Heroes in the time of hate

ByThePatriot

Mar 6, 2020

Amidst the communal violence that ensued in North East Delhi, here are some stories that prove humanity still trumps hate in these terrible times

AS NORTH East Delhi witnessed the worst riots the Capital has seen since 1984, many lives were lost, houses were burnt down and families were shattered. Amidst all this, people still didn’t lose their desire for harmonious coexistence, some even risking their own lives to save one another.

From a whole neighbourhood wherewomen came forward to help a family in trouble, a Hindu pandit donating blood to a Muslim woman to a Muslim man who saved a Hindu’s life even after his house was charred down – here are six stories that prove that the Capital still maintains its secular spirit in times of such rampant communalism.

“WE WOULD RISK OUR LIVES FOR OUR NEIGHBOURS”

FOR MOHAMMAD Anas of Lal Bagh, the turmoil started on the afternoon of February 25. He was at home, having skipped office as he knew how volatile the situation in North East Delhi was, to say the least. “I thought my house is a little inside, and thus might be inaccessible to the rioters,” he says. But alas! He was proved wrong.

In the afternoon, he heard a huge crowd gathering, with chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram” echoing. At the very next moment, he heard lathis bashing the shutter of the ground floor, where he had a godown for mattresses. “They were also pelting stones at our windows, and we could hear the sounds of glass breaking relentlessly”.

Anas and his family hid in their bedroom on the first floor. “We blocked the bedroom door with two beds and a cupboard, so the goons wouldn’t enter there and harm my family,” he says. He could hear them coming up the stairs and breaking the doors of the other rooms in the process.

“They also set my godown on fire, and I could smell the fumes coming from the ground floor. The rioters had left as they couldn’t find us, but the smoke from the fire was getting unbearable. My children had passed out due to the excessive smoke and we too were choking”. It is then that they heard someone trying to barge in through the door of his bedroom, and Anas feared that they were the rioters. But he saw that a bunch of his neighbours, consisting of his 16-year old son’s friends, had come in to rescue the family.

“I saw that a huge crowd wearing helmets and carrying sticks and weapons were hurling stones and setting Anas’ house on fire,” says Rajesh Devi, neighbour and mother of Pavan, who is Anas’ son Abbas’s friend. “When I saw their house burning, I literally started crying and urged my mother that they were inside and we needed to do something.”

Pavan gathered a few of his friends, and decided that they were going to barge into the house and see if they can find their friend and his family. “We went inside knowing absolutely nothing, the ground floor was completely burning”. They somehow got inside, managed to break the bedroom door and rescued the family. “We came and sat in front of their house, and they offered water to us,” says Anas, pointing towards Rajesh and the group of boys who saved them.

Another resident of the same neighbourhood, Sarika Rana, then took the family into her home. “Anas is a very honourable and respected man in our colony, and his wife were friends with all of us,” she says, pointing to other ladies of the colony who were gathered around her. “His children’s faces were blackened by the fire, and they looked visibly shocked. His wife even had a piece of glass stuck on her foot, and she was bleeding profusely. We were appalled at this shocking scene.”

Sunita Devi, another resident of the area, gave Anas’ family shelter in her home. She says, “I had to, I just couldn’t see their faces”. Sarika, Sunita and a host of ladies in the colony guarded the area all night, so that no other rioters could come in. “We were ready to fight them, and would even risk our lives for the safety of our neighbours,” says Sarika. She also gave another Muslim neighbour shelter in her home, fearing that the mob would attack their house as well.

“We celebrate Diwali with as much fervour as we celebrate Eid. There is no distinction of religion in our neighbourhood, and we have lived peacefully together for so many years and will continue doing so”, says Shashi, another resident of the colony.

“We play cricket on these same roads everyday together, and we had to save our friend from this danger,” says Pavan.

“KISI AUR KA ZINDAGI BARBAAD HONE NAHI DE SAKTA THHA MAIN”

IRSHAD ALI’S house-cum-tailor shop in Gali no. 2 of Khajuri Khas was his only source of livelihood. “We were a happy community, but everything changed on the afternoon of February 25,” he says. A huge group of about 1,000 people, as Arshad describes, suddenly barged into their narrow lane, with sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails, and rampaged the whole area. “Aise lagta hai ki maut choo ke nikal gayi” (I felt like death had brushed past me). His house, along with a newly purchased motorcycle, was completely gutted.

Like his shop, almost all the Muslim houses in his colony, including that of a BSF jawan, and even the mosque was completely burned to shreds. “They were wearing bhagwa scarves and chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’,” he claims.

A Muslim mob had also gathered in the area, after the attacks and had started to target Hindus. “People had gone completely berserk, and they were targeting Hindus, to find the culprits who had almost gutted our colony.”

It was then that Irshad saw a man running aimlessly as he was chased by a bloodthirsty Muslim mob. He had run inside the lane and had taken shelter near Irshad’s home. “Seeing him, I went and tapped his shoulder and upon seeing me he literally started crying that he had done nothing,” he says. He took the man inside his burnt down home, calmed him down and asked him what the problem was.

“He said that he was a salesman who had come to the area to do some official work, and he wasn’t even from the area. He says that while he was trying to get out of the area, a Muslim mob suddenly chased him out of nowhere,”  recalls Irshad. “He was a Hindu,” he adds.

“I calmed him down, and said that I would help him,” he continues. “I took him out and decided that I would make a safe passage for him, and accompany him to a safe place,” says Irshad. As he accompanied the feared man to the main road, the mob blocked them at one point and threatened to beat him up, but Irshad intervened. “I pleaded with them not to hurt him, as he was just a victim and not one of the rioters who had burned our houses down. They somehow listened to me, and I took the man to a safe area near Yamuna Vihar, from where he took an auto and went to Ghaziabad nearby.”

So, why did Irshad, whose house and only source of livelihood were burned down just a few hours ago by the rioters, save another man? “He was like my brother, and it was my duty to help another man. I have seen first hand the damage that violence brings, and I did not want another life to be lost due to this violence,” he says. “Mera toh sab kuch barbaad ho gaya, kisi aur ka zindagi barbaad hone nahin de sakta thha main” (I lost everything, and did not
want anyone else to go through the same).

“KHOON KO JAAN LENE KA NAHI, JAAN DENE KA ZARIYA BANAYE”

THE GURU Teg Bahadur Hospital in Shahdara bore a desolate look on Sunday, March 1. Though, there was a crowd gathered in front of the morgue, and families were gathering there with pale faces to identify the dead bodies of their kin. The family members of the several hundreds who were injured, too were waiting with moist eyes outside the emergency wards.

The scene at the hospital was witness to the fact that the riots had caused so much bloodshed. It was then that two men – one clad in a red kurta and the other wearing a red jacket — entered the hospital, and urged everyone standing there, from the kin of the riot affected to the media, to donate as much blood as possible as it could save a lot of lives. They too, had come for the same.

They were Sandeep Pandit, a priest and Arshad Ali, a lawyer from Old Seemapuri in North East Delhi, who had come to the hospital with the sole purpose of donating blood to the riot affected. “When I saw the riots on TV, I was shaken. I wondered, what is happening to my Delhi?” says Arshad.

“People are fighting over religion, with politicians instigating them more and more to fuel this violence. There is so much hatred in people now that they even killed each other in these brutal riots,” adds Pandit. In these terrible times, he wanted to put out a message of harmony. He called his friend Arshad, and they both decided to do something that according to them would help the citizens who suffered in this brutal riot.

“The least we could do was donate blood,” says Ali. Pandit donated blood to a pregnant Muslim woman, who desperately needed blood transfusion, as she was injured severely. Her husband could not donate blood as he was underweight, and Pandit came in as a blessing in disguise for them.

“The happiness on their faces after I donated my blood to her, filled my heart with pride. At least I did something good in these times of hatred,” he says. Arshad also donated a unit of blood, which doctors preserved for future use. “I don’t know in whose veins my blood will run, but at least I will be satisfied knowing the fact that I saved a life, be it  Hindu or Muslim”.

“We wanted to donate more blood, but the doctors didn’t allow us to,” says Pandit. “We will  come back tomorrow and donate more blood,” adds Ali.

“In this battle between the tilak and the skullcap, it is the aam aadmi (common man) who is suffering, irrespective of their religion,” reiterates Ali, as his eyes begin to moisten. “Khoon ko jaan lene ka nahi, jaan dene ka zariya banaye” ( Blood should not be a means of taking life, rather it should help in giving lives), concludes Pandit, who even brought his daughter, Sandeepani to donate blood.

“NOW I KNOW WHAT PEOPLE IN THE 1947 RIOTS MUST HAVE FELT LIKE”

SAMEER, WHO owned a paan shop in Shiv Vihar, says that his shop was looted and ransacked by Hindutva mobs who came to the area on the afternoon of February 24. “My home is located just behind the shop, and my wife and daughter were inside when the mob came.”  He wasn’t home and called his wife to remain calm and stay indoors till he returns.

The Hindu mob was later chased away by a Muslim mob, and the violence took  quite a ugly turn. This ensued for more than 6-7 hours. Sameer and his friends somehow managed to rescue his family, when they also got to know that their friend Abid, who used to stay just next door to Sameer in a Dharam Kanta,was stuck there with his family. “Somehow we  managed to save our friend and his family, amidst all the violence, at around 7.30 pm.”

Abid recalled that his colleague, 58-year old Ram Nath Chaudhary, who also lives in the Dharam Kanta was stuck downstairs for the last 6-7 hours.

Chaudhary recounts the horrific incidents he had to encounter when he was trapped inside. “Like any other day, I was working here, when suddenly I heard that a mob was approaching the area and was ransacking anything and everything in sight. Fearful, I hid inside my room and locked the shutter from inside,” he recounts. “I was stationed at one corner of the tiny room, as I could hear the mob chanting expletives and shattering things outside,” he adds.

A mini truck parked outside was burned by the mobs, and the smell of smoke came into the room, as Chaudhary’s heart started to pound faster. “Now I know what people in the 1947 riots must have felt like.” With nowhere to go, he was trapped in that dark room for hours and hours, with the hope of survival slowly diminishing.

All this while, Chaudhary kept hearing slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” and “Allah Hu Akbar” coming from outside, in addition to expletives. “I even heard a group shatter Sameer’s shop, and telling everyone ‘Kisiko beedi ya thanda peena ho to loot lo yahaanse’ (If someone wants a smoke or a cold drink just loot it from here).”

“It was suddenly when I heard a loud crackling noise that I shivered, it was perhaps a gunshot. I was so frightened that I thought I would lose my life that day,” says  Chaudhary, visibly perturbed.

“I don’t know what time it was, but I saw a few men open the shutter and then help me out of here. It was Sameer and his friends, all of whom are Muslim,” he adds.

“We have known Panditji (as Chaudhary is referred to in the area) since we were young, and he is like a father figure to us. I couldn’t leave him there knowing he was trapped inside,” says Sameer.

Somehow, Chaudhary says, he managed to escape with their help and reached home safely. “If it wasn’t for these boys I wouldn’t have been alive today,” he concludes.

“THEY GAVE THEIR HOME KEYS TO THEIR HINDU NEIGHBOURS”

COMMUNITIES SUPPORTING each other in troubled times gives hope to the society. A locality in East Kamal Vihar Gali No.1, close to the border, showed one such example of communal harmony. People of this locality did not allow any rioters to come inside their colony. They diverted every rioter using various tactics from coming to their locality.

One such tactic was to change the slogans. To show communal harmony and make Muslims feel safe, they now shout slogans calling gods of all religions. Kailash Chandra, 50, a resident of the locality says, “Our locality has mixed people, Muslims and Hindus live together, without any fear even though Hindus are in minority here. We celebrate festivals together, understand each other. When riots broke out, we decided to change the slogan from “Jai Shri Ram” to “Jai Ram, Rahim, Isu” as this shows that there is no fear to anybody.”

People here stay awake all night since this violence broke down on February 24. All men sit together and sip tea, while kids and women sleep in their homes. Chaudhry Ji, who is in his late 70s, told us that on February 25 when they saw a group chanting religious slogans burning their Muslim neighbour Munabbar’s home, they rushed to that house and rescued the family, which was just outside their locality.

Rioters burnt the house while all family members were inside. His two daughters and a son fell unconscious due to the smoke. People of Chaudhry’s locality went there, broke the lock. Since they had kept heaps of material beside the gate to stop rioters from coming in, it took a lot of effort to reach them.

They managed to rescue Munabbar’s family and bring them in their home, and arranged food for them. And  their relatives were called to receive them, as Munabbar felt that it was not safe for his family to stay there for long at that time. They called the police and arranged their safe passage.

No house of the Muslim community was burnt in Gali No 1. But once the violence broke out, the fear psychosis among Muslims of that locality was exacerbated. They gave their home keys to their Hindu neighbours and went to their relatives’ place. “At the time of violence Muslims, felt unsafe because this area has a Muslim majority and this was natural. We told them to stay back but they couldn’t due to fear. They handed over keys of their home and went to their relatives. But they do come here to check their home, and we told them now everything is safe. They will soon come back with their family.” Chandra added.

“BEHEN, FIKR MATT KARO HUM TUMHARE SAATH HAI”

ON MARCH 1, when Savita was grieving the death of her husband Prem Singh outside the mortuary of GTB hospital, a man in his early 30s along with some other people came to her and consoled her saying, “Behen, fikr matt karo hum tumhare saath hai, koi bhi zarurat hogi hum help karenge (Don’t cry, we all are with you in case you need any help). His name was Faraz, and he’s a resident of Jamia Nagar, Delhi.

His other two friends Farhan Azimee from Okhla and Mumtaz, a resident of Krishna Nagar, were sitting just outside the mortuary, noting down the names and contact details of families who have lost someone and require legal help.

Then another woman came wailing with a copy of an FIR. She was looking for her brother, Bhure, who went missing from the Loni border area. The FIR that they filed were incomplete because police did not put any stamp on it.  Farhan noted each detail and informed her that her FIR is incomplete. She scolded him, saying, “How would we know, we are illiterate, you tell us what we should do.” Without losing his calm, Farhan asked Mumtaz to help her file an online FIR.

Farhan, Mumtaz and Faraz are lawyers, all three alumni of Jamia Milia Islamia. When they got the news of the gruesome riot in North-east Delhi, they realised that those who were affected are poor people and would require help. They immediately rushed to GTB hospital and set up a tent and started working.

Since February 25, they visit GTB hospital on a daily basis and note down each details of missing and injured people. “We know the system. Poor and disadvantaged are always in need of help and therefore we came here on February 25 to help them fight the legal battle,” Azimee said. The trio is also planning to set up a stall at North East Delhi, as those visiting the hospital are less in number.

They believe that what they are doing is a service to the country and their people, that is why they are here, selflessly working for the cause of riot victims without caring for their career. Mumtaz said, “Our clients are waiting but we are here because our inner voice is telling us to help these innocents.”

This trio is not alone providing legal help. When we visited Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, we met some more lawyers roaming here and there to find victims so that they could offer free legal service. Ritesh Dhar Dubey is also among them. He along with few other lawyers were speaking to authorities on behalf of the victims’ family.