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Postlude to a riot

Scene at Chand Bagh-Karawal Nagar in north east Delhi on February 26, 2021 after days of violence.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

How do you observe the anniversary of a riot that drove a deep wedge into the capital of India? Do you recall the number of bodies, the schools targeted, the homes vandalised, or the mosques burnt? While one part of Delhi was decked up and cheery to receive U.S. President Donald Trump that February day in 2020, another was on high alert. Delhi had already started seething with the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which held the prospect of a large community of people becoming disenfranchised. All it needed was a spark to inflame passions. With some politicians doing their bit, the stage had been set.

A friend and I went four days after the riots erupted in north-east Delhi, which is home to a large population of urban labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to the affected areas to see the scale of damage and speak to the people. North-east Delhi is a place which has largely been ignored by administrators.

Watch | Scene from Chand Bagh a day after violence

We began our journey from the Metro station at Maujpur where people had targeted each other after, some say, a speech made by a Bharatiya Janata Party politician. The shutters were down in the busy marketplace. Inside a lane, there were burnt auto rickshaws and a small minibus. Small shops selling hosiery and shoes, and a teashop, had been vandalised and set on fire. The main street, charred and lifeless, looked like it had witnessed a hundred little bonfires. The police kept peace that day. People didn’t talk to each other and when they did, they would only whisper, eyes darting here and there.

A few kilometers away, schools had been laid to waste. In Chand Bagh, two schools, each overlooking neighbourhoods in which lived different communities, had been set on fire. In one of the many by-lanes, a baker had not lost his graciousness — he offered us tea and biscuits. In his little home above his tiny boulangerie was a room full of women who had fled the day their houses had been targeted. They were wearing the same clothes four days after the violence. The stench of fear and sweat filled the room. Some had lost their identity papers. A community kitchen kept hunger at bay. The queues were getting longer there with each passing day.

Shiv Vihar looked like a burnt neighbourhood. Neighbours had turned into strangers overnight and had barricaded themselves. Benches, chairs, wooden beds, and poles had been stacked to block entry to outsiders. Words like ‘Hindustan’ and ‘Pakistan’ were traded easily. People crawled out at night from shelters to reach their burnt homes in search of papers, anything they could lay their hands on. Small hole-in-the-wall enterprises had been charred in vengeance. People showed us their wounds.

 

But amid this cruelty and despair, in the midst of the ravaged land, we saw random acts of kindness. A shopkeeper offered to help the affected women by giving away clothes, including lingerie, which he had stocked. This gentleman later called us during the nationwide lockdown to say that the little money he had earned had kept his kitchen going. Another shoe seller offered huge stocks of chappals. Others helped too, though some were clear that they would only help their own.

This is an anniversary I don’t wish to remember. Yet, it is important to recall the day the flames of hatred burnt Delhi.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 1:51:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/postlude-to-a-riot/article33935170.ece

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