman.
The ‘outsiders’ claim finds many echoes in the riot-hit areas, and even the Delhi Minorities Commission said its fact-finding team had discovered that “nearly 2,000 people were brought in for riots”.
But outsiders or not, Suman said the violence has ruined the Saini family’s relationships with Muslims forever, as it has for some other Hindu victims of the riots.
‘Rioters, not a community, killed Ankit Sharma’
Not every victim of the February 2020 violence carries the same amount of resentment against Muslims. Ankur Sharma, whose elder brother, Intelligence Bureau staffer Ankit Sharma, was brutally stabbed during the riots in Chand Bagh on 26 February, blames “rioters”, not the “other community”, for the murder.
Ankit Sharma, 26 years old at the time, was stabbed 12 times all over his body and beaten up mercilessly, resulting in 51 injuries according to the post mortem report. His body was only found a day after the violence in Chand Bagh, in a drain around 200 metres from his house. The Delhi Police had claimed that his death was a “targeted murder”.
After the lockdown, the family — father Ravinder, mother Sudha and Ankur, who is now 26 — moved to a rented apartment in Ghaziabad, leaving Chand Bagh behind. Ravinder, a central government employee, submitted his resignation as his health deteriorated after Ankit’s death.
“We didn’t move out of fear, but because it was difficult to live there with the memories of bhai. Every minute in that house and area only reminded us of how he was killed. We keep asking ourselves, why kill him? Who deserves to die like this?” Ankur told ThePrint over the phone, breaking down.
Asked if the family blamed Muslims over Ankit’s death, Ankur said: “Those were goons and they can be from any religion. Bhai and I both have a lot of Muslim friends, there are no hard feelings. Just that living in Chand Bagh was extremely difficult.”
‘Everyone still offers salam, don’t know what’s in their hearts’
The Delhi Police Crime Branch had filed a chargesheet against former AAP councillor Tahir Hussain and nine others for allegedly killing Ankit Sharma. Hussain’s brother Shah Alam is also behind bars for his alleged role in the riots that took place on 24 February outside Hussain’s house in Khajuri Khas.
Hussain’s home in Chand Bagh is not far from the Sharmas’ old house. Burn marks on walls and grills around Hussain’s house bear witness to the violent clashes that erupted last February.
Hussain’s family — his wife and three children — has also moved out of the house to another area. The former councillor’s 70-year old father, Haji Kallan, sometimes visits the house just to air it out.
Despite the ocean of allegations against both his sons, Haji Kallan said people of the area still greet him with a ‘salam (Urdu/Arabic salutation)’. But he doubts what’s in their hearts.
“Everyone greets me with a ‘salam’, everyone is nice to me on the face, but what’s inside their hearts, only they know. No one has offered any help as such. Both my sons are innocent, they have been framed. But we have no problem with anyone,” Kallan said.
He said the same people who elected Tahir Hussain as councillor stopped caring for him since he was suspended from the AAP, days after the allegations against him emerged last year. “Sab bhool gaye usko,” he said.
Tahir Hussain’s defence counsel Rizwan said the former councillor hasn’t been granted bail in any of the 12 cases registered against him.
“There are 3 bail applications pending, two in the sessions court and one in the high court,” Rizwan said.
‘Rumours of Islamist attack fanned to hurt communal harmony’
In some cases, residents said there seemed to have been a deliberate attempt to hurt the communal amity of the area.
One such case was that of a Shiv temple in Moonga Nagar, which was allegedly subjected to an ‘Islamist’ attack during the riots.
When ThePrint visited the temple Friday, priest Gokul Chandra Sharma categorically denied that it was ever attacked by any mob.
“The temple wasn’t damaged or targeted even remotely. Neither the temple nor my family living here was hurt or threatened. Yes, mobs were fighting outside the temple and only some stones fell on our terrace because this stands in the middle,” said Sharma, who has been the temple priest for 25 years. He claimed that there hasn’t ever been any communal incident related to the temple.
“There are people who like to create chaos and communalism by spreading fake news, but that doesn’t make it true,” Sharma added.
“In fact, many Muslims nearby offered me money after the riots, thinking that I might need help in these difficult times,” Sharma said, as the azaan (Muslim call to prayer) from the nearby mosque rang out.
In an official response to an RTI plea filed by activist Yusuf Naqi, the police had said eight mosques, two temples, two madrasas and one dargah were damaged in the riots. The Madina Masjid that rioters had allegedly broken into and set two LPG cylinders on fire, causing an explosion, is being rebuilt, and madrasa students have returned.
“It took a lot of time, but students have finally begun returning and we are trying our level best to give them a conducive environment, despite everything they have witnessed last year,” said Mohammed Yunus, caretaker of the masjid.