"Humne soch liya hai, ab hum yahan nahin reh sakte." We have decided we cannot live here.
This is what Patriot heard from several family members outside Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, Delhi, waiting to claim the bodies of their loved ones. It was repeated by a woman waiting for her husband to recover at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital.
At LNJP Hospital, there have been two cases of death, including that of a minor. As of February 26, the hospital treated 41 injured. According to its official documents, the hospital saw four cases of acid burn victims, brought to the hospital on the evening of February 25.
Since the violence broke out in Delhi, there have been rumours of acid attacks. Hospital records now confirm this. North East Delhi is a major industrial area, and procuring acid is no major task.
Media persons were not allowed inside the ward so on February 26, we met Mufti Abdul Raziq, the Delhi state secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. He had just stepped out of the ward after meeting the victims who had been attacked inside Faroqiya Masjid in Brijpuri Puliya. Some of them were attacked with acid.
“The attackers broke open the doors to the mosque. There are seven still admitted here, others have been discharged,” Raziq says. Photos shared with us show victims of acid attack, and many with head injuries.
Raziq says one of the victims with acid burns was Mohammad Waqil, whose face had been splashed with acid, resulting in the loss of both eyes. The hospital records call the cause of injury as “injury by protest” with him being referred to the ENT department. There were six further cases but they have been discharged quickly, Raziq says.
The riots in Delhi has left at least 37 dead. About 188 were injured, some critically, due to the violence in Mustafabad, Maujpur, Bhajanpura, Seelampur, Jafrabad, Kardampuri, Babarpur, Gokulpuri and Shivpuri. Casualties are not confined to Muslims; Hindus were also killed in the communal unrest.
Many Hindus have packed a few belongings and moved to safer locations, and so have Muslims. But how many would go back to living within the same community?
Majid Ali, whose brother Mahroof died on February 25.
We met Majid Ali and Feroz outside the LNJP Hospital as they sat on the pavement of the hospital, distraught. Majid’s older brother, Mahroof Ali, died on Tuesday, February 25. He had been guarding their street in Bhajanpura at about 10.30 pm along with Majid and others.
Till that night, Majid says, the Hindus and Muslims who lived in the area were together, protecting their lane from mobs.
“We were standing with our Hindu neighbours to see that no outsiders come inside. Then people in police uniform came and started firing," he says. "I told my brother to come to the side, he kept saying I am behind. I don’t know how he got shot.”
Majid tears up, remembering the last words he exchanged with his brother. “I don’t know how many bullets hit him.” He points to the corner of his right eye and says, “He was shot here, I know that.”
Mahroof lost consciousness and “there was blood everywhere”, Majid says.
Their brother-in-law, Feroz, says mobs had started sloganeering and throwing stones in the area since Sunday. But on Tuesday, the violence escalated as the mobs started burning shops.
Majid and Mahroof owned home appliance shops in the area, where Majid says about 50 belong to Hindus and 25 to Muslims. “My brother had gone to his shop and taken a few things out and even told me, ‘Bhai, remove a few of your things’, so I did.”
On Tuesday, the mob destroyed all their shops. Majid says, “There were people of the mohalla instigating them, telling them which shop belongs to Muslims.”
They also claim, as have many others in reports and supported by videos being circulated, that police personnel were with the mobs. "That’s how they work. They have full police support and protection”.
That night, when the mobs’ bullets hit Mahroof and three other men in that area, they received no help from their neighbours, says Feroz.
“We brought him to the hospital on a scooter. There was violence still raging on, but we somehow got him," he says.
Mahroof, 32, was declared brought dead at 12.10 am at LNJP Hospital. He leaves behind his wife and two children, aged nine and six.
“In 40 years of living there, we never experienced this," says Feroz. "If we would have known such a thing could ever happen, we would have sold our homes and left. But we thought we want to live here, together with them.”
Injuries of those attacked inside Faroqiya Masjid in Brijpuri Puliya.
He adds: “There was love first, but now everything is over. Now we cannot be together. We have decided we will leave.”
Even in this time of grief, Majid says, they have not been able to get any sort of peace. “Violence is still prevailing and we have asked our family to move to Subhash Mohalla in Bhajanpura, where my father lived by himself.”
Wounded and in grief
On the evening of February 26, we met Sanjida outside the emergency and casualty ward of LNJP Hospital. The sound of that evening's azan (the Islamic call to prayer) reminded her of the previous day when, at around the same time, she had been frantically calling her husband.
Her husband, Feroze Akbar, had stepped out of their home in Mustafabad to help people who had been attacked by a mob.
Sanjida and her husband moved to Mustafabad a year ago, along with their children Danish, 20, and a five-year-old boy. Akbar works as a tailor here and is the only breadwinner.
On February 25, while women sat in protest, Sanjida says, a mob attacked them. “People from the locality all rushed to the spot to help them out.”
But there, they encountered men dressed in police uniform. “I don’t know if they were affiliated with a Hindutva group or if they were really police personnel, but they were wearing uniforms.”
The first attack came with a heavy bombardment of stones and then sticks, Sanjida says. “Then they started firing arms, which is when everyone started running.”
But Akbar couldn’t run; he was injured five years ago. “He has disability…he couldn’t run away from there," his wife says.
Sanjida says Akbar then telephoned her and asked her to call Danish home. “I told him, 'you come home as well, you will not be able to walk'. He said he would." But Akbar was caught in the crowd of people running. He was pushed into the safety of a mosque which turned out to be no place to take cover, as armed men went on to beat those inside.
“My son came back home and asked about his father. He hadn’t returned while everyone else had, wounded but safe at home,” Sanjida says.
Despite numerous phone calls, she could not get through to Akbar. “I kept calling him but his phone was switched off by then. They had started firing teargas so we couldn’t even venture out to look for him. It became dark by then...my son started crying and said ‘I will go and search for him’, but I didn’t allow him to leave.”
Finally, at 8 pm, she got a call from an unknown number who asked her who Akbar was to her. “I told him he is my husband.”
Sanjida was then informed that Akbar had been brutally beaten “by the police”. “We have brought him to our home, but you need to come immediately and take him to a hospital”, said the voice on the other end. This Good Samaritan had already called a doctor home to administer first aid to Akbar.
With a violent mob still raging outside, it was impossible for the family to go to Akbar. Two hours later, Sanjida was informed that her husband was being taken to Al Hind Hospital.
“I went outside and saw many people sitting on the street. I asked them to drop my son to the hospital and they agreed,” she says.
Feroze Akbar at LNJP Hospital.
Feroze Akbar's injuries on his back and his head.
At the hospital, Danish was shocked to see the serious injuries his father had received. He telephoned his mother, crying and begging her to come there, and help arrange an ambulance to transport him to another hospital.
Sanjida said she ran out with her five-year-old son. "I didn’t lock my home or anything. I went downstairs and told the men to drop me to the hospital."
At about 2.30 am, Akbar was taken to LNJP Hospital, after a series of calls begging for help. His move took place only after the Delhi High Court gave a midnight order to the Delhi police to ensure the safe evacuation of injured people to government hospitals.
The next morning the hospital informed Sanjida they would be discharging Akbar, and that he needs to be taken home. “He is in no condition to be moved, I told them,” Sanjida tells us. “Where will I take him? Look at his condition.” She shows us photos and videos of Akbar in the ward.
Sanjida hasn't gone home since the attack on February 26. She doesn't know how she'll go there again, even if it's just to pack and move out, never to return.
United in grief
At GTB Hospital, 22 were brought dead between February 24 and 26, according to the hospital's official records. Nine were killed by gunshot wounds and a man named Ashfaque was killed by stab wounds and a gunshot wound.
The communal violence has been blamed on BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s inflammatory speech on February 23, during a rally he had organized in North East Delhi’s Jaffrabad. Mishra had given an ultimatum to the police to clear the roads of citizenship law protesters in three days. Later he issued a call on Twitter, urging people to gather and “prevent another Shaheen Bagh” near the Jaffarabad metro station.
And a few hours later, the mayhem began.
On February 26, the Delhi High Court directed the police to take a “conscious decision” on the lodging of FIRs against Mishra and BJP MPs Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Singh Verma. While campaigning during the Delhi election, Thakur and Verma had made incendiary speeches too.
While Thakur started the inflammatory chant to shoot at people, saying “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaron salo ko”, Verma claimed on stage at an election rally that the protesters of Shaheen Bagh — a women-led protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act — would come to their homes and kill and rape women.
It's clear that the election became an excuse to push hate speeches against the minority community. Our visits to areas where the BJP won, where we spoke to voters, shows that this rhetoric worked.
Muslims have been the worst affected in these past few days: their businesses and homes burnt, attacked on streets, mosques desecrated, and more. But there have also been Hindus who have been attacked. At least seven of the 22 brought dead to GTB Hospital were Hindu men.
One of them was Rahul Solanki, 26, an engineer from Babu Nagar who died of gunshot wounds. His family members have been at GTB since Monday, when he was shot by a mob as he stepped out to buy milk. Solanki's body was found just a few metres from his home.
His family had to wait until Wednesday evening for his body to be released. Friends and family waited, distraught, outside the mortuary. Solanki’s father, Hari Singh Solanki, blamed Kapil Mishra and his speech for ruining their home.
Outside the GTB mortuary, we met Mudassir, whose brother Ashfaque, 22, was killed in the violence. As we sat on the pavement outside, Mudassir told us his brother had gotten married less than two weeks back, “on February 14, and now he’s gone”.
We asked Mudassir if he could show us photos of his brother. He looked away and said, “If my phone hadn’t run out of battery, I would have shown you all of my brothers’ photos, not just the wedding ones…We spent all our time together”.
Mudassir, whose brother Ashfaque was killed on February 25.
Ashfaque at his wedding on February 14.
On the evening of February 25, Ashfaque was walking home from work in Mustafabad — he worked as an electrician — where he encountered a mob. The mob shot him at least three times. The photo we saw of Ashfaque's corpse shows three bullet injuries.
At the time he was just about half a kilometre away from home, says Hasan Raza, a family member. “People rushed him to a private hospital. We were informed around 8 pm that he had died but couldn’t leave because of the violence prevailing. It was too dangerous.”
The family left home in the wee hours of the morning, bringing Ashfaque’s mortal remains to GTB hospital. His brother says they had never felt any different from the Hindus living there, showing us the wedding photos which Raza had on his phone. Mudassir points to all of Ashfaque’s friends saying, “They are Hindus”.
They now plan on moving away, as "everything had been lost". Mudassir has tears in his eyes. "Be it Hindus or Muslims, for everyone there’s trouble. Both have lost people in their lives."