For the last couple of days, the riots in Delhi seem to have subsided. But have they ended? Even if they have, following the outrage from civil society, courts and intervention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the mood among the affected communities is still gloomy. Many are fearful of another round of attack. The street view looks far from normal.
A sense of fear has caught both Muslim and Hindu communities, especially among those living in congested working-class mixed neighbourhoods of the capital.
A couple of incidents are indicative of the edgy situation prevalent in the city due to the nature of the riots where the attackers targeted anyone they saw as a threat. Kamlesh (name changed) told The Federal how on Sunday his two daughters shot videos of around 50 pro-CAA supporters marching past their house in Yamuna Vihar, Johripur, Northeast Delhi, brandishing saffron flags and chanting slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
After an hour, around seven armed men barged into their house and demanded that they hand over the video footage. Once the two daughters handed in their phone, the men deleted the videos. “They asked us for our identification and when they confirmed we are Hindus, one of them said ‘agar Musalman hote toh hum yahin kaat dete‘ (had you been Muslims, we would have finished you right here),” recalled Kamlesh.
In another incident, three independent journalists, including one woman, visited curfew-imposed Karawal Nagar area in Northeast Delhi, Thursday morning to shoot for a documentary. Within no time, the film-makers found themselves surrounded by at least a dozen people after a few locals noticed them clicking pictures. “They heckled us, took our phones and deleted the images, telling us not to get into all this. One of the men said, ‘what has happened is in the past and there’s nothing you can do about it’,” 25-year-old Milan Poudel told this reporter.
Ayat (name changed), a resident of Indira Vihar, says, “We have switched off all the lights since Wednesday night and have been hiding in the darkness ever since. The entire area has not slept for three days now. In the wee hours, somebody calls out for everyone to be awake, for we must be prepared for the worst,” says Ayat, still in a state of shock.
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In Hindu-dominated Durgapuri, Jyoti colony, near Maujpur, some Muslim-owned shops were looted, vandalised and burnt down. “Our Hindu neighbours assured us they would not let any outsider in, but as night falls, our sleep fades away and fear grips us,” said Huma (name changed), a resident of the area.
Footage of Delhi police destroying CCTV cameras has been doing the rounds ever since pro- and anti-CAA protests snowballed into the worst communal riots that the country has seen in almost a decade, leaving 38 people dead and over 200 injured. Violence was reported in Northeast areas of Delhi — Seelampur, Jaffrabad, Maujpur, Kardampuri, Babarpur, Gokulpuri, Shivpuri and Shiv Vihar. a few neighbouring areas, such as Indira Vihar, Yamuna Vihar, Chaman Park, were also affected.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s Gokapuri MLA Surendra Kumar tried contacting the police but to no avail. “We did not get any support from the Delhi police. I repeatedly called the deputy commissioner of police and other police officers on their mobile phone but nobody answered. We knew if we would have gone, rumours of us inciting violence would have floated,” he said.
“Finally at around 1 am, some police officers came and helped rescue residents, many of whom were still left behind,” Kumar added.
From giving false hope to panicked residents over phone calls to walking alongside the rioters and simply watching people getting stabbed or stoned to death, there is little doubt that the police officers did not do what they were supposed to — protect all citizens.
Zareen, a resident of Chaman Park, near Shiv Vihar, recalls what she saw from her terrace — stones being pelted, petrol bombs being hurled, guns being fired, even as the Delhi police stood and watched without attempting to help people or disperse the armed mob.
Stories of Muslim and Hindu neighbours helping each other out in times of distress have provided a glimmer of hope for beleaguered residents.
In Shiv Vihar, Sakina (name changed) and her family were helped by their Hindu neighbours to flee to the neighbouring Indira Vihar area. “Our two-storey house has been burnt down. All our documents, my son’s education records, our valuables, everything is gone. What reason do we have to live anymore” asked Sakina, breaking down into tears.
“I had to take off my burqa to escape. My brothers who had beards wore helmets to mask their identity,” said Zareen, who was given refuge by her Hindu neighbours.
On the other hand, a Pandit and his family, who have been living in a Muslim-dominated area of Indira Vihar for decades, decided to stay on in the locality instead of shifting temporarily to the Hindu-dominated Shiv Vihar, reflecting the mutual trust he enjoys with his neighbours.
All the people quoted in this report, including AAP MLA Surendra Kumar, told The Federal they and entire colonies have not slept for three nights, fearing another violent episode.
(Shameen Alauddin is an independent Delhi-based journalist)