Aas Mohammad went missing when communal violence began in North East Delhi. Five days later, his body surfaced in a drain. It was bloated and puffed, there was a rotting gash on his torso, his tongue protruding from his swollen lips. He had been slain and his body thrown into the drain. Four other men, all Muslim, met the same fate. This is their story, of the men who ended up in Delhi's 'drains of death'.
The body surfaced at 3 pm on March 1.
Chandravati, 55, was standing on her terrace when the body appeared in the dark waters of the drain behind her home in Gokulpuri, Delhi.
“I’ve lived here for the last 40 years and never seen anything like this,” she said. “My head was spinning the entire day.” She shook her head. “He was a tall boy with a green shirt. His head was inside the water and the back bent outwards. It passed right in front of my house.”
The body floated past Chandravati towards the Gokulpuri metro station, continuing a journey down the drain that had begun from North East Delhi’s Johripur. For half an hour or so, men stood by the road, attentively watching the drain — a water body deposited by silt and garbage in equal measure. Two policemen watched from the metro station. Traffic stopped too, causing a minor jam.
Everyone wanted to partake in the spectacle.
But for Aas Mohammad, the body in the drain, there was no going home. Aas had gone missing on February 25, the day the communal violence peaked in North East Delhi. He was caught by a mob, murdered and dumped into the drain.
According to the Delhi police, at least 12 people so far are known to have suffered a similar fate, including Intelligence Bureau staffer Ankit Sharma.
Aas’s body appeared five days later, when the Gokulpuri nala flowed more freely after a heavy spell of rain the previous day. A crowd spotted his body in the drain, near the Ganga Public School in Gokulpuri, and followed it. But no one was up to the morbid task of pulling it out.
Aas Mohammad’s body was bloated and puffed. The flesh on his feet had turned grey and the eyes popped out. A deep, rotting gash on his torso had turned black and his chest was pink. There was a round hole in one of his cheeks, an incision on the right temple, and his swollen tongue protruded from his swollen lips.
That’s when Arun Kumar, Chandravati’s neighbour, was asked to step in.
“It was Sunday and I was hanging out with my friends near the drain,” Kumar, 27, told Newslaundry. “We saw an intrigued crowd by the road, following something in the drain. There were some policemen there too. Everyone said it’s a corpse and they tried to grab it using ropes but couldn’t. It finally got stuck near the flyover.”
The police asked the crowd to retrieve the body, but everyone developed cold feet. Kumar’s friends asked him to do it since he could swim. “I was given a truncheon to hold and a rope was tied around me.”
Kumar jumped into the black waters and swam towards the corpse. He brought the body ashore where others helped him pull it out. The body was wrapped in a white cloth and the police took it away.
“They gave me 300 bucks for it,” Kumar chuckled.
Kumar is married with a toddler. He was born in Delhi and works as a peon in a private company in nearby Yamuna Vihar. His home in the Gokulpuri slum is marginally more spacious than the area’s narrow streets.
“I volunteered because I thought the body would reach the family and could be cremated ritually. They would get closure. Beyond that, I try not to think about it,” he said. His wife said she never asked him about that day because she does not want to have nightmares.
Newslaundry told Kumar the body had been identified as Aas Mohammad. His expression didn’t flicker.
Muslim families in Kumar’s neighbourhood had fled the slum during the violence on February 24 and 25. Once the calm returned, so did the families.
Everyone had locked themselves inside their homes during those two days, Chandravati said. “The mob roamed outside but never entered the slum. The children were very scared,” she told Newslaundry.
Fear continues to lurk in odd ways. “I hope I will not get into trouble for this,” Arun said as we prepared to leave.
Aas Mohammad, 30, lived in Mustafabad’s Shakti Vihar. He provided for three young children — two boys and a girl — and three brothers and two sisters. Another sister had died a few months before due to an illness, said Chand, Aas’s younger brother.
“Now there are just four of us left,” he said.
Shakti Vihar did not witness violence on February 24 and 25. Elders from the Hindu and Muslim communities had resolved to keep their young in check, and a deceptive peace had prevailed.
Other neighbourhoods bore witness to stone-pelting and arson on February 24. The violence, more destructive than before, resumed on the afternoon of February 25. Aas, who earned his livelihood driving a rickshaw, had left home that morning despite his family’s advice to stay put.
He did not return for days.
“Aas did not own a phone. We tried to file FIRs online but it was rejected,” said Chand. “Phone calls to the police did not connect.”
Aas’s friend Parman claimed they intuitively knew that something bad had happened to him. But the stories of violence that spread on February 25 quarantined everyone inside their homes. The Delhi police had issued shoot-at-sight orders that evening. So the search for Aas only began days later — not at the police station but at the hospitals.
“We knew that no one would hear us at the police station. There was also a rumour that the rioters were capturing everyone heading towards the police station,” said Naazim, Aas’s brother. “All our elders have beards, so we were reluctant. But we looked for him in Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital multiple times with no success.”
Two weeks after Aas’s disappearance, the brothers relented. On March 9, they reached out to a police officer they knew.
“He asked us to meet an officer at Gokulpuri police station who had pictures of those recovered from the drains,” Naazim said. The family, including Aas’s aged father, duly ventured to the police station that evening.
The police directed the family to inspect the bodies in the mortuary at the GTB Hospital. The brothers asked their father to stay behind and let them handle it.
“It was the black pants, green jacket, and the chain that helped us recognise him. I could guess from the hairstyle too,” Chand told me. He used the English word “damaged” to describe the corpse, perhaps trying to convey the gravity of it. “They said it surfaced a day after the rainfall. We were told that a Hindu man took out his body.”
On March 10, the day after the brothers identified the body, the Gokulpuri police station filed an FIR.
There is a contradiction where the FIR details the injuries on Aas’s body. “The corpse was taken out with the help of the police staff and there were no injuries on it,” it states. This is strange since the body has visible gashes on the head and torso. Later, however, the FIR states a doctor told the station house officer “after the postmortem that there are grave injuries on the person’s head”.
The FIR claims Aas Mohammad was killed by “rioters” who tried to erase evidence of the crime by throwing his corpse into the drain. The rioters — “unknown rioters”, the FIR calls them — are booked under the Indian Penal Code provisons related to rioting, unlawful assembly, and murder.
The FIR does not mention one crucial fact: where Aas was murdered.
On the night of February 25, this correspondent was in Loni, half a kilometre away from where the body was fished out. I had reported on how a mob of men chanting “Jai Shri Ram” had torched the slum dwellings of several Muslim families in Gokulpuri’s Ganga Vihar. Other slum dwellers, who were Hindu and were spared, told me a mob that had gathered at a bridge 100 metres away — called the Johripur-Bhagirathi Vihar puliya — was responsible for the arson.
The drain flows downstream from the Johripur-Bhagirathi Vihar puliya, where the mob stood that night, to the Gokulpuri metro station half a kilometre away, where Aas was found.
On the night of February 25, we could see the mob from the slum. When two other journalists who were with us walked towards them, they were met by two Delhi policemen standing right beside the mob. The men in uniform told them to leave because they would “not be protected”, as one of the journalists wrote later.
The policemen did not disperse the mob, they merely watched. Armed personnel from the Uttar Pradesh police, standing 100 metres away, did the same.
We also saw people from nearby localities of Johripur, some masked and carrying rods, joining the mob. This is corroborated by the slum’s residents who said it was people from the surrounding colonies of Ganga Vihar and Johripur who had set fire to their homes.
Subsequent incidents and news reports indicated that the mob was present at this puliya the next day as well when the violence, according to the Delhi police and the home minister Amit Shah, had been brought under control.
On March 4, Newslaundry met some children playing in a ground near the Johripur-Bhagirathi Vihar puliya. A contingent of the Central Reserve Police Force personnel was stationed at the puliya. The children told us that Muslims were sought out and killed at the puliya during the riots.
“They were asking passersby their names and then killing them,” one of them said. “We saw a man on a bike who jumped into the drain out of fear. He was killed. Many people were murdered.”
Notably, the Johripur-Bhagirathi Vihar puliya is an intersection for two drains flowing from Mustafabad and Karawal Nagar in North East Delhi into the Yamuna near New Ashok Nagar. Eight dead bodies have been recovered from near this intersection — seven men, all Muslim, and one unidentified person. Four of these were found on February 27.
“It has come to fore that a mob had positioned themselves on the Johripur-Bhagirathi Vihar pulia and killed the four who happened to pass from there,” the Times of India reported on March 13.
Two of the four men were brothers Amir and Hashim.
Four more bodies were found in the drains on March 1. An investigating officer at the Gokulpuri police station told Newslaundry that all had injuries on their heads. One of them was Aas Mohammad. The other three were found in the drain on the left of the puliya’s intersection, in the Bhagirathi Vihar nala.
One of these bodies remains unidentified. The other two have been identified as Hamza, a resident of Mustafabad, and Bhure Ali, a resident of Loni.
Amir and Hashim: The brothers who never returned
On February 28, a 14-year-old told us he would “show us something serious”.
We met the boy at the home of Haji Mohammad Yunus, the Aam Aadmi Party legislator from Mustafabad. The boy, wearing a shabby shirt, led me to Gali 17, an alleyway so cramped that only specks of sunlight illuminated the ground.
We stopped outside one of the houses. Inside, people were wailing.
This was Nagma's house. She had returned from the police station a day before after identifying the bodies of two of her brothers – Amir Khan, 30 and Hashim Ali, 19.
The family had last spoken to the brothers on February 26. The next day, Nagma and her relatives went to the Gokulpuri police station to lodge a complaint about the missing brothers.
At the police station, the frustrated family were directed from one officer to another. A few hours later, just as they prepared to leave, an investigating officer showed up with three corpses.
The officer did not show them the bodies; he passed them photographs instead. The bodies were in such a state that they were hard to identify but Nagma recognised the clothes on two of them. She broke down.
Amir worked as a driver while Hashim was a tailor in a jeans factory. Both were married. Amir had two daughters; Hashim’s wife, Shabina, is pregnant. Between them, the brothers earned Rs 600 for the household.
When we stepped inside, the house was crowded with neighbours — mostly women who had gathered to mourn. Shabina sobbed in one corner of the room. Nagma, holding one of Amir’s daughters in her lap, wailed angrily, “Kapil Mishra will be punished for his actions. He will be destroyed the same way.”
Mishra is a BJP leader who is accused of inciting the communal carnage.
On February 23, Amir and Hashim had gone to a hospital in Ghaziabad to meet their grandfather, Nagma said.
“They went on a bike and told us they will return on February 26, and we asked them not to since the situation was bad. I talked to them over the phone at 8.30 pm. They were near the Gokulpuri tyre market. That’s the last conversation I had with them,” Nagma told Newslaundry.
The route from the Gokulpuri tyre market to Mustafabad passes over the Johripur-Bhagirathi Vihar puliya. The bodies were found in the drain on the morning of February 27.
The FIR filed by the Gokulpuri police station in this case is not very different from that in Aas Mohammad’s. It claims the bodies were in an “unconscious and unresponsive state” and were thrown into the drain to hide the crime.
The FIR describes a quick death. One of the brothers, it claims, was found in the drain with his motorcycle. Chhedi Lal, who lives just beside the drain in Bhagirathi Vihar, told Newslaundry that one of the bodies was stuck to the bike when it was taken out.
“It was lying on one side of the drain at seven in the morning on February 27. The flesh on the face was badly damaged, and his legs were still folded and stuck to the bike,” Lal said. The body was retrieved by the police two hours later.
Pictures show that Hashim had suffered multiple head injuries. His body had a horrifying gash from his throat right down to his stomach. Amir’s forehead was smashed in the middle. The FIR says there was a third corpse lying nearby.
“I’ve lived here since 1987,” Lal said. “I’ve never seen anything like those two days.”
Newslaundry met Nagma’s father, Babu Khan, on March 13. He said the tragedy has thrown the family into uncertainty. His sons, after all, were the breadwinners of the family.
“They were our precious pearls. Young men are everything to a poor family. I am upset with life,” Khan said, dejected. He now has to look after Amir’s daughters and is waiting for aid from the Delhi government.
Bhure Ali: Two children, wife murdered a few years ago
A kilometre away from Gokulpuri, Hassan Ali, 60, runs a tea shop in Raghunath Colony in Loni. The shop is small and dark. There’s a bed inside, indicating that the old man spends most of his day here.
Hassan is currently mourning the death of his son, Bhure Ali, 30. Bhure was a daily wage worker who did odd jobs in Mustafabad and Noor-e-Ilahi area. His body was found on March 1, in the drain that flows outside E Block in Bhagirathi Vihar, around two km from his home.
On February 26, Bhure had left home for work. “None of us were stepping out in those days,” Hassan remarked.
When Bhure didn’t return the next day, his father filed a missing persons report at the Gokulpuri police station, and a search began. On March 2, Hassan said, “A big officer called us and said they had found four dead bodies in the nearby drain.”
The family, including Bhure’s sisters, went to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Central Delhi.
“His body was in the drains for four days. It was bloated. They did not show us his face,” Hassan said. “We recognised him by his ring, his kada, and his name on the wrist.”
Aman, Bhure’s youngest brother, showed us pictures of Bhure’s funeral: a dark grey body with a reddish forehead, a gaping mouth revealing broken teeth, resting inside a burial pit.
Bhure has left behind two orphans, aged six and eight. His wife was murdered in Shahdara a few years ago; the case is still going on in court. After her death, Bhure and his children had moved into Hassan’s home in Loni.
“Bhure would give Rs 100-200 to his mother from his savings,” said Aman, who will now look after his nephews with his father. The father says he does not know how to express his loss, “How do I tell you what I feel about his death? What has happened has happened.”
The Delhi police, taking a cue from the Uttar Pradesh police, did not allow Bhure’s remains to return home, citing the “sensitive situation” and the possibility of a violent reaction in the area. The body was buried two kilometres away in Mustafabad.
Hassan doesn’t make more than Rs 150 a day from his tea shop. And now that he has to look after his school-going grandchildren, the future seems bleak. However, the Delhi government has given the family Rs 1 lakh and signed another cheque for Rs 9 lakh. One family member has also been promised a government job.
“He told all of us to not leave home during the riots. But he left himself because of some work,” said Aman. Hassan nodded contemplatively, adding: “Death was waiting for him.”
Hamza: Came to Delhi last year for a better life, killed
Like Bhure, Amir, Hashim, and others, Hamza was found dead in the putrefying muck of Bhagirathi Vihar nala. He was 25.
Hamza had left home in the evening on February 26 to check on his shop in Mustafabad near Tripal Factory. At 9 pm, Arif Ansari, his brother-in-law, called him but Hamza’s phone was switched off.
Arif panicked. “I called all his friends but he was not with them. I thought he might have gone to the mosque so I checked. But he had not gone there,” Arif said.
Hamza had shifted to Delhi from Meerut only six months ago. He worked at a computer shop in Meerut, and hoped to find better prospects in the Indian capital. He lived in Gali 9 in Mustafabad with the Ansaris, who own a fast food shop nearby.
Noor Alam, a neighbour who runs a chemist shop opposite Hamza’s house, remembered him as “a noble man” who was “always helpful to those in need”.
On February 27, Arif went to Mustafabad police chowki to file a missing persons report. He was accompanied by Malik Raees, who owns the shop where Hamza worked. Arif claimed they were not treated well at the police station.
“We went there for two days but they did not file our report. We were asked to leave,” he said. He then checked all the hospitals, but with no luck.
On February 29, a few lawyers working with victims came to his rescue. They helped Arif finally file a missing persons report three days after Hamza had vanished. “They had our FIR registered too,” he said.
Five days later, on March 5, the police asked Arif to reach the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. His wife and Hamza’s friends accompanied him. There, they identified Hamza’s body — now a swollen, decaying corpse.
Arif showed us a photograph of Hamza’s dead body: a puffed, hairy face with three three conspicuous cracks on the forehead. One eye was shut while the other popped out.
An investigating officer at the Gokulpuri police station told Newslaundry Hamza’s body was found in the Bhagirathi Vihar drain on March 1 but the hospital told Arif that it was recovered on March 2.
Ashok Kumar, a resident of Bhagirathi Vihar, recalled a moment of dehshat, or terror, when he saw the dead bodies floating in the drain during the riots. Three bodies were retrieved here, including Bhure Ali and Hamza.
“The conflict began on February 24. The Muslims had collected at the Brijpur puliya and Hindus gathered on this side [Johripur-Bhagirathi Vihar],” Ashok explained. “Something bad happened on the night of February 24. We saw bodies here on the morning of February 25.”
He added: “After the riots, the police were only focusing on restoring order and were not inspecting the drain. It is only after people alerted them that they started taking out the bodies.”
Back in Mustafabad, Noor Alam, Arif’s neighbour, told me that “fear is still in the air”. “All of us are terrified. Never in my life have I seen such violence and terror against one community. I do not know how things will return to normal,” he said.
Ghyassudin Ansari, Hamza’s father, is a daily wage worker earning about Rs 300 a day. He has three surviving sons and three daughters, all unmarried. Having lost Hamza, he is too grief-stricken to talk.
Delhi police can crack these murders, but will it?
As already mentioned, two Delhi policemen were present at the Johripur-Bhagirathi Vihar puliya on the night of February 25. Aas Mohammad was killed there that night, so were seven others within the next 24 hours.
Newslaundry asked Pramod Joshi, station house officer at the Gokulpuri police station, if he was aware of this. Joshi said he was on holiday at the time and does not recall the details. “Our personnel were on duty in the area that night,” he admitted.
The Delhi police must know who these two policemen are. And since they stood by — helplessly or not — as a mob went on a murderous rampage, these policemen would know who the perpetrators were.
As Babu Khan, father of Amir and Hashim, told us: “The policemen in an area know the good apples from the bad ones. They know who has done what and in which neighbourhood. They also know who was up to what that night.”
There are also eyewitness accounts and visual evidence backing the claim that many in the mob came from the surrounding colonies.
On March 12, the Hindustan Times reported that only four people have been arrested for killing and dumping corpses in the Bhagirathi Vihar drain – Pankaj Sharma, Lokesh Kumar Solanki, Sumit and Ankit. This is in connection with only four of the Johripur murders, and there’s no word on the other four yet.
Compare this with the Ankit Sharma murder, where AAP councillor Tahir Hussain has been taken into custody and five more have been arrested, using “CCTV footage and information provided by eyewitness and local informers”.
The Delhi police do not stand tall in the eyes of those affected by the violence. The international media has accused the police of collusion, reporters have penned accounts alleging apathy, people in North East Delhi claim law was entirely absent during the riots and redress mechanisms do not work in its traumatic aftermath. It is now for the police to do what it was conceived to do: enforce the law, investigate the crimes, and prevent violence in the future – all impartially.
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With inputs from Jigyasa Agarwal.