“Kapil Mishra set Delhi on fire”: Two injured Mustafabad residents recount Delhi violence

So far, at least 43 people have died as a result of the communal violence in Delhi. Danish Siddiqui/REUTERS
29 February, 2020

In the evening hours of 26 February, the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan hospital was crowded with the families of those injured in the communal violence in Delhi. I watched as one after the other, ambulances brought in injured patients. Elsewhere, people carried the dead bodies of their relatives back home. So far, at least 43 people have died as a result of the violence. Standing outside the hospital, I learned that a few of the injured were transferred to a Rain Basera, a government-run shelter home.

At the shelter home, I met two residents of Mustafabad—Shaukat Ali Mirza and Muhammed Imran—who said they sustained bullet injuries in the lower half of their body. They both said that members of a mob fired at them during the violence on 25 February. They were first treated at Al-Hind hospital and later at LNJP hospital

Mirza, a 42-year-old resident of Babu Nagar in Mustafabad, works as a labourer. A minute into our conversation, he told me that the pain from his injury was sometimes unbearable. Lying down on the mattress allotted to him at the shelter home, he recalled how he was shot at on the evening of 25 February. At around 9 pm, he said he was walking home after offering namaz. “I couldn't see anything in the dark,” Mirza said. “When I went closer to some people, I saw that bullets were being fired and tear-gas shells were being thrown. There is a branch of the Punjab National Bank near our house, I was standing there when suddenly a bullet hit me.” He added that he was not able to identify who fired at him. “I am not saying a Hindu brother or a Muslim brother shot me, but wherever the bullet came from, it hit me in the leg,” he said.

Mirza recalled that on the afternoon of 24 February, a mob approached his neighbourhood with chants of “Jai Shri Ram.” He said that mob started attacking the locality around 2.30 pm and continued throughout the night. Mirza added that the police were absent on the scene. He said that fewer lives would have been lost had the police done its job.

According to Mirza, the violence began after a speech by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra the previous day. On the evening of 23 February, Mishra gave the Delhi police a three-day ultimatum to remove people protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act from a protest site at the Chand Bagh road. He threatened that he along with his supporters would take matters in their own hands if the police failed to do so. 

Mirza held Mishra responsible for the ensuing violence. “Kapil Mishra alone set Delhi on fire,” Mirza said.  Referring to the BJP, he said, “It's true that there are good people in them as well.” But pointing again to Mishra, he added, “Whatever is happening in Delhi at present is his fault and he should be held accountable for his actions.”

Muhammed Imran, a 22-year-old resident of Mustafabad, recounted a similar story. Imran said that he regularly attended the anti-CAA protests in his locality, but was at home when a mob attacked his neighbourhood. He said he was standing right outside his house at around 5 pm on 25 February, when he was shot in his thighs.

“The situation in Mustafabad is that we are not even safe in our homes,” he said. “If we are not safe in our homes, then where can we expect safety?” Imran said that those who perpetrated the Delhi violence wanted to divide Hindus and Muslims. He too said that he could not identify the people who fired shots in his area. However, he added that the police did not help those who were being attacked and instead stood with the Hindu mob that was charging at Muslims. Referring to the mob, he said, “They came in huge numbers. Above that, when the police also stands with them what can we do?”

Mirza told me he hadn’t experienced anything like this in all his 42 years and hoped it would never repeat. Commenting on the widespread protests against the National Register of Citizens and the CAA, Mirza said that protests are not against any religion or individual. He pointed out that the protests had not caused trouble to any religious communities—Hindu, Sikh or Christian. “Our fight is not with our Hindu brothers,” he said. “Our fight is with the government.”

Later, Mirza held my hand and described the brotherhood that had always existed between Hindu and Muslim residents in his neighbourhood. Tears rolled down his face and he choked as he described how things have been different since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014. “In six years, the country has changed so much,” he said. “Six years ago, we would all sit down together and share a meal. They would celebrate Eid in our homes and we would spend Diwali at theirs. On Eid, they would come home to eat sevvaiyan. On Raksha Bandhan, our Hindu sisters would tie us a rakhi. During wedding celebrations, we would help each other out like we were family members. We would sit in their homes and take blessings from their parents. If someone died in our home, they would help us with the rites. If someone died in their homes, we would help them carry out the final rites. We would collect wood for them.”

Referring to the present moment, he added, “But it's all over now. In six years, this country is finished. These six years have changed this country. Today, our Hindu sisters are afraid that we would do something wrong to hurt them. I wish that the brotherhood returns again. We miss that about our country.” Mirza had one request for the government. “I would only say this to the government that you just return those days to us,” he said. “We used to stay, eat and sleep together. We've played cricket together, and so many other games. It never felt like we were going to someone else's home. It used to feel like the neighbouring home is our uncle's home. It felt like the women are our sisters. Now they are scared, so much poison has been spread in these past six years.”

Since the evening of 23 February, several neighbourhoods in northeast Delhi have witnessed large-scale communal violence. Eyewitness accounts suggest that Hindu mobs targeted Muslim localities, set cars and shops on fire and beat up Muslim residents. Sunil Kumar, the medical director at the Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, confirmed that at least seven patients had died of gunshots.