“Our children’s admit cards had not even been sent,” said a tearful Neetu Chaudhary, as she surveyed the charred remains of Arun Modern Public Senior Secondary School. “They have destroyed all records from 1986.”
The school was established in 1986. It is located in Brijpuri, at the entrance to Mustafabad, a locality in North East Delhi which saw widespread violence and arson on February 25. According to Kasim Zaid, the school’s physical education teacher, it was set alight around 4-5 pm in the evening of February 25.
“We got to know last evening that there was a large crowd from Mustafabad-Brijpuri,” said Zaid. The school, which has about 750 students, both Hindu and Muslim, was deserted at that time, save a lone security guard posted outside the locked front gate. According to the staff, the mob broke in from the third floor terrace.
“There’s a mosque at the back of the school,” said Zaid. “From there, they climbed the terrace and broke in. A mob does not see if it’s a school or not.” Zaid thought the rioters were local residents of Brijpur and Mustafabad, he could not say which community.
But Chaudhary, the school cashier, was emphatic: “Mohammedans have done this.”
The same evening, around 8 pm, the Farooqi Mosque next door, from where the vandals allegedly broke in, was attacked, said residents. When Scroll.in visited the neighbourhood on Wednesday afternoon, the mosque was badly charred, with bloodstains on the floor.
Behind the mosque is a madrassa, whose insides were blackened and ravaged. Residents said it had been attacked hours ago, on Wednesday morning.
The three buildings – a school, a mosque and a madrassa located next to each other – tell the story of a violent 24 hours in the twin localities of Brijpuri-Mustafabad.
For about four days now, North East Delhi has been convulsed by violence. It started as a face-off between those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act and those supporting it. The amended law makes non-Muslim undocumented migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan eligible for Indian citizenship. Together with the proposed National Register of Citizens, it is feared, the new legislation could become a tool to harass Muslims.
For about two months, various Muslim-majority localities in Delhi have seen sit-in protests, led mainly by women. Since last weekend, the clashes over citizenship have turned openly communal.
On the evening of February 25, Brijpuri-Mustafabad and Chandbagh, down the Wazirabad highway, became a hotspot. When Scroll.in reporters visited the area on the afternoon of February 26, the highway was still dotted with burnt shops and mangled cars.
The Mustafabad main road, which branches off from the highway, runs through Brijpuri first. This area has a mosque and a madrassa as well as a substantial number of Hindu families. The road stretches for about 500 metres till it hits the Brijpuri canal, which is little more than a coil of sewage. Across the canal is Mustafabad proper, which is Muslim majority but also has several shops owned by Hindus and at least two temples.
On Wednesday afternoon, roads on both sides of the canal were strewn with bricks and spilt foodgrains, lined with charred shops. The residents had mostly receded into the alleys, peering out fearfully into the deserted thoroughfares. Police manned the entrance to both Brijpuri and Mustafabad, while security vehicles patrolled the main road.
Allegations flew from both sides of the canal. Both communities complained that while mobs were on the rampage, the police went missing. The Hindu residents of Brijpuri said the police finally arrived on Tuesday evening. But the Muslim residents of Mustafabad and Chandbagh alleged the security forces aided the marauding crowds which continued their violence next morning.
Like other areas of North East Delhi, tensions had been brewing since Sunday. But violence had started in Tuesday afternoon, they claimed. “There was a police barrier in front of the school,” said 29-year-old Arun Kumar, a resident of Brijpuri. “But there were no police manning it from 1-5 pm. We came out on the main road to stop them [rioters] from coming this side.The police came around 5.30 pm. They probably had orders to shoot. After that, people moved back.”
Another Hindu resident of Brijpuri claimed, “They were firing from the rooftops across the nala.” The bullets hit 26-year-old Rahul Thakur, whose body still lay at the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, residents claimed.
A burning mosque
By the time the police arrived in the Mustafabad-Brijpuri area in the evening, the school had been burnt. But the violence continued even after the police’s arrival, said residents.
Around 6 pm, mobs came and destroyed the site of a sit-in protest, alleged Asif Siddiqi, a resident of Brijpuri. For two months, makeshift tents had been pitched on a road along the Brijpuri side of the canal, meant to hold women protesting against the citizenship law. As the tent was burned and vandalised, women were injured, residents allege.
Then at 8 pm, a mob attacked the Farooqi Mosque. “There were 10-15 people praying here,” said Alimuddin, a local resident. “RSS goons came in and shot at people, including the imam, who has been hospitalised. They also beat them up.”
When Scroll.in reporters visited the mosque on the afternoon of February 26, they were shown blood stains on the floor and charred Qurans. Agitated residents alleged several worshippers had been shot, although they could not say how many had been injured or killed.
A few metres up the road in Brijpuri, most Hindu residents claimed no mosque had been burned, only a nearby shop. “They burned it themselves to take the narrative in another direction,” suggested one Hindu resident.
Muslim residents alleged that around 8 am on February 26, Wednesday, there was fresh violence. This time, they claimed, mobs chanting “Jai Shri Ram” and various other slogans had been accompanied by policemen. “The police also set fire to the madrassa,” said Arif Siddiqi, a local resident. Fortunately, the seminary had been empty at the time.
The police move in
A policeman guarding the entrance to the Mustafabad main road said he had arrived at the spot late evening on Tuesday, after they received distress calls. There was stone pelting from both sides, he said, and he had even been hit on the head.
Across the canal, in Mustafabad proper, residents also complained of police apathy. On the afternoon of February 26, the Mustafabad MLA, the Aam Aadmi Party’s Haji Yunus, sat in his home taking down complaints from local residents and working the phones.
“The most common complaint we get from people is about the police,” Yunus said. “The local police are ensuring losses, not helping us.” They had informed the police about people being stuck in a house, Yunus claimed, but no help had come. The Aam Aadmi Party sent its own rescue teams to various areas, claimed party workers.
Yunus said peace marches had been held over three days, including one in Brijpuri on the afternoon of February 25, involving members of both communities as well as the administration. Neither Muslim nor Hindu residents who spoke to Scroll.in, however, seemed to know anything about this.
The AAP MLA estimated about 10-11 people had been shot dead and over 50 injured in the area. The attackers came from outside, from Uttar Pradesh, he claimed.
‘All is normal’
It is a line repeated by Harikant Sharma, the priest at a local temple in the Muslim-majority area of Mustafabad proper. “Everything is normal,” he said. “I think it was people from outside. “Everyone [from outside the locality] tells us to leave our home, but we said we are fine here.”
Sharma had been called out of his house by residents of Mustafabad, who were anxious to assert that the Hindu minority had been well protected here. Hindu shops and temples deep in the heart of Muslim neighbourhoods had been left unscathed, they point out. The temple taken care of by Sharma has certainly been left intact.
Meanwhile, shortages have started to affect both communities. Milk was running out, which made feeding children a problem. Families had supplies to feed themselves for only another couple of days. Just a few ration shops were open and exorbitant prices were being charged for rice and vegetables.
In neighbouring Chandbagh, the scars of an attack on Monday morning were apparent near the highway. At the entrance, a fruit shop was burnt down. Almost every vehicle, from motorbikes to large buses, were charred by the fires set by a marauding crowd that residents said went on a rampage with police protection.
The trouble began on Sunday evening when a protest held by Muslim women was attacked with stones. Kalam Ahmed, a resident, said the men had to rescue the women to safer spots. “Many sustained injuries,” he added.
Residents alleged that at around 11 am on Monday morning, a mob shielded by the police from the front marched from Bhajanpura and Yamuna Vihar, located on the opposite side of the highway that separates the neighbourhoods from Chandbagh. “The police first fired teargas and pushed us back. As we ran from the police action, a wave of men came from behind them and began setting fire to properties,” he said.
As in Mustafabad, residents of Chandbagh point out that they had protected Hindu temples. Ahmed pointed to the Hindu temple nearby and said a mob had tried to damage it but was stopped by residents. “We consider the temple very much ours. It was a blatant attempt to blame us for attacking a Hindu temple,” he said.