She was happy to weave through the crowd of strangers in the house and ask for food, but she had not once uttered her name. She looked about two years old. Nobody knew who she was.

“We found her near Medina Masjid, crying,” said Saood Alam, a resident of Shiv Vihar in North East Delhi.

On February 24, communal violence gripped this part of India’s national capital and reached Alam’s doorstep: a mob set his rented home on fire. Like most other Muslims living in the Hindu-majority area, Alam and his family fled with little more than the clothes on their back.

On the road, the escaping family saw a mosque was under attack. Then, they spotted the toddler – alone and crying. Alam picked her up and brought her with his family to a mosque in the nearby locality of Babunagar, where they took shelter, before they were directed to an empty house. The owner of the house, who lives in nearby Chaman Park, was kind enough to offer space to some of the fleeing families.

The toddler is now in the care of strangers. Her family is missing.

“Nobody knows who her parents are or where they are,” Alam said. “If we had not taken her with us, they [the mob] might have killed her too.”

Saood Alam with his family in the Babunagar house. Photo: Ipsita Chakravarty

Missing in Delhi

The violence in North East Delhi initially started as clashes between those who were protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act and those who supported it. The Act expedites citizenship for undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Together with the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens, it is feared, the Act could become a tool to harass Muslims.

On February 24, the clashes turned into large-scale communal violence. Reports emerging over the past week suggest most of it was anti-Muslim violence. At least 45 have died so far and hundreds are injured. Many more are feared dead or missing.

Among them is 20-year-old Mohammad Sajib, a resident of Brahmpuri’s Kalwan Wali Gali. His family said they last saw him at noon on February 25, when he stepped out, saying he would be back soon.

Mohammad Sajib's photograph, held up by a relative. Photo: Arunabh Saikia

Sajib, an electrician, does not own a phone. His sister-in-law, Gulfisha, said Sajib’s electrician friend Ashu, whom the family would usually phone to get in touch with him, was unreachable too. “We even went to his home but it was locked,” she said. “He must have gone back to his village with his family because of the trouble.”

Sajib’s elder brother, Mohammad Shehzad, said the family had gone around the entire neighbourhood looking for him. “We have looked everywhere that he could be,” said Shehzad.

Gulfisha said Sajib had spent Monday night at the Jaffrabad protest, where he had gone with his friends. “My mother-in-law scolded him in the morning for staying out in these troubled times,” she said. “But Sajib said he was volunteering at the protests, distributing tea to the people there.”

The family lodged a missing person complaint in the local police station on Sunday morning.

Another youth from the same locality, also missing since Monday, was finally located on the morning of March 1. He had been picked up by the police from nearby Ghonda, said a relative. The family had not been informed, even though Section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires the police to provide details of those arrested to their families.

This piece was supported by the Scroll Reporting Fund. To help our reporters go further and dig deeper, contribute to the fund.