A Muslim man walks inside a burned house in a riot-affected area, in New Delhi on March 1, 2020, after violence broke out in India’s capital. – The violence was triggered by protests against a citizenship law seen by many critics as anti-Muslim and part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda, capping a week which saw 42 killed and hundreds injured during the city’s worst sectarian violence in decades. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP) (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI—Lying on a torn cot inside a tent, 38-year-old Nizamuddin didn’t turn when a cloud of dust landed on him. He closed his eyes and tried to recall what his home felt like.

In late February, he lost his house at the hands of Hindu nationalist mob in the Indian capital’s worst communal violence in decades, riots that were arguably sparked by a series of hatemongering speeches by the local leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party. Nizamuddin ended up stuck sheltering in the Eidgah displaced persons camp in New Delhi’s Mustafabad neighborhood, three miles from his destroyed home.

On March 18, Nizamuddin’s wife, Parveena, was standing in a line outside the tent to collect scarce drinking water while their three children roamed around the camp with other kids who had lost their homes. Many of them are traumatized.

In a lane sandwiched between tents, under the open sky, young boys were playing ball. A few yards away, Arshad and Ruban, an 8-year-old and 13-year-old whose names have been changed, were sitting despondently.

Arshad was tense because his father had gone out of the camp for afternoon prayers against his son’s wishes. “My father has a long beard,” said the 8-year-old, “and Hindus will know that he is a Muslim and will beat him up.”

He said that when his family realized that they wouldn’t survive or “hold a chance in a fight against Hindus,” they ran away from their home in Shiv Vihar neighborhood in late February. So did Ruban’s family.

In the wake of the violence, the Delhi High Court asked the director of the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences to provide a sufficient number of qualified professionals to help victims who have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Wasim Qamar, who heads the medical camp in Eidgah set up by Doctors Unity Welfare Association, said that apart from a single session of counseling that was offered, they aren’t able to provide a psychologist or qualified professional to deal regularly with the mental health issues inside the camp.

Ruban is facing trauma after seeing the communal violence up close. “We ran from our home at night,” he said, “and every night, I’m reminded of it and I get scared.” Arshad, too, said he is struggling with his nightmares: “I see Hindus wearing helmets and armed with swords running after my family to kill us.”

I ask: Does he survive in the dream?


In December 2019, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party amended India’s citizenship laws, which made undocumented migrants of almost all religions—except Islam—from neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan eligible for Indian citizenship. It is also planning to carry out an exercise that forces everyone to prove their nationality. Put together, the laws could become a tool to strip millions of Indian Muslims of their citizenship.

Since December, New Delhi has become a battleground of identities and ideologies. Hundreds of Muslims have been protesting against the citizenship law. It was Hindu nationalist citizens and leaders angered by those protests who organized the mob that ransacked Nizamuddin’s street.

Meanwhile, the state’s complicity in the crimes against Muslims, as seen in the recent Delhi violence—during which multiple victims say that police didn’t react to their panicked calls or simply turned their backs—has encouraged the mobs on the streets, allowing them to attack Muslims with a sense of impunity.

Modi’s majoritarian government has shown no desire to pass any strict laws against mob violence or hate speech, doing further damage to the idea of a secular India.

Indeed, since Modi took power in 2014, Hindu nationalism in India has been on the rise. So have been communally motivated attacks. A report by IndiaSpend found that Muslims were the target of 52 percent of attacks related to consuming beef—an offense because cows are considered holy by Hindus—from 2010 to 2017; 97 percent of those attacks happened after Modi took power, and 84 percent of those killed were Muslims. Many of these attacks were shot on video, with the faces of the attackers visible, yet the mob vigilantism has gone unpunished.

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