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‘Wore saree to look Hindu’ — How women in riot-hit Northeast Delhi escaped the mob

Women at a relief camp in Mustafabad recall how they hid from the mob and finally fled to safety on 25 February, the worst day of the Delhi riots.

Women staying in Mustafabad's relief camp narrate how they fled their homes amid the Delhi riots. | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Women staying in Mustafabad's relief camp narrate how they fled their homes amid the Delhi riots. | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

New Delhi: Khadeeja Khatoon, 38, hid on the terrace of her home in Northeast Delhi’s Shiv Vihar with her five children last Tuesday to escape the mob. The terror-struck family survived most of the night unhurt, but at 2 am, a mob began throwing petrol-soaked cloth fireballs. Khatoon said tried her best to protect her children, but her youngest, 1.5-year-old Sajda, sustained severe burns on her left thigh.

“She screamed and broke into tears, but I covered her mouth with my hand. If the mob heard her screams, they would know this home isn’t empty and they would have entered,” Khatoon told ThePrint.

Sajda is now being treated by volunteer doctors at the eidgah-turned-relief-camp in Mustafabad, where several families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes.

1.5-year-old Sajda who sustained severe burns with her elder sister. | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Several women living in the camp alleged that while escaping the riots last week, they were chased by mobs — armed with sticks — who abused them with communal and sexist slurs.

“I didn’t think my children would survive that day. We ran for our lives as mobs wearing helmets and holding lathis chased us,” claimed Afsana, a mother of a 3-year-old and an 11-month-old, recalling last Tuesday when she ran holding her two children.

“They said ‘aazadi chahiye tumko? Biryani chahiye tumko? Aao hum dete hain’ (You want freedom, you want biriyani. Come, we will give you),” Afsana said.

The women ThePrint spoke to at the relief camps Tuesday, however, denied facing any sexual violence in the riots.


Also read: Residents return home to Delhi’s riot-hit Shiv Vihar after a week, find everything gone


 

‘Woken up, told to run’

Many women also said they wore sarees to escape the mob, in order to “appear Hindu”.

“We knew the only way to ensure the mob doesn’t hurt us and allows us to walk away would be if we look Hindu. They wouldn’t have spared us if they knew we were Muslims,” said Noor Jehan, who fled her home in Shiv Vihar with her four children and other relatives.

Many of these women and children sustained injuries, including fractures and burns, while trying to escape.

Bismillah Khatoon, 70, was woken up by her family late Tuesday and asked to run with them. “I didn’t know why. I just knew there was a mob that was trying to enter our home. Kuch hosh nahi tha (I was disoriented),” said Khatoon.

Khatoon fell down and hurt her knee and arms while trying to escape the mob.

Nazia, 12, fractured her arm while running away with her family from Shiv Vihar last week.

“It hurt her a lot, and we were only able to get her x-rays done days later when things settled down,” said Nazia’s mother, Reshma Khatoon.

12-year-old Nazia fractured her arm when she was fleeing the mobs last week. | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

‘Men took the blows’

Many women said the male members of their family had to make chains to protect them from the violent mob. “The only reason we survived is because the men took all the blows,” claimed resident of Shiv Vihar now staying in the shelter camp told ThePrint.

Other women, whose male family members weren’t around at the time, said they felt extremely vulnerable. “My husband wasn’t here. We could hear people screaming in the neighbourhood and were terrified,” said Shameem Akhtar, a 40-year-old who escaped with her three children. “Thankfully, our neighbours took us along and we escaped.”


Also read: After week-long terror & dread, children bring the smiles back in riot-hit Northeast Delhi