• September 30, 2020 3:25 pm

Reporting From Delhi

Lessons in inhumanity

What do schools have to do with religion, ask the students of institutions which were deliberately targeted by mobs and burnt down to the ground

MEENAKSHI HAS soot on her face from looking through the remains of what was once her home. The 12-year-old looks despondent when we meet her at the school where she studies, which also acts as her home as her father Roop Singh is a caretaker.

The DRP Convent Public School in Shiv Vihar was one of the schools targeted by mobs in the violence in North East Delhi which ensued for more than four days. The schools engulfed in flames include Arun Modern Public School in New Mustafabad,  Rajdhani Public School in Shiv Vihar, Victoria Senior Secondary School near Chand Bagh and SES Public school, in Kamal Vihar.

Meenakshi’s school was closed for the day early on February 24, the roads outside overrun with mobs. Her mother, Geeta says, came back around 2 pm after finishing her work as a cook in a home in Yamuna Vihar.

She didn’t believe the situation was as bad as people were describing it, taking them as rumours. But soon her confidence proved to be false. As she, her husband, her younger daughter and one of their twins Megha (19), sat on the roof watching the mayhem unfolding in the street below, the mob too noticed them. “They started shooting and sending petrol bombs our way”, Geeta says, “I will never be able to forget it. Meenakshi will one day grow up, have her own children, but will never be able to forget what happened that day.”

Soon the mob scaled the four-storey high wall on the side of the school using a rope, and entered its premises. The family says more men came in via the main gate after that and started running upstairs, towards them.

They saw no other way out, and as many others had found that day and in the following days of the attack, jumping from roof to roof was their only hope of survival. “We somehow jumped across homes and reached a friend’s home”, Geeta tells us. They hadn’t returned to see what became of the school until a few days later on Friday, the 28th.

“They stole things and then burnt down everything else”, a visibly angry and upset Megha tells us. Her parents had been preparing for her wedding and had bought gold jewellery, silver, sarees, and other garments from the little they earned. All their documents were gone, “ I have thyroid and diabetes, but they left not even a box of medicines”, says Geeta.

Singh says he had bought things for his eldest daughter – she was born half an hour before Varsha, who had been informed well in time to go to her aunt’s and not come home. “Only 15 days back I had purchased all those things for her. You know every drop makes an ocean but they didn’t even leave a drop”.

He lost over a lakh in cash and jewellery worth over 2 lakhs and several other belongings. “We never had a problem before. I would say ‘Assalaam Alaikum’ to my Muslim friends and ‘Ram Ram’ to Hindus. Religion binds, not breaks”.

The parent also points to the fact that both Hindus and Muslims studied at the school, “and parents of both pupils have called to check on us. There is a brotherhood amongst us”.

Megha too says she does not understand whom to hold responsible when people of both faiths studied there. Megha is in her final year of BA and was due to appear for her exams. She now says there is a big question mark over the future of her education. “I have lost all my identity papers, my school-leaving certificates, my books, everything”. Her sister Varsha who was studying LLB too does not know what her future holds. Singh adds, “We only have our lives with us”.

WHY HURT EDUCATION?

“Schools are for everyone, aren’t they? Do schools belong to any religion? Why would someone burn them?” asked Aas Mohammad with a wry smile. The owner of the SES public school in East Kamal Vihar — a Delhi state board school which was also one of those which fell victim to arson in a mob attack – Mohammad also resided on the third floor of the school building.

The day after DRP Convent Public School in Shiv Vihar was burnt down, a mob chanting religious slogans and shouting communal abuses barged into his locality, burning shops, homes and killing whoever they saw around. Mohammad says he could have never thought that the mob would have no mercy for the future of the students. “They came and burnt it all down”.

Recounting the horrific day, Mohammad showed us the condition of what was once classrooms and a computer lab, “I don’t know what to say, I know everyone here, from ASI to DSP (of police), but nobody came to save my school from burning.”

He was with his wife and kids – a 20-year-old son and two daughters 17 and 7 – and his driver when a mob attacked the school, “We hid on the third floor. They then set the school on fire and we started choking. After three hours, when the police came, we were rescued. My neighbour helped by throwing ropes up to the third floor which we used to come down. Only we know how we survived.”

Aas Mohammad alleges that police personnel could have stopped the arson but had been stopped from doing so by their higher-ups. “Police officers have told me: Masterji we can’t do anything because our hands are tied,” he says, further alleging the involvement of locals in the act. “If locals are not involved, how could someone know that it is my school?” A Muslim’s school, he meant.

Mohammad has three schools. His other two are safe – one situated in Buddh Nagar in Loni Ghaziabad and Bhagirathi Vihar in Gokulpuri, one of the riot-hit areas. Only this one, where he also resides, was targeted. What is also interesting is the fact that four other schools on that road were left untouched. In fact, on that road, signs of selective arson were visible, with properties of belonging to Muslims the only ones burnt.

Aas Mohammad claimed the damage to his school is around Rs 1 crore. Along with the building itself, the arson destroyed all the classrooms, computer systems, cameras, school uniforms, course books. The school had around 400 students enrolled. All of them will be shifted to his other schools.