The Day I got Stuck in Delhi Riots
By Charchit Kumar and Chirag Aggarwal(18/06/2020 19:30IST)
“It was the 24th of February, 2020. The day before, I had heard of the reports of violent clashes between Pro-CAA and Anti-CAA demonstrators in the areas of Karawal Nagar, Maujpur Chowk, Babarpur, and Chand Bagh. Our area’s situated just next to Karawal Nagar. So, we were a little worried but till then neither I nor my parents knew the exact gravity of the matter, partly owing to the mainstream news channels which considered Trump hugging Modi as more important news than the news of killings, lootings, and burnings in Delhi. The few reports which had reached us so far were only through social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. Although, I doubt that even if I and my family knew the gravity of the matter, I would still have gone to give my board exams. Now, of course, giving board exams are important even if there’s a chance of getting killed in a riot on the way. Everybody knows that – me, my family, and even the CBSE - which had decided not to postpone the exams even in the wake of the widespread violence. Turns out, it took a court hearing for CBSE officials to later postpone the remaining exams, that too in selective areas.
So, that day, I had my ‘very important’ 12th class board exam. I left home at about 7:40 AM, having no idea that I had to face much more than just a question paper today. My examination center was located in the famous Kashmiri Gate area. Luckily, I safely reached my center in time and I did not miss my so-called important exam. It was quite peaceful in the morning, maybe the rioters were late-sleepers. Anyhow, I peacefully finished my exam and departed from the exam center at approx. 2:00 PM. Now, up to the time, a lot had changed since the morning and I had no sorts of means of communication. So, I did not have the slightest idea that my way back home was full of violence and arson.
Cut to, I reached the mid of Wazirabad bridge, there was a huge traffic jam ahead. Sitting in an auto-rickshaw, in the far end, I could see black smoke going up in huge spirals in the sky, probably the fumes of Bhajanpura’s burning petrol pump. I immediately speculated that the violence and arson which I heard about yesterday, had made its way here. I thought for a minute and came to the conclusion that waiting for the traffic jam to clear up was not a feasible strategy. It was only a matter of time before the riot spreads. I had to reach home as soon as possible because that’s the safest place I’d be in such times. A classmate-cum-friend was also with me in the auto. She resided in my neighboring area, Karawal Nagar, so we both were going together. I discussed the plan with her and she agreed. The plan was – We need to reach home as soon as possible by any way possible. So, we abandoned the auto-rickshaw and continued on foot towards the Khajuri cut. We had hope that that road would be traffic-free, and we’d hoped right!
After a walk of some 15 minutes or so, we finally reached the Khajuri cut. There was no traffic there (which was actually strange) and there were some auto drivers waiting for customers as well. I also found my 4 other classmates there who too were looking for a ride home. We all belonged more or less to the same Northeast Delhi areas. Although the place was (till then) peaceful, we all had noticed that the place was flooded with “Muslim People” much more than the usual times. I can say “Muslims” because they all wore the sacred white cap denoting their religion. They were standing in groups. Some groups were of 3 people, some were of 30. In total, there would have been a mob of almost 300-500 “Muslim” people there. Some of them were discussing something, while most of them were on the phone calling someone. We all presumed that they were organizing a protest because we didn’t think that they would have been planning an attack in open daylight, that too being so close to a police booth.
Nonetheless, we all (me and my five friends) started looking for an auto that would take us all at our respected stops. But we didn’t have much time, in just a few minutes the situation there escalated. The mob suddenly started running, then it quickly surrounded the police booth and stones and bricks started raining from all sides. It was then that we realized that we were stuck in between a stone-pelting. The auto drivers had run away at full speed. Without any form of transport, we were left at the mercy of the mob, vulnerable to the ongoing violence. Any one of those stones and bricks could have done serious damage, that may even have proved fatal. It all just happened so fast, just in seconds, it took us by surprise and horror. Horror-stricken, we didn’t even get enough time to think or to react. One of my friends had started crying. But crying wouldn’t help, so as soon as we all came to our senses, we gathered together and tried to make a run for it. We started running straight on the road. However, it was a foolish thing to do. The mob was in hundreds dispersed much farther throughout the road, hurling stones from all sides aiming the police booth. Any misaimed stone could have hurt us. We needed to go away from the stones, not towards them! But then again, we weren’t thinking at all. We were just going with our instinct. Just then, a stranger from down the road cleared a path for us and said, “neeche neeche nikal jaao (go down here)”. He was pointing towards the way down the main road, from the colony streets. Although there was a lot of Muslim crowd down there too, they weren’t stone-pelting. In fact, those down there were helping “common people” get down the main road, away from the stones. We complied with his advice and went down in the narrow streets. Conditions were better down there, but I cannot say “peaceful”. In fact, the whole area was riot ridden but it was much safer going through these narrow lanes than the main road. Through those narrow lanes, escaping the scenes of riot, seeing some of the most horrific images of our life, we struggled to reach our homes. On the way, I saw people (both Hindus and Muslims) carrying wooden sticks, metal rods, and even swords. Fortunately, that day, we all reached our home safely. As soon as I’d set foot in my home, I whispered to myself in surprise “Oh god, I am really safe!”• What I Learnt:
Seeing the riot from that close a range, I learned a lot about it. Here are some of my observations that I would like to share with u all: -• It was all well planned and organized.
Now that I think about it, it was not at all a sudden attack. The people there were discussing strategies, those who were on the phone were calling more people and they were doing this in well-defined groups. One group was strategizing, the other was mobilizing more people. Even in the attack, one group attacked from the left, the other from the right and so on and so forth. Although I was a bit more involved in finding a means of transport at the time, but I remember more men coming in all types of private conveyance such as cars, bikes, and even filled in tempos. Besides, the stone and bricks which they later used, was most probably smartly piled up there some time back, because I usually take that route and I never saw that amount of stones and bricks back there. Also, they had must have set a definite time, or else how did all of the mob of over 500 people attacked at the same time? So, looking back, you see that they were just waiting for the right time to attack the police booth and to take them by surprise. Note that all this can’t happen unless there’s a single uniform entity organizing all the actions.• The police were biased.
On my way back, at the Karawal Nagar entry point, I saw a Hindu mob going around inspecting the vehicles for Muslim people. They stopped all the vehicles that were going into Karawal Nagar and searched them for Muslim people before letting them in. God knows what they would have done if they’d found a Muslim person in any car. Then, after some time, one of them took out a flag symbolizing “Hindu nationalism” (with a Jai Mata Di Flag and below it a flag of India, both on a single stick) and stuck it on one of the police barricades nearby. Then, the mob walked away farther for their search conquest. What surprised me was that at some distance there was a police post where two policemen were sitting on chairs quietly watching or one can say enjoying all of this. And this is only one scene that I personally witnessed, the internet was filled with such reports from almost every riot ridden area in Delhi.• It was never a Hindu-Muslim fight!
But perhaps the most significant discovery of this little experience of mine was that it was never a communal riot (at least not initially!). In the initial stage, this riot was actually a form of “violent protest” against the govt. by the anti-CAA demonstrators. If you’ll look at the initial turn of events (particularly that of 23rd and 24th February), you’ll see that the riot was specifically against the govt. and not against any particular community. In my particular case too, in retrospect, the mob had attacked a police building because it represents the govt. authority. Also, when I came to think of it, a part of the Muslim mob that was down there helping people (overwhelmingly Hindu people) to get down from the main road, away from the stone-pelting. They were also working in an organized way, like a group, meaning that they were also a part of the group of rioters. A part that was assigned the work of removing “common people” from the scene of action.
Also, I and all of my friends (and many other people there) belonged to the Hindu community. If that would have been a Hindu-Muslim riot and not a riot against government, then we’d probably been dead. But we weren’t attacked, in fact, we were allowed passage to get through. Interestingly, there’s a story attached to this scene that will prove my point, when the stranger cleared a way out for us and requested us to go down to the streets, my friend (the one who was with me in the auto), She blurted out, “nahi neeche bhi mulle hai (No, there are Musalmans down there too)”. The stranger smiled and replied, “hum bhi mulle hai, daro mat, aapko kuchh nhi hoga (We are Muslims too!! don’t fear, nothing will happen to you.”
Then, if this is the case, then at what point did this turn into a communal riot? I’d again urge you to look at the timeline of events. If you look at the events of 25th February, this is the point that the riot takes a completely communal turn, with intense religious sloganeering and violence from both sides. So, how did this happen? I blame the mainstream media. The mainstream Indian media had reported the events of the two days with such a communal frenzy picturing it as a complete communal riot, fully disregarding any role of the govt. This incited intense communal feelings in both the communities, turning it into a vicious circle of Hindu-Muslim fight.
I would like to clarify here that I am not justifying “violent protests” or any kind of violence. In fact, I condemn any and all forms of violence but misguiding people to turn a series of violent protests into a communal riot is just not right. In my view, this was never a communal riot, but this was intentionally converted into a communal riot. Had this been a communal riot, then I probably wouldn’t have been alive to write this article.
- Peronal observations and analysis