‘I still can’t believe he told my address to the mob.’

Charred copies of Holy Quran in Auliya Masjid in Shiv Vihar. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Nayla Khan

Standing amidst the ruins of her three-storey house in Shiv Vihar, a young girl stood next to her father, inspecting what could be salvaged from what was left of their home.

“I had my baby in my hand,” she tells me, recounting how she held her infant for 6 hours hiding in a corner from the bullets, stones and petrol bombs which were being hurled by the mob.  

For days, we had helplessly watched the pogrom of north-east Delhi unfold before our eyes. After some semblance of surety that the place could be visited, Me and my friend decided to visit the area.

As the survivors began to narrate their accounts, we were woken to a reality beyond what we had feared. We listened to each one of them tracing down the very night they lost everything.

The story of the girl with her baby began on a rooftop that was now marred with stones and cracks. Hours before the rioting began, the family was celebrating the upcoming marriage of a son.

“My brother was getting married on 18th March and the ladoos had come from his in-laws,” she tells me, recounting the harrowing memory of how it all began.

“They entered our house eventually, and my brother had to make a hole in the roof of his newly constructed room for us to escape.”

Escaping from the home, the family sought refuge on the rooftop of their Hindu neighbours. But they were soon discovered by the rioters who began to pelt stones at them.

“We had to jump to the next house to save our neighbour. We ran through the rooftops of at least 4 houses before we could finally escape,” she says.

A marriage cancelled, a home burnt and a family now heading back to their village – our conversation ends with her telling me that ‘there is nothing left here,’ that everything is either burnt or stolen.

Before I leave, I ask her name.

Syeda Nayla, she says.

The bubble of privilege I was living in felt heavy on my shoulders and broke into a million pieces around me. The two of us may have shared a name, but she was the one who had to survive a terrible night, run for her life and at the end of it – witness the destruction of her home. 

In this carefully designed pogrom, the numbers have become the defining attribute. 53 dead. Hundred homes and shops burnt. Several places of worship torched. But names like that of Syeda Nayla will recede into the backdrop of what this nation has accepted as the new normal. 

While organizations, universities and local groups are providing for the rehabilitation of victims, there is no one being held accountable for the carnage in the first place, nor is there any angst for holding any one’s feet to the fire. This only concludes that we, as a community, have failed. Yet again.

As we made our way to Shiv Vihar, an eerie silence greeted us. Despite the presence of locals, journalists, relief workers there was a sense of insecurity and fear in the air. 

“Don’t stay here after sunset” a lot of local residents warned us , “We also stay here till dusk and then return to the relief camps, it’s still very unsafe here.”  

“We don’t want to go back”, “We are scared to return to our homes”, “There is nothing to go back to, everything is ruined” – are the words that continue to echo in Shiv Vihar. 

Many are too afraid to even go back and check the state of their houses and are just grateful to have escaped from the Hindutva mobs with their families. We met kids who are appearing for their board exams and were waiting for relief supplies to start studying again. 

“There is nothing left everything is burnt”, a 55-year-old victim tells us, whose two-storey house was blown up with cylinders.

 Next to his home, the house ‘Manoj bhai’ was left unscathed. 

The same pattern was repeated in the entire area, any house which had any recognizable ‘Hindu’ characteristic, even as simple as an A4 size paper reading Jai Shree Ram,  was spared. 

In an area where a majority of the residents were Muslims, only a small percentage of houses, all belonging to Hindus were left whereas others were either burnt or looted. It was quite clear that the mob was there to target only one community. 

No Mandir was even touched, four prominent Masjids in the area were set on fire along with the Imam, who survived allegedly an acid attack.

It was apparent that the mainstream media ensured it failed in broadcasting the real image of the violence, and questioning the accountability of police as well as the government. While most of the channels had romanticized the stories of Hindus saving Muslims and Muslims saving Hindus, the stories which highlight the deeply ingrained islamophobia in the community were conveniently ignored.

“My landlord took all my stuff out and burnt it in front of the mob, to save his house from attack,” says a victim in the relief camp, who was staying at rent in a Hindu’s house. 

“I never thought that he would betray me like this. I thought we were friends, I still can’t believe he told my address to the mob.” says another, whose house was looted. 

Nayla Khan is a student of MBA in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. She has been active in Anti CAA protest and a member of the relief group working in Northeast Delhi

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