EYE-WITNESS REPORT FROM VIOLENCE-AFFECTED AREAS OF NORTH EAST DELHI
Date of visit: 29th February 2020
Areas covered: Jafrabad, Mustafabad, Maujpur
Team: Dr. Saif Mahmood, Advocate, M. R. Shamshad, Advocate, Shwetasree Majumder, Advocate and Vishal Vig
Route taken and People met:
We first met some representatives of Jamiat Ulema e Hind, including Maulana Mohammad Dawood and Maulana Qasimi, at Madrasa Bab-ul-Uloom, Jafrabad where a relief camp is being set up in the Idgah.
We then went to Mustafabad where we met Maulana Akhlaq at Madina Masjid, Gali No. 3. He took us to the houses where displaced persons have been put up. We visited the home of Nafis Ahmed Saifi who is currently housing about 300 displaced persons in his house.
We then went to Al-Hind Hospital, Mustafabad where we met Dr Anwar.
Then we met Haji Imran, owner of Nida Jewellers, Mustafabad who is handling supplies to victims from his house.
We finally visited Maujpur which (at least the area we visited) seemed unaffected and life and business was going on as usual.
In normally traffic-choked Delhi, it took us merely 15 min to travel from Sector 8 in Noida to Jafrabad. The streets of a buzzing locality were deserted and the tension in the air was so palpable that we felt a sense of foreboding from the time we crossed the Jafrabad metro station. There was a deathly silence and several groups of police and paramilitary forces lined the main road at a distance of barely 200 metres from each other. We also saw a large number of police vehicles throughout. Yet police presence did nothing to assuage the survivors of the carnage of 23rd February 2020. On the contrary, the role of police seemed to have a chilling effect on the residents and survivors. Everyone we met narrated stories of inexplicable police inaction. From a non-responsive control room, to senior personnel claiming there were no orders to go to the area, to an emergency number (100) where panicked calls were received and simply not actioned…all tell a tale of why the carnage reached the magnitude that it did.
We saw a couple of buildings that were burnt down, shops that had been vandalised and some that, ironically, displayed the national flag. Even on the main road, nearly all establishments were shut, and people were patrolling the neighbourhood in groups and asking questions of visitors to ascertain their antecedents. Any stranger seen to be talking to anybody was quickly surrounded by groups of people who wanted to know whether the person was from an NGO or from the media.
Our first stop was Madrasa Bab-ul-Uloom where Maulama Mohammad Dawood, Maulana Qasimi and other representatives of the Jamiat Ulema e Hind, were providing shelter to a large number of people of all faiths and were in the process of setting up a relief camp in the Idgah to house them. At the moment, people were being accommodated in private homes and mosques scattered in the area and in other make-shift locations from where they would need to be shifted soon. We met a young girl who came asking for rations for 8 families (she had entered their names on a list being maintained by the madrasa, earlier in the day) and handed over the first lot of our supplies to her. We were told of kind home-owners who had accommodated displaced families simply on the assurance that the Jamiat would pay their rent on a later date when funds were arranged.
It was when we spoke to locals here that we first heard of Shiv Vihar being the worst affected area but made inaccessible by the police. We were then directed to Mustafabad where we met Maulana Akhlaq at Madina Masjid, Gali No. 3. Maulana Akhlaq told us of larger relief camps where thousands of people were being housed and also showed us private homes scattered around the Masjid which had opened their doors to survivors and were providing for them. He said that Holy Family Hospital was in the process of setting up a medical camp there.
We visited the home of Nafis Ahmed Saifi and met him and his son Nooman Saifi in Indira Vihar. These good Samaritans have opened the doors of their home and are hosting more than 300 people displaced from Shiv Vihar. Here we also met some young lawyers who were helping the displaced persons. They told us that : (i) Victims are filing criminal complaints by stating that their assailants were “not known” to them despite the fact that, in many cases, the victims personally know and can identify the assailants but are frightened of further consequences. It is these Complaints with “unknown” assailants that have been or will be converted into FIRs. Obviously, the guilty will go scot free ; (ii) In complaints where assailants are named, Police is not registering FIRs ; and (iii) many victims are finding it difficult to open up to lawyers.
The personal narratives we recorded here alternated between sending cold shivers down our spine and making our blood boil. Shiv Vihar was a primarily Hindu area with 8000 Muslim families. In the first group of women we spoke to, all seemed to be home-owners. They spoke of how the rioters came, broke open the locks on front doors and rushed inside their homes to set them on fire with the families inside! How the rioters threw gas cylinders into the flames to cause explosions. How the survivors climbed on to the roofs of their homes and jumped or sometimes ran through the flames to escape. We met a young girl whose face had been hit with a piece of brick. We heard how the rioters had looted, committed arson and had now taken over their homes, claiming them as their own. We realised that many of the rioters were actually still around – cleaning up evidence and enjoying the spoils of their loot. All this, while the police guard the entrance to Shiv Vihar, not letting anyone cross the barricade, not even a visiting MLA who went there today.
We were also told very firmly by most women that the rioters were not their neighbours and that they were outsiders who had been brought in for that purpose; who arrived in the dead of the night with murder on their minds. How several Hindus in the neighbourhood had attempted to save the lives of their Muslim neighbours but who were ultimately outnumbered. However, there were others who told us that their neighbours were involved.
We heard of a man who, believeing that the violence had stopped, attempted to return there on 28.02.2020 to bring back some documents which were left there when his family fled. We were told that the moment he turned the key in the lock of his house, he was killed by a sword and his house usurped. No local is willing to go there anymore and we were told in no uncertain terms that those who failed to escape that night from Shiv Vihar, are most certainly dead. We were given to understand that even now many dead bodies are lying in the Nallah nearby to which police is not alowing access. Given the incidents of the past few days where anyone who went back in failed to return, Shiv Vihar was by far the most dangerous area for its Muslim residents even now, underneath the outward semblance of calm. We left 25 cartons/ bags of relief supplies in the Medina mosque for distribution in this area.
Our next stop was Al-Hind Hospital (the only hospital in that area) where we met the local hero, Dr M. A. Anwar. His midnight phone call with Justice Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court had saved the lives of 20 critical riot victims who were thereafter shifted to GTB Hospital. He told us how he had converted the hospital into a shelter the first night, and also echoed our fears that the death toll was several times higher than the official figures. Dr. Anwar told us how, despite repeated calls to various police officers, he failed to convince them to send ambulances. He narrated an incident where the hospital rushed a man [whose skull had been critically injured] on a stretcher up to the barricade on the main road / entrance to Mustafabad where, along with police, two ambulances were parked.
Despite vehement pleas, the ambulance / police refused to take the victim to GTB Hospitalsaying they did not have necessary orders. Dr. Anwar also complained that no medical practitioner or pharmacy in the vicinity tried to help Al-Hind while they were trying to save large number of lives.
We met a lady from Karawal Nagar who had given birth to a baby boy on Wednesday amidst the mayhem, who she planned to call Azad. Her older daughter lovingly cuddled the new baby while those around her spoke of death and destruction. Her aunt, who was visiting, spoke of how her Hindu neighbour hid her family in his house, so they escaped the carnage. And how they owe their life to him.
Our next stop was Mustafabad where we met Haji Imran, the owner of Nida Jewellers. He had converted his home into a storage space for relief supplies and was distributing them systematically to the families who had taken shelter in private homes in the area. The need for dry rations here was immense and 40 of our kits were distributed here. They were over in less than 30 minutes!
We heard more stories of systematic and planned carnage – how the homes and establishments of Hindu owners who had rented them out to Muslims were looted and the homes and establishments of Muslim owners were set fire to. How Hindus that shielded Muslims were not spared. Of how over 40 phone calls to the police control room remained unanswered. How two mosques in the area were burnt down and how angry Muslims who threatened to attack temples were restrained and calmed by sane voices, with the wisdom that one gets only when one has seen the darkest face of humanity. And how every single bastion of Hindu faith in Mustafabad stands tall. Protected. Stories of exemplary courage of those of meagre means and of the colossal failure of the administration and establishment. And the complicit silence of those who know the true picture.
And we come away, shaken to the core.
Apart from the ongoing supply of relief materials which we continue to collect and distribute, we are working on the long-term rehabilitation of those displaced. We have commenced an exercise of creating a database of displaced persons with names, contact details and particulars of family members. This will also reveal more information on how many people are missing/ dead. We are aware that this will still not be the full picture as a large number of migrants, especially bakery workers who were from Bengal, have left the city.
Once the database is complete, the families will need to be matched with home-owners willing to give out their homes on rent. Those willing to help will need to commit to pay the rent for at least 3 to 6 months for these families, while they rebuild their lives. The local school that is burnt to the ground and the two mosques need to be rebuilt.
One of the most crucial things to do is to professionally, and aggressively, pursue the legal recourse available to victims. To facilitate legal assistance, there appear to be few teams already working. However, we feel that a team of 10 dedicated, competent young lawyers be formed and they be put on work under the supervision of 2-3 senior lawyers. For this purpose, we will identify competent young lawyers who can dedicate sufficient time to this work and will pay them for their services.
Most of all those being targeted, from relief workers to lawyers to good Samaritans, will need to be protected, not just from criminals, but equally from law enforcement and its favourite weapon – sedition charges!
Finally, all we can say is that lives and homes can be rebuilt, but can we say the same of trust? You can sweep away the embers of burning homes but can you sweep away hate?
Shared with IndiaTimes.Live by Ms Sheeba Aslam Fehmi