New Delhi: Witnessing the horror of Delhi violence, helplessly watching his assets being looted or turned into ashes and experiencing a narrow escape from being killed were lesser nightmares for Nisar Ahmad than standing in a court as a witness against the alleged perpetrators and fighting for justice, not just for himself but others as well.

It was around 2 p.m on February 24, 2020, when Ahmad sensed some trouble in his neighbourhood — northeast Delhi’s Bhagirathi Vihar. He peered through his window to spot a large crowd gathering near his house in E-Block, chanting aggressive slogans of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Victory to Lord Rama) and ‘Jago Hindu, Jago’ (Wake up Hindus, Wake up).

“I know most of them either by name or by face, as a majority of the people in the crowd were locals,” he told NewsClick.

Considering it just a case of political posturing, the optimistic 47-year-old did not panic and trusted the strong brotherhood that Hindu and Muslim residents of the locality shared. But, as the slogan-shouting intensified, Ahmad’s wife, Asma, told their daughter, Ilma, and pregnant daughter-in-law, Sumaiya, (both in their mid-20s) to leave for a relative’s house. Ahmad’s younger son, Suhail, drove them to a nearby locality.

After Suhail returned, Ahmad too went down and followed the crowd — which stopped at a bridge (a few minutes away from his house) over the Yamuna canal.

“Barricades were put up, and provocative speeches were being delivered. By the evening, the mob went on a rampage. I ran back home, ensured my ready-made garments shop on the ground floor was locked and then shut the main entrance of the building from inside and went upstairs,” he said.

The mob of around 150-200 people laid siege to Bhagirathi Vihar’s intersection, which is close to a wide and open sewage canal.

“As night fell, they indulged in a horrific killing spree. All those passing by the street were being stopped. After ascertaining their identity, they were being looted and killed. Their bodies were being dumped into the canal,” he claimed, recalling that he kept ringing up the police to no avail.

While at least eight bodies were fished out from different drains of the Trans Yamuna region, two were recovered from the one in Bhagirathi Vihar to take the total death toll of the communal violence to over 53. Over 200 people suffered injuries and properties worth crores were damaged in the violence that began on February 23 and continued for four days after a counter protest in favour of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 took a communal hue.

Dlhi riots

The new citizenship legislation, which made it easier for “persecuted” minorities — except Muslims — in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to become Indian citizens, was being peacefully opposed by thousands who feared that the new law, along with an imminent national register of citizens, would pave the way for the government to doubt and question the citizenship of millions of Muslims in the country.

The community were also seeing it as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) attempt to interfere with the constitutional promise of equality to its citizens, regardless of faith.

After spending a sleepless night along with fellow Muslim inhabitants of the locality, Ahmad thought what had to happen had happened. But he was mistaken, as the worst was yet to come. The crowd returned the next day at around 6-7 a.m and went on rampage again.

Ahmad said he heard a commotion below his house. He looked out from window and saw a group of men breaking into his neighbour’s house. They looted the house and pulled out the furniture to set it on fire in the street. “The extent of hatred can be gauged from the fact that they did not even spare the ceiling fans,” he said.

He said it was at that moment when he realised the next target was his house, as the mob seemed to have an idea about Muslim houses.

“Sitting back in fear was no longer an option. Calling out from the window, I tried to reason with them. The men responded with stones and iron rods through his window. One of the rods struck Asma’s head,” he recalled.

The group soon turned toward his house and broke his shop’s shutter on the ground floor. “Whatever cash was there, they looted it,” he said, adding that the mob dragged out three motorbikes — a Hero Splendor, a Bajaj Platina and a Royal Enfield Bullet — which were parked downstairs, and burned them along with sacks of clothes.

Ahmad, his wife and their son ran to the rooftop, locking a gate behind them.

The men then went up the stairs and ransacked the first floor. “They looted a trunk containing jewellery belonging to my daughter-in-law. Some other valuables were also looted. They threw the furniture out on the road and set it ablaze,” he said.

While all this was happening, Ahmad was helping Asma to jump to the rooftop of the adjoining house. He said he lowered her with one hand over the roof wall. But the roof of that house was too low for her to jump safely. The house owner, a Hindu, quickly brought a ladder and helped Asma down. Then the father-son duo followed.

Neither did the neighbour offer them shelter, fearing a backlash, nor did Ahmad ask for protection. The family jumped to more adjoining roofs to finally get down the street and ran into the home of a close Hindu friend.

“He virtually locked us deep inside his house. There we caught our breath and cried. He consoled us and served tea. He did everything to ensure we stay safe. By afternoon, the mob withdrew. There was silence, as if the madness had passed. I looked out from the window and saw a few policemen making rounds in the area,” he recalled.

By the time they stepped out, the cops had left. They were spotted by a group of men who recognised them and ran over to them. With folded hands, Ahmad pleaded for mercy. And then a miracle happened.

“A man, whom I knew for years, came forward from the mob and warned the rioters not to touch us. He said if anyone dared to harm us, he would kill him,” said Ahmad.

This gave courage to his Hindu neighbours who were watching all this from their homes. They came out and formed a protective barrier between the distraught family and the rioters. Ahmad, his wife and their son were then escorted out of Bhagirathi Vihar and left near a policeman. The family ran toward the Muslim-concentrated Mustafabad and took shelter at a relative’s place…

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