How Hate Spread Its Wings in Delhi: Why February 25 Will Haunt Me Forever

I have read about the Babri Masjid demolition, the 1984 Sikh riots and the 2002 Gujarat riots in textbooks. I have read about how riots are instigated.

Now, in February 2020, I have actually witnessed them.

On February 24, when news starts spreading about violence erupting in the Bhajanpura and Jaffrabad areas, hatred in my area, Karawal Nagar, also starts spreading its wings.

That day, I was sipping tea at home when I heard loud noises from the main road of Khajuri, which links Delhi to Uttar Pradesh. I went to the main road to figure out what was happening.

I saw hundreds of people shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans. These people were armed with iron rods, lathis and PVC pipes. Groups from within this mob were stopping people and asking for their IDs. Hindu passengers were allowed to pass while some from the Muslim community, which has fallen under attack in the city, were not so lucky with the treatment meted out to them.

When I stepped closer to these groups, I witnessed a Muslim couple being beaten. They were trying to run but were caught when two people came on two-wheeler from behind and said, “Tumhe azaadi chahiye, mullo hum dete hain tumhe azaadi.”

Luckily, the two managed to get away.

I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I had witnessed an incident so horrible. Little did I know that there was more in store.

On the morning of February 25, I woke again to loud noises and chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’. I ran to my terrace and there was smoke all around. Moving towards the main road quickly, I saw the mob, armed with weapons once again.

This time, the mob was bigger. At 10 am, it burned more than five vehicles and vandalised Muslim shops in areas like Dayalpur, Tukhmirpur and Sadatpur. After an hour, the mob become more restless. They entered the residential area and set a Muslim kabadiwala’s shop ablaze and tried to lynch him. Fortunately, some locals stepped up to protect him and gave him shelter at their home.

Also read: JNU Violence: My Home Is Getting Destroyed

All this took place in the vicinity of a CRPF camp and a Delhi Police training school. While trying to understand what was happening, I overheard a policeman say to a rioter: “Karo karo, yahan nahi, neeche wali road se jao, yahan CCTV hai (Go on, but not here. Go from the service lane, this road has CCTV).”

At around noon, two people approached a group of four people to convince them to move to Khajuri Khas to attack more Muslims. He said, “Yahan kya kar rahe ho, Khajuri chalo, aaj teen baje tak hamla karna hai. Police hamare saath hai darne ki koi baat nahi hai hai (What are you doing there, come with us to Khajuri, there is an attack planned there for 3 pm. Don’t worry about Delhi Police, they are with us).”

When I reached Khajuri Khas, I eavesdropped on a conversation taking place between some of the rioters. They spoke of their plan to attack the locality from one side, while others would enter from a second side. One person then brandished a pistol.

By 3 pm, the mob looked to be in a murderous mood. More and more people were stepping out armed with lathis – some who were ready to use them to attack and others holding sticks for protection.

Also read: Deteriorating Mental Health in Times of Protest

At Khajuri Khas, many of the Muslim residents were out on their terraces, trying to get a grasp on the situation. The mob started brandishing their weapons. There were more and more people pouring in on tempos, and I saw some swords and axes being brandished.

On social media, the rumour mill kept churning, mixing fact with fiction.

People were discussing how a Muslim mob allegedly burned two Hindu women alive, while a Hindu mob had allegedly burned a Muslim man alive in Karawal Nagar. I did not believe in these rumours and decided to travel a kilometre to fact check them. I saw a few vehicles torched on the road that I use every day.

At the Karawal Nagar chowk, the mob was ten times bigger and agitated than other mobs I had seen in the area. I saw more than 20 people trying to break iron rods from a nearby construction site. I asked a person about the Muslim man who had apparently been burnt alive. He pointed a finger towards a crowd.

With a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, I slowly moved towards the crowd.

At this moment, my heart started pounding, I slowly moved my feet and was left stunned on looking at what appeared to be burnt human bones.

I asked someone, “What is this?”

He promptly replied, “Mullah tha, azaadi dedi saale ko (He was a Muslim, we gave him freedom).”

(LiveWire has been unable to verify if what the writer saw were human bones).

While still digesting this, I saw a mob run towards a car, shouting, “Mullah mil gaya, aa jao.”

Like a hive mind, the mob moved. The car was burnt, the man dragged out. He tried to run, but he had no chance, he was caught and beaten with iron rods and PVC pipes. After he lost consciousness, they dragged him and moved as if to toss him inside the burning car.

Loud cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ erupted.

I couldn’t take it anymore and did not wait to see the events unfold in their entirety. At that moment, my voice was gone, these visuals had knocked the air out of me, my whole body was shivering with fear.

I had witnessed the consequences of hatred; how hatred can overpower love between two religions.

Worse, I know that there is more to come.

Amit Pandey is a student at AJK Mass communication research centre, Jamia Millia Islamia.  He is an enthusiastic journalist and loves to document people and incidents. He tweets @yuva_patrakar.

Featured image credit: Reuters