Wednesday, December 6, 2023

“Life without our papa isn’t the same”: Children of Delhi pogrom

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Asad (right) and his brother Ayaan (left)

Asad (11) and his brother Ayaan (9) sit on their terrace in Loni, Ghaziabad, their second home; they are playful but reserved. Both brothers had just arrived home from a school function.

“Without our father, everything has changed; it’s nothing like it used to be,” said Asad.

The last time they saw their father, Jamal-ud-din, he was on his way out of a family wedding in Farrukhabad.

Jamal-ud-din was killed by a Hindutva mob on 27 February, 2020, during one of India’s worst anti-Muslim pogroms in Delhi. The violence, which began on 24 February and lasted three days, claimed the lives of 54 people.

Jamal and his family used to live in Northeast Delhi’s Shiv Vihar – the family was forced to flee to Ghaziabad’s Loni after the violence hit the city. 

Jamal received a call from his Shiv Vihar neighbours on 27 February, 2020, informing him that a mob was attempting to set fire to their house. Jamal and his brother Nizamuddin had left the wedding in Farrukhabad and were on their way back to Delhi to see if their home was safe. A mob stopped them and demanded their identification, after which the mob began thrashing them. Jamal was beaten with rods and fell unconscious while his brother Nizamuddin escaped.

“While leaving, my husband told me he’d be back by night – I had no idea this would be the last time I’d see my husband,” Najiz, Jamal’s wife, told Maktoob.

“While leaving, my husband told me he’d be back by night – I had no idea this would be the last time I’d see my husband,” Najiz, Jamal’s wife, told Maktoob.

He is survived by his wife, Najiz, and four sons, Anas (13), Asad (11), Ayaan (9) and Armaan (5).

When the tragedy struck Asad and his siblings, they had no idea. They expected their father to return as usual, but when they noticed everyone in their family crying and their mother was nowhere to be found, they turned to their aunt. 

“I asked my aunt what had happened and where my parents were. She said – ‘don’t you know your parents are in a hospital in Delhi? Your father is admitted there, and he’s hurt,” Asad said.

Asad and his siblings never saw their father; “we couldn’t see our father after that dark day,” Asad said almost inaudibly.

While running around the terrace that overlooks the small town of Loni, Asad says that his favourite subjects at school are mathematics and Ayaan’s English. He says that his father taught him mathematics, now he has to manage on his own.

“Things have changed now, papa used to bring us Pepsi in the summers and moongfali (raw peanuts) in the winters,” Ayaan said shyly.

Sunrise Public School, a non-profit relief organisation based in Loni, Ghaziabad, where Asad and Ayaan attend classes. The school is managed by Miles 2 Smile Foundation, founded by Aasif Mujtaba, they primarily assist victims of the Delhi pogrom 2020. Hundreds of people were displaced from their homes in northeast Delhi, and children were prevented from returning to school. 

According to Aasif Mujtaba, founder and director of the Mile 2 Smile foundation, these children have witnessed far too much tragedy at such a young age. 

“The victims of the Delhi pogrom never got justice, not enough compensation, and no psychiatric help; these children need that kind of help; the mental impact on them is enormous,” Mujtaba told Maktoob.

Najiz, Jamal’s wife, sits on the verandah of her two-storey house, saying that two years ago, their business was doing well, they were happy, and they had no idea their lives would be turned upside down. 

“I’m not concerned with myself; I’m concerned about my children; my husband is no longer alive; but what now? We had a life back in Shiv Vihar, my husband earned well, my children went to good schools, but it was all taken away from us in the blink of an eye,” Najiz resented.

Najiz, wiping her eye with the corner of her dupatta, stated that at 8:00 PM on 27 February, the police informed us that Jamal had been injured in the attack.

Jamal-ud-din was killed by a Hindutva mob on 27 February, 2020, during one of India’s worst anti-Muslim pogroms in Delhi.

“I left Farrukhabad on 2 March, my in-laws wouldn’t let me leave, so I had to force myself out. I went straight to the Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) hospital – my husband was on a ventilator, and he died on March 3 from his injuries,” Najiz explained.

Najiz told Maktoob that they had lived in Shiv Vihar their entire lives, surrounded by Hindus, and had never felt any animosity. 

“Everyone lived in peace; we have no idea who attacked my husband and his brother Nizamuddin. Nizamuddin escaped, but he never told us about the attackers; he must be afraid they will come after him again,” Najiz said.

She doesn’t blame anyone and doesn’t expect justice from the courts, but she believes God will punish those who murdered her children’s father.

“My Allah will punish those murderers, I have sabr (patience) and faith in my Lord,” Najiz added.

According to Najiz – the compensation given by the Delhi government is not enough. 

“Do you believe ten lakh rupees is sufficient? Will it be enough to feed my children indefinitely? I am not even educated enough to work; who will take care of my children?” said Najiz.

She blamed the Union government for the Delhi pogrom, claiming that if the government had acted the day the violence broke out, many people would still be alive.

“This was all done by the government; they have a hand in all of this; why didn’t they take action? The riots would have stopped in an hour, so why didn’t the government do anything for four days?” Najiz raged.

Asad and Ayaan, like many other Delhi pogrom-hit children, will never be the same, their childhood will never be the same, and the mental impact of the anti-Muslim violence will linger like a wound for the rest of their lives.

Arshi Qureshi is an Independent journalist based in Delhi.

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