The recent riots in the capital have pushed the minorities to contemplate their safety and security in the country. The stories of violence in the Northeast region of Delhi were dreadful and alarming. Similar to these is the story of Asif* (Name changed), a fruit seller in the Mustafabad area. He has been living in the Bhagirathi colony, in a Hindu-dominated lane, in a rented house for the past nine years. Being the only Muslim resident in the lane, his house was the only one burnt to ashes during the recent pogrom in northeast Delhi.
I met Asif when I was working with an NGO to provide relief services in the area. He had been called for document verification for the livelihood project of Vision 2026. He needed a cart to restore his business, as he used to sell fruits on streets. During the violence, the rioters burnt his cart. On my visit to his home for the verification process, we talked a lot about the events that happened on that day.
We had taken an e-rickshaw to his place as he began narrating his story. When the violence had erupted, he was selling fruits in the market. Soon after he heard the news, he called his wife to immediately vacate the house and reach a safer place with his children. Asif said that he never imagined his house will be burnt, as he had been living there for a long time. He was a well-known resident of the colony and friendly with all the residents.
I asked him whether any neighbour was involved in the pogrom in which his house was looted and burnt. He replied firmly, yet in a low voice, that he did not know who they were. People said that the miscreants had come from UP, but he said that without the help of the locals, how would they know that a Muslim lives in this particular house?
“Only my house was looted in the lane that has more than 200 houses. How would they know without the help of the locals? I called my neighbours and friends, they said the miscreants were outsiders. But sir, how could it have been possible without local involvement? How did they identify my house? Who told them a Muslim lives here? Now, the only pain I have is, my fellow residents didn’t resist when they looted and burnt down my house. Had they resisted, this could have been stopped. While my expectations have crumbled, with what hope do I return to my home where I’ve lived for so long? I don’t feel safe enough to live with my family there. During the day, when the violence had taken place, I was so confident that nothing will happen to my home because I trusted my neighbours. I believed they would never let anything wrong happen. But now, the trust has been lost and returning to the place is unimaginable.”
We reached the Bhagirathi colony. We stepped down and entered the colony together, and started walking towards his house. As he was walking, I could feel the fear coming out on his face. People were staring at Asif and smiling, which brought a sense of reconfirmation that he was a known resident of the colony. Suddenly, he removed his skull cap and put it in his pocket. I was shocked to see this. It gave me a clear message that he was going through a deep identity-based fear. He didn’t make eye contact with any of the residents there, and was rushing towards his house with his head down. I said that we can go back if he is not comfortable. He came close to me and said, “Sir, ab khone ko kuch hai nahi, chalte hain, aap dekh lijiye. (Sir, there is nothing more to lose, you come along, you’ll see). The sense of disappointment and breach of trust could be clearly felt from his expressions.
We reached his house and completed the verification. While I was returning, I asked whether he hates this place. He calmly replied,
“No sir, I don’t hate this place, and neither do I hate these people. I know most of them are with me and have personally apologised, but a few definitely broke my trust. My only complaint to my fellow residents is that they could have stopped this. I am leaving the place with this pain. Otherwise, I would have never left this place or my friends. I have never felt such insecurity or fear before. I will search for some place where my children can live in peace and without any fear.”
Asif left after dropping me at my place.
The story of Asif is many a survivors’ stories, which must be brought to the public domain. These stories are about the pain of the people who lost everything due to hatred.
* Name changed due to safety and privacy concerns.