Saturday, June 22, 2024

“We will vote for anyone but not for Modi and BJP; they have killed our family,” say Delhi pogrom survivors

While Delhi is going to the polls today in the second-to-last phase of the 18th Lok Sabha Elections, residents of North East Delhi are seeking change as the painful memories of what is called the deadliest anti-Muslim pogrom since 1950 remain stark.

The Indian National Congress has joined hands with the Aam Aadmi Party in a seat-sharing agreement where, out of seven seats, AAP is contesting on four, including New Delhi, East Delhi, South Delhi, and West Delhi, while Congress is contesting on three: North East, North West, and Chandni Chowk, as part of the alliance.

Saleem Kassar, 58, recalls the date vividly, “February 25th, 2020,” when his brother Anwar Kassar was shot dead and burned while having tea with a neighbor. Saleem watched his brother being killed inch by inch from a three-story building of another neighbor’s house while being rescued that day, in a clustered lane of Shiv Vihar.

Speaking to Maktoob, Kassar said, “We will vote for anyone but not for Modi and the BJP; they have killed my brothers. Manoj Tiwari, our MP, had all the power to save many Hindu and Muslim lives, but he chose violence and incited it further.”

“Instead of gaining anything, I lost everything due to the violence—my brothers, my livelihood, and my properties, all of which we had managed to secure after years of hard work,” said Kassar.

He added, “We can somehow rebuild the assets, but how will I get my elder brother back? These so-called leaders who incited and sponsored the hate are responsible for his death. I will never forget that I could not even retrieve his body; all I could find were his brittle bones, which I buried later.”

He further said, “We don’t have powers like theirs, but we have the power to snatch power from them, and we will do that.”

After losing everything to the violence, Saleem has started afresh, but he said, “It will again take years for us to recover from the material losses, apart from the personal loss.”

INDIA alliance: rescue to hate and hope for development

However, to vote out the BJP, Kassar and his family are now considering the INDIA alliance as an alternative after 10 “failed” years of BJP governance, both in the constituency and the Union government.

He said, “People have endured what they went through during the pogrom but what about Rozgaar, there is no work. In the last ten years, the BJP has failed to address the issue of unemployment. I am not a Congress sympathiser but we don’t have any other option.”

“However, the Congress candidate, Kanhaiya Kumar, didn’t come to our locality to ask for votes or assure us of what he will do if he comes to power. He will get the votes, but he should not take them for granted if given a chance,” said Kassar.

He added, “AAP didn’t help us during or after the violence, but our vote will go to the alliance because we are all so done with the BJP’s false promises. Congress has been campaigning on issues like unemployment, among many others. So let’s give them a chance.”

While Congress and AAP are basing their election campaign on the themes of “change, employment, and anti-corruption,” Aaghaz Hussain, who runs a grocery shop in Bhagirathi Vihar, Mustafabad, believes that all parties have deceived Muslims, whether it’s Congress, AAP, or BJP.

Hussain lost his 24-year-old son in the 2020 NE Delhi anti-Muslim pogrom; his son had been married for just two months.

He said, “Everyone in the area sustains themselves through the labor work they do and has not benefited from the government at all.”

When asked about the issues he is going to vote on, Hussain said, “Mera to beta cheen liya sarkar ne, mere apne koi masle nahi hain—the government has taken away my son, I don’t have any personal issues or demands from the government.”

However, he said in a low tone that governments should not stoop too low for the sake of power.

Accusing the Union government of inciting the violence in February 2020, he said, “It was the government that conspired to turn Hindus against Muslims; they distributed weapons to kill us. Now that they have managed to kill us, what did they gain?”

He said, “Why are they so afraid of losing power that they have to commit killings and riots to save their seats and power for themselves?”

However, he is most concerned about the lack of government schools and job opportunities in Mustafabad and also accused the Kejriwal government of not fulfilling the promises it made.

Hussain said, “Kejriwal also delivers dialogue after dialogue and has done nothing to address the issues of education and employment in the area. AAP keeps boasting about changing the education system in the state, but Mustafabad doesn’t have any schools.”

Children in Mustafabad cover a distance of 2 km to reach a government school in Yamuna Vihar.

“Those who can afford to spend at least 80 rupees per child each day to reach the school in Yamuna Vihar by taking public transport can only get educated. What should others do? Remain uneducated?” he asked.

Accusing political parties of taking Muslim votes for granted, Hussain said, “No political party talked about education or employment, and nobody came to campaign here to ask what we want or what our expectations are from the party that will form the government. All this proves that we don’t matter.”

“We have been betrayed by all and taken for granted. Congress and AAP know that Muslims will anyway vote for them, but all are the same. The difference is, BJP attacks openly while others are foes in disguise,” added Hussain.

People in Northeast Delhi, after surviving the 2020 violence, said that they would want their leader to focus on their necessities and needs rather than just accelerating hatred between communities like the BJP.

Another resident of Mustafabad, Rabiya, expressed her resentment with the BJP.

She said, “They say that they are giving ration, but how does ration help people sustain lives when not every family is getting that?”

“You can only get ration if you have a ration card made on a permanent address, but many people who lost their settlements during the violence don’t have an address now. Where can they get the ration?” said Rabiya.

She went on to say, “We don’t want ration as charity; we need our rightful rights as citizens: first, peace and a healthy environment to live, then employment, slashed rates of commodities, affordable food, water, and education for all. These are our issues, and any government that will work to ensure all these things for us will get our vote.”

When asked whom she will vote for, she said, “The INDIA alliance is the only option as of now.”

“Congress for women empowerment”

Earlier this month, in a bid to woo women voters, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi announced an amount of Rupees 8500 in every woman’s account per month, stating that it will strengthen families financially and that the situation will change.

Farhana Khan, a middle-aged woman in Shiv Vihar and a community worker at the Silai Centre, run by the NGO Miles2Smile, works to rebuild the lives of pogrom survivors in the region and has helped at least 40 women across faiths fill out the application forms for the financial aid announced by Congress.

Khan said, “People, especially women, are looking forward to Congress and their support this time in Northeast Delhi, but let’s see if they can fulfill the claims they are making.”

She added, “We don’t have any high hopes, because we have survived the worst, so anyone a little better than BJP will be a relief, and hence we are investing our trust in the INDIA alliance.”

In the past days, I was busy helping women fill out their forms to avail the amount announced by Congress, but it would have been better if the opposition had emphasized more on employment. We are hopeful for the good times to come,” Khan added.

Khan is also a survivor of the 2020 anti-Muslim violence in NE Delhi, orchestrated and sponsored by the state, which claimed 52 lives, but she vowed to help others while her own life was at risk back in February.

She, being an individual and being associated with Miles2Smile, has worked to help people get back on track while assisting with relief work, connecting families with NGOs, and exploring relief prospects.

“The outsider factor”

While the INDIA alliance is said to have Muslim support from NE Delhi, sources suggest that there is an under-the-carpet campaign going against the INDIA alliance candidate in the constituency as people have issue-based reservations and the candidate is ‘an outsider’.

The source told Maktoob, “The INDIA alliance candidate doesn’t have a proper understanding of the issues in the constituency because he is an outsider and not from Delhi.”

“Moreover, when the 2020 episode happened, he was nowhere close to listening to the cries and pleas of the people. How can he relate to the population and their issues? He has never taken a stand on any issue related to the Muslim population of NE Delhi, so it’s just unclear to say who will sweep the seat.”

The source also added that the BJP candidate has a lot of influence over the majority of votes in the constituency and, combined with the outsider factor, it will help the BJP to get the seat.

The INDIA alliance candidate, Kanhaiya Kumar, however, is confident about his win and said, “The blessings of the people are with me, and this will be my weapon to win,” while addressing his campaign rally in NE Delhi’s Dilshad Garden on May 11th.


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