A few years ago, this writer encountered a group of Iraqi Christian refugees at the River Jordan in Jordan — a place of pilgrimage for the faithful as Jesus was baptized at its banks. At that time, Mosul was on the threshold of being wrested by the Iraqi army from the brutal Islamic State. Nearly all of the refugees were professionals and keen to settle in Australia. “Now that the war is ending in Mosul, will you return to Mosul,” I asked. “Our neighbours were our killers. How can we return? We could never be safe in our old neighborhood.”
They seem to be unanimous.
Similar nervousness is in the air, while shaky voices can be heard among the riot victims of Delhi who are finding it difficult to reconcile to the brutal manner in which their homes, schools and shops were torched with the Delhi police mostly watching silently, and that they were forcibly forced out from them. “We know who attacked us,” said a carpenter stoically who lost his shop in the ravaged Shiv Vihar located in Northeast Delhi.
There are scores of men and women who are moving around in some of the mosques of old Mustafabad trying to make sense of their broken lives. Hundreds have decided to move back to their native villages or towns in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, or other states, hoping to return once the embers have cooled down.
Much of their decisions about their uncertain future would be determined by the attitude of their tormentors from the other community, who, bizarrely, move with with great freedom and swagger. “That person in that yellow shirt was firing from the rooftop at us,” nudged a member of the minority community at a tough-looking young man who was browsing the riot-hit street. “He was shooting from the rooftop and our friends were falling all around us. We had to take them to the nearby Al-Hind hospital,” he said.
This view demolishes the belief that outsiders initiated the violence. “Many may have worn helmets, but this had more to save themselves from the flying bricks than to cover their faces,” informed a local resident.
This was confirmed by some women who had volunteered to distribute relief in the areas hit by unprecedented violence. Some of them claimed that they were molested by neighborhood boys during this crazy melee when their houses were burning and people were shouting blood-curdling slogans.
“That person in that yellow shirt was firing from the rooftop at us,” nudged a Muslim at a tough-looking young man who was browsing the riot-hit street. “He was shooting from the rooftop and our friends were falling all around us. We had to take them to the Al-Hind hospital.”
Pregnant women have been the worst sufferers in these riots. A South Delhi gynecologist stated that many women from Northeast Delhi traveled to distant clinics not just to leave the trauma of the violence behind, but also to get medical relief. According to the doctor, these women were suffering from high blood pressure as they fought relentless anxiety and restlessness about their social and personal condition, their families and homes, and their husbands, shops and the future.
Women have been hit rather hard in these riots and they have borne the physical pain and dark uncertainties of life as only they can. It is possible to watch many of them walking around in the lanes and by-lanes of Mustafabad and Maujpur taking charge of distributing relief work. “Till the Shaheen Bagh protest began some months ago, they would not be visible at all. In fact, my wife has not even moved out of the house to the market; but, now, they are everywhere,” informed a local shopkeeper.
Visibly, the riots and the organised killings were meant to break the stoic resolve and the peaceful sit-in of these brave Muslim women who fell in the trap of some wily political freelancers, radical hardliners and agent provocateurs. Inspired by the brave women of Shaheen Bagh, who have been non-violently protesting over the discriminatory nature of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) since December 17, 2019, (and against the National Register of Citizens -NRC), the women of Northeast Delhi converged rather suddenly on the night of February 22-23. The speed at which the women organised their sit-in surprised the police.
Not only were they raising slogans against the CAA, they were also expressing support for Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’, who had managed to endear himself to them. Chandrashekhar had also given a call for Bharat Bandh on February 23, a day before US President Donald Trump landed on Indian soil, though, he and his Bhim Army cadre, seem to be strikingly absent from the spot on that day, and the turbulent days after.
At Jaffrabad, which has a significant Muslim population, BJP leader Kapil Mishra threatened the women protestors that if they did not clear up the road after Trump leaves the country, then they will take matters in their own hands. Standing next to him was a top cop of Delhi Police in East Delhi. The video of this inflammatory and threatening speech went viral.
The common view is that the murderous violence were triggered by Mishra’s speech, but the truth is much more grey than it is made out to be. There is more to this vicious and well-planned story of devastation and death.
Pregnant women have been the worst sufferers. A South Delhi gynecologist stated that many women from Northeast Delhi traveled to distant clinics not just to leave the trauma of the violence behind, but also to get medical relief. These women were suffering from high blood pressure as they fought anxiety about their social condition, their families and homes
Mishra may have threatened to clear the road, but the seeds of hatred against the peaceful women protestors and CAA were sown during the run-up to the Delhi elections. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while campaigning for his party, had asked his supporters rather crudely that they should press the button on the EVM so hard that the current should be felt in Shaheen Bagh too.
BJP politicians were repeatedly talking about the traffic inconvenience the protests had caused to the people of Delhi. This partisan point of view was disseminated furiously through thousands of Whatsapp groups, though the reality was that the two adjacent highways were blocked by the UP and Delhi police, as was proved by the report to the Supreme Court by the court-appointed mediators. The Shaheen Bagh barricade, put up next to the main tent for “the safety” of women, was routinely opened for school buses, ambulances and even Hindu funeral processions.
The BJP also trivialised the cause of the protestors by falsely alleging that they were paid Rs 500 to come for the protests and given free biryani. The truth is that the collective ‘langar’ in the protest area was started by a Sikh philanthropist, which was later supported and run by civil society members cutting across all communities and religions.
The popular slogan, ‘Jeene ki Azadi’ was absurdly branded as ‘Jinnah ki Azadi’ by BJP leaders. Union minister Anurag Thakur openly incited slogans of ‘goli maaro’ which was followed by fanatic gunmen trying to shoot their way into Jamia and Shaheen Bagh. One Jamia student was hit by a bullet fired by a young fanatic brandishing a gun right in front of a posse of cops.
Arvind Kejriwal was accused of distributing biryani out there by Yogi Adityanath, when the truth is that Kejriwal did not even visit the women of Shaheen Bagh, nor did he utter a single word in solidarity with the anti-CAA/NRC peaceful protests. Indeed, Kejriwal, an elected chief minister, was called a ‘terrorist’ by top BJP leaders, for reasons only they seem to know.
This negative propaganda was unleashed relentlessly, even while the BJP did not have any other card to float in the Delhi elections. They subsequently lost the polls very badly. However, after trying to knock off the moral veneer and high moral ground of the peaceful women protestors of Shaheen Bagh through fake news and vicious propaganda, the BJP conveyed to its vast legion of roughnecks on the ground that they were on the right to overthrow a non-violent and stoic sit-in that swore by the Indian Constitution, Gandhian values and the Indian freedom movement.
Much of this violence that unfolded after February 23 had its origin in the sustained and negative campaign unleashed by the BJP. The outcome of this violent churn among the majority community was the brutality at display during the widespread riots and killings which destroyed and burnt out entire markets, schools, religious places and homes.
Mosques were methodically targeted. Madrasas were burnt. This writer went to one at Mustafabad, which was torched from within and some of the students beaten up. Incidentally, the madrasa had the handsome countenance of revolutionary freedom fighter Ashfaqullah stuck outside one of the windows. It was apparent that the larcenists and hoodlums did not know who he was; they simply did not care. “Three of the madrasa boys are still missing,” said a bystander.
Both Hindus and Muslims have been killed. The police have openly sided with the rioters who were targeting the Muslim community. There are several national and international media reports and videos to prove that. The partisan of the Delhi Police has been transparent. Were they doing this on their own, or were they following orders from the top?
Sounding like an episode from the iconic partition book (and TV sareies), Bhishm Sahani’s Tamas, a young Muslim recounted the frenzy of the 72 hours (February 23-25) when the attack seemingly came from those chanting Jai Shri Ram, which has yet again been turned into a war cry of communal polarisation.
“There were thousands of people who were pelting stones at us. From one of the rooftops there were two persons who were firing at us. Hit by these bullets, our friends were falling and we were dragging them to nurse the wounds. It was so bizarre and violent. Most of our people got killed when we went on the defensive, when the police, instead of helping us out, chose to fire teargas shells at us,” said a local Muslim.
Most of the injured were taken to Al-Hind Hospital which has come up in one of the lanes of Mustafabad. Doctor Anwar and his family run this hospital for the past few years. They had never expected that such extraordinary demands would be made on their Spartan, ill-equipped hospital. On the night of February 24, Dr Anwar remembers, “So many people came with grievous injuries. We were not in a position to operate, but we tried our best to stop the bleeding.”
Then the police began to stop ambulances from entering the hospital. Till some civil society activists filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in the night, the ambulances were full of patients awaiting urgent medical attention. At least two people reportedly bled to death as they could not reach the hospital.
A group of young Muslim boys were badly beaten up in front of the police, and forced to sing the national anthem. One of them later succumbed to his injuries. There are allegations that the police beat up Muslim patients as they were being rushed to hospitals.
Other reports inthe media and other sources brought out testimonies of those who killed and hacked their victims and dumped them in the drains that flow around Northeast Delhi. Dead bodies are being routinely discovered in the drain. The Delhi Police that got into the act has arrested these men only after the expose. Otherwise, it was mostly Muslim men who would be picked up to build a narrative that what happened in Delhi was a Muslim riot helped by foreign powers.
Majority of those who have been arrested even now are from the minorities. In many cases, activists assert, Muslim victims themselves are being picked up by the police.
Both Hindus and Muslims have been killed in these politically-engineered riots. The police have openly sided with the rioters who were targeting the Muslim community. There are several national and international media reports and videos to prove that. The partisan and diabolical role of the Delhi Police has been transparent.
The question, therefore, is apparent: Were they doing this on their own, or were they following orders from the top, in this case, the Union home ministry?
So what will happen after the Delhi riots and the killings, the brunt of which has been borne by the Muslim community?
The killings have been described as a ‘pogrom’ by many observers and eye-witnesses. Some see the Delhi riots following the Gujarat playbook. The truth is that the trust of Indian Muslims in the Indian State and its institutions has collapsed. The faith that they had in the judiciary has been rudely shaken. They do not expect justice from the State and are figuring out ways to make sense of a chaotic and uncertain future. Indeed, they fear that they would be ghettoized as second class citizens or forced to live a life in detention centers under this openly partisan ruling dispensation.
Pictures: Sanjay Kapoor