Residents of Muslim area in Subhash Mohalla recount attack by mobs chanting “Jai Shri Ram”

People walk past burnt houses and shops after Delhi violence in northeast Delhi on 28 February 2020. Sanjeev Verma / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
11 March, 2020

On 24 and 25 February, mobs chanting “Jai Shri Ram” travelled through a road that runs from Bhajanpura to Ghonda Chowk in northeast Delhi, on foot and on motorbikes. Located in north Ghonda, the road borders B Block of Subhash Vihar, popularly known as Subhash Mohalla among its residents. The Muslim population of Subhash Mohalla is primarily concentrated in that block. According to its residents, on 25 February, the mob tried to enter the block, and burnt shops and homes belonging to Muslims in other parts of Subhash Mohalla. The residents said they called the Delhi Police for help, but to no avail.

On 23 February, Kapil Mishra, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, gave an incendiary speech in northeast Delhi, following which communal violence swept the area, with multiple accounts of Hindu mobs attacking Muslim neighbourhoods. When I visited Subhash Mohalla in 29 February, the residents described how the mob had attacked the locality on 25 February by firing charras—pellets, shot from country-made guns—in their lanes. They said that the rioters shot one man dead and left three men injured in B Block. While Subhash Mohalla has a sizable number of both Hindus and Muslims, the rioters seemed to only target areas with a significant Muslim population.  

According to the residents of B Block, at around 9 pm on the night of 25 February, a mob armed with guns and chanting “Jai Shri Ram” tried to enter Subhash Mohalla’s B block via one of its lanes, Gali Number 3. Residents of the block tried to fend off the mob by blocking the lanes. The mob started firing pellets into their lane—multiple residents said that the firing continued for an hour to two hours. The residents resorted to stone pelting to keep the rioters at bay.

By around 10 pm, the mob had gathered at a spot near Auliya Masjid, around twenty five metres away from Gali Number 3. Maroof Ali, a 32-year-old owner of an electrical shop, who was among the group guarding their lane, was hit by five or six pellets. Umar Ali, Maroof’s father, told me, “The pellets entered his eye and got lodged in the head. When we took him to urban”—referring to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash hospital at Delhi Gate—“he was declared brought dead.”

Umar showed me the spot where Maroof collapsed after being hit—faint blood spots were still visible on the concrete road. Umar had received Maroof’s medico-legal certificate from LNJP, but had deposited it with the police for the purpose of filing a first-information report. “I’ve lived in Subhash Mohalla for the past forty seven years, but have never seen such violence,” Umar said. “Maroof has a wife and two small kids, what will happen to them?”

At around 10.30 pm on 25 February, the mob also shot Rehan Hameed, a 31-year-old shop owner, around the same spot where Maroof was hit. “I had gone to my friend’s place at K block that night, but I wanted to come back to B block to be with my family,” Hameed said. “When I reached the spot where the firing was going on, I was hit in the leg by four pellets.” He hobbled home, a few meters away and tied a tourniquet to stem the blood flow. “I then called my friends, Ankit Sharma and Dharmendra Giri, they rushed me to urban and then to the GTB hospital,” Hameed added. His right ankle was still bandaged when I met him.

The third victim of the shooting was Shamshad Khan, a 24-year-old electrician. Shamshad lives in Gali Number 3 with his family—his wife, two children and parents. When I visited his home, Shamshad was not in a condition to speak. Later, I spoke to his father, Yasin Khan, on the phone, about how his son was injured. “Around 10 pm, there was a lot of commotion from outside. We all locked our homes so that our families would be safe inside. Shamshad went out to see what was happening, and soon joined the crowd at the end of the street trying to prevent the rioters from entering,” Yasin said. “When they started firing, my son was hit in the stomach and it went right through till the rib. I am not sure if it was a bullet or a pellet. As soon as Shamshad was hit, he fell to the ground.” The family took Shamshad to the Jag Parvesh Chander Hospital, in Shastri Nagar, which is about three kilometres away. “They stemmed the blood and sent him to LNJP,” Yasin said. “He is recovering now, but in no shape to move or talk.”

Locals told me that the mob had also injured a migrant labourer from Bihar. He has now left the locality. Multiple people, including Rehan Hameed and his father Haji Abdul Hameed, Umar Ali and Abdul Ghafar, another resident of Subhash Mohalla, told me there was no police around despite the ongoing communal violence.

The locals of Subhash Mohalla used to frequent the Masjid Hazrat Umar Farooq, which is a little ahead of the locality, near Ghonda Chowk. At some point during the two-day rampage, the mosque was also vandalised. I saw that its exteriors were charred and a faint “Jai Shri Ram” was chalked on one of its walls. The mosque’s main door, which had been broken, and a window were black with soot.

I found that at least four properties on the main road that runs from Bhajanpura to Ghonda chowk, were attacked. I met the owner of one of these properties, Riyaz-ul-Hasan Saifi, a 55-year-old. Saifi told me three of these properties were owned by Muslims, and one was owned by a Hindu and had Muslim tenants. Saifi owns a business which provides services that facilitate government documentation, such as Aadhar and voter ID registrations, payment of electricity bills and mobile-phone recharges. His shop was located on the ground floor, while Saifi and his family stayed in a flat on the first floor.

On 24 February, as violence engulfed northeast Delhi, the Saifi family shifted to a safer location in Subhash Mohalla. The next day, rioters broke into the shop and ransacked all the equipment—computers, printers and laptop, Saifi said. They entered the flat, broke lights, washbasins and sinks. They piled the furniture on the main road and made a bonfire of it. Saifi estimates that Rs 15 lakh worth of his belongings went up in smoke. He added that the two other Muslim-owned properties were attacked too—Heena, a beauty parlour, was vandalised and burnt, and a commercial property was burnt and looted. “They also set fire to a house owned by a Hindu in which the tenants were Muslim,” Saifi told me.

Ghonda is one of the eight seats that the BJP won in the 2020 Delhi assembly elections. The party’s candidate, Ajay Mahawar, won 57.55 percent of the votes while the Aam Aadmi Party’s Shridutt Sharma won 37.59 percent. “The rioters were from outside, but it is possible that they got help from locals here in identifying the properties,” Saifi said. “This area is a stronghold of the BJP and RSS,” he added.

Tushar Dhara is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. He has previously worked with Bloomberg News, Indian Express and Firstpost and as a mazdoor with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan.