This is how Nisar Ahmed remembers it. On 24 February 2020, at about three in the afternoon, an uproar outside his house brought him to his window. A large crowd of men was passing through Bhagirathi Vihar, his neighbourhood in north-east Delhi, chanting “Victory to Lord Ram!” and “Wake up, Hindus, wake up!”. Ahmed conferred with Asma, his wife. They decided, somewhat uncertainly, that the procession was probably harmless to Muslims like them.
“It felt like the usual political sloganeering,” Ahmed recalled. Politics was politics, but this was a neighbourhood where Muslims and Hindus called one another over for chai and sat outside together late at night. That brotherhood was protection enough. If there was any disturbance, elders would settle it. That was the hope anyway, and Ahmed was a man who lived on hope. His house overlooked a sewage canal, but when he looked out of his window he would choose to see instead the unbroken sky. Small things like this brought him inordinate pleasure.
Ahmed had come to Delhi from the countryside when he was 11. Soon after he arrived, he found a job at a garment factory and worked his way up, and eventually started a small business of his own. At 47, he felt that financial security was finally within reach. From the ground floor of his home, he designed denim garments and sold them across Delhi. There was enough of a demand for him to buy the house, three motorcycles and travel to prospective buyers in other cities.
Peering through their window, Ahmed and Asma saw the procession move down the street. They were unsettled by the many unfamiliar faces they saw in the crowd, but Ahmed was just as surprised by some of the faces that he recognised. Some he had known as children. Back then, they would not have dared even open their mouth in front of him; now they were part of a crowd announcing their dedication to the god Ram outside his house, turning what was usually a gentle greeting into a war cry. When he thought of these boys, piety was not the word that came to mind. “One of them used to lie intoxicated in the sewage canal,” he told me.
After a few minutes, the chants intensified. Asma told Ilma, their daughter, and Sumaiya, their pregnant daughter-in-law, to leave before real trouble began. “We thought that they wouldn’t be able to run,” Ahmed said. Asma had other fears – the women were in their early 20s. Suhail, Ahmed’s younger son, was ordered to drive them to a relative’s house in a nearby neighbourhood. Ahmed stayed behind with Asma and their other son, their nerves frayed, until Suhail returned 20 minutes later. Then Ahmed slipped out to follow the crowd’s progress.
This story was originally published in theguardian.com . Read the full story here