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‘They Dragged Me By My Beard’: Survivors Recount the Mob Violence in Delhi

As the death toll reaches 20, with over 250 seriously injured, a BJP spokesperson insists "everything will be fine".

by Hanan Zaffar, and Shaheen Abdulla; photos by Shaheen Abdulla
26 February 2020, 8:09am

The entire Gokulpuri neighbourhood in northeast Delhi was set on fire by the violent mob early this week. Photos by Shaheen Abdulla. 

On February 25, around noon, Mohammad Ishtiaq Khan—fondly called Raja by his family members—was at his Kabir Nagar home in northeast Delhi when he heard chants outside like “Hindustan mein rehna hoga Jai Shree Ram Kehna hoga (If you want to stay in India, you have to say Jai Shree Ram)" and "Aajao lelo Azadi (Here, take your freedom)". Nervously, the 30-year-old decided to step out to see what’s happening. But as soon as he did that, he was hit by a bullet. A few hours later, he was dead.

Outside, violent mobs went on a rampage in Delhi—pelting stones, shooting, torching homes and markets—whilst chanting these provocative slogans. But for Raja's family, the ordeal was hardly over. Raja's father-in-law Akhtar Khan, 50, was travelling towards the hospital with his 18-year-old son Mohammad Bilal, to see Raja, when their vehicle was stopped by unidentified goons. “It was mayhem. They stopped our car, dragged us out and beat us mercilessly with sticks," said Akhtar Khan, his voice choking. "They dragged me by my beard," he added, breaking down. "We would have been killed had some policemen not approached our vehicle."

By the time Akhtar reached the hospital, Raja was already dead. Bilal survived, but had to get several stitches on his head. Right now, the family is struggling to receive Raja’s body for the burial, which is being denied by the authorities.

delhi violence
Fire emanates from a shop in northeast Delhi, caused by a petrol bomb allegedly hurled by a mob chanting pro-Hindutva slogans.

Over the last three days, protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have led to violent communal riots in northeast Delhi, wherein mobs are attacking Muslim neighborhoods in a frenzied state. At the time of writing this piece, around 20 people have been killed, and over 250 people injured. "About 50 people are admitted with bullet injuries, and more than 10 are dead. I have never seen anything like this," a junior doctor in the emergency ward of Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) hospital, where people injured in the violence are being brought, told VICE.

delhi riots
Scenes outside the GTB hospital in Delhi.

The violence broke out on the eve of American President Donald Trump's visit to India and a day after a local leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Kapil Mishra warned the protestors for mending their ways or facing consequences. He tweeted a video about an ultimatum to a police officer that they will keep it down during Trump’s visit, but will not obey if the police fails to clear the areas where anti-CAA protests are taking place.

delhi violence
Family members of the people affected by rioting cry outside Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, where most of the victims are being brought.

The northeastern part of the capital city is severely affected, with many shops and houses set ablaze in neighbourhoods like Maujpur, Gokulpuri, Bhajanpura, Chandbagh and Gonda. “We are in fear as we stand here. The mob can come and attack us anytime,” said one of the firefighters at Gokulpuri tyre market, who was dousing the fire set by the mob. Mohammed Khalid, who runs a shop in Gonda, said that the mob fired and threw petrol bombs at them, “just like in the movies.” “They had all kinds of weapons. I wasn’t protesting, I just ran a shop by the roadside,” said Khalid, whose juice shop was burnt by the rampaging mob.

Another local, Khalid Ahmed, who suffered injuries on his arm, accused the police forces of siding with the rioters. "[The police] threw stones at us along with the mob and did nothing to stop them. We are at their mercy," Ahmed told VICE.

delhi violence
Personnel from Delhi Police sit outside on a footpath near a metro station in northeast Delhi. Many have observed that the police stood witness to rioters over the last three days.

At the moment, the local administration has given permission to the Delhi Police to shoot the rioters at sight, in several areas including Chand Bagh and Bhajanpura. Anil Mittal, the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) North West and the PRO of Delhi Police, refused to comment over the allegations of the police consorting with the violent mob, and told VICE it is “outside his domain” to talk on the issue.

At the same time, journalists reporting on the clashes have also been attacked by the rioters; some of them were even asked to show their religious identity. While one from JK 24X7 News was hit by a bullet, two reporters from NDTV were beaten and punched by the rioters. "We had to hide the identity of our friend when we went to Maujpuri to report. He was a Muslim and the people who had gathered along the streets were incessantly abusing Muslims and calling for their blood to be spilled,” said Arjun, a freelance journalist and a scholar at AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, New Delhi.

In the meantime, the BJP has accused “anti-national elements” of deliberately trying to portray a poor image of the country to the world by inciting violence. "The escalation in violence needs to be seen through the prism of American President Donald Trump's visit to India,” Harish Khurana, BJP spokesperson, told VICE. “Many anti-India elements want to defame our country and when such dignitary visits, they provoke people." On being asked about the role of his party leaders like Kapil Mishra and Abhay Verma in provoking the rioters, Khurana said the allegations are baseless. "Our senior party leaders have called for peace,” he said. “We appeal to the people of Delhi to maintain peace and not fall for rumours. Everything will be fine.”

delhi riots
A car torched by a mob in Chandbagh.

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