‘As long as Modi is in power, we will not get justice’: Survivors recount horror on 2nd anniversary of Delhi riots

The riots in February 2020 left 53 people dead. A majority of them were Muslims 

Muhammad Raafi | TwoCircles.net

Support TwoCircles

NEW DELHI — Muhammad Vakeel (53) is blind and his face is disfigured. As he recalls the events that led to his scarred face and spoilt eyes, tears roll down his cheeks.

Two years have passed since the right-wing Hindu mobs allegedly stormed through the Muslim neighbourhoods in New Delhi’s congested Shiv Vihar area leading to the worst communal riots in four decades in the national capital. Hundreds of Muslim homes, establishments and some mosques were pillaged and later set ablaze by the rioters.

Vakeel operated a grocery store from his house in the area. “On the intervening night of February 26 and 27, 2020, I saw a mob entering the alley leading to my house. They wielded iron rods, chains and spears.” Vakeel hurried his family onto the terrace of the house before locking the main door with an iron chain.

The angry mob chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans started pelting stones on Vakeel’s house and made attempts to barge in. Before that, they had set neighbouring houses and shops on fire. “There was a brief lull,” recalled Vakeel, “I tried to calm down my wife, three kids and relatives before combing for a safe passage.”

As Vakeel stepped out into the alley, the mob heaved a bottle of acid hitting him in his head. “It felt like a thunderstorm piercing into my eyes and crashing into my face,” he said.

Days of rioting in the heart of the country led to the killings of 53 people, mostly from the minority Muslim community, and damages to properties (mostly Muslim) worth crores.

Fawaz Shaheen, an activist with the Quil Foundation, recounted how Muslim homes and businesses were targeted with precision. He called the violence ‘pre-planned’ and said the riots were ‘micromanaged’.

Shaheen was speaking at an event organized by civil society groups on March 1 at the Press Club of India, New Delhi that also saw the survivors of riots recollect the horrors they lived with and the injustices meted out to them during and in the aftermath of the riots. “People who spearheaded the violence against Muslims are associated with the ruling party (BJP) leaders,” he alleged.

Asif Mujtaba, the founder of Miles2Smile, an NGO, said shops of Muslims were burnt while those of Hindus remained unscathed. “It is important to remember what occurred in northeast Delhi two years ago. The Muslim community was at the receiving end of the violence, but we see that majority of the cases have been registered against Muslims only,” he said.

The international rights groups have called on the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led government to prosecute those members who were involved in instigating violence and communal violence in northeast Delhi instead of prosecuting and silencing its critics. 

On February 23, 2020, local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra reportedly called for forcibly dispersing protesters demonstrating against the CAA and other issues. Mishra had exhorted his followers to clear Muslim crowds, who were protesting against the discriminatory citizenship law, and “teach them a lesson”. 

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed by the Modi government in December 2019, offers citizenship to migrants from neighbouring countries living in India but excludes Muslims.

The independent Delhi Minorities Commission’s investigation found that the violence perpetrated against the minority community was “planned and targeted” and that some policemen actively participated in the attacks on Muslims. 

Another survivor, Sameer, who received a gunshot wound in the spine, recalled how the violence left his life “upturned” as his lower body has been paralysed. “I was in class 9 at that time. I am ruined. My family had to sell our plot in our hometown to pay the hospital bills for my treatment. The government only gave two lakh rupees as compensation. What will I do with it? I won’t even be able to work and earn for myself.”

The activists also hit out at Delhi Police for allegedly colluding with Hindu rioters during the violence and then running a ‘shoddy investigation’ implicating the activists who were key organisers of anti-CAA protests that preceded the riots. The police have filed more than 1100 FIRs in the Delhi pogrom.

The activists regretted that two years after the riots, justice remained elusive to the victims. “18 Muslim activists, largely students are falsely framed for instigating violence against their community. On 26 February 2022, Ishrat Jahan and Khalid Saifi completed two full years in prison, while those who openly exhorted violence against anti-CAA protestors remain at large. Not even an FIR has been registered against them. This raises serious questions on the increasingly Kafkaesque nature of the criminal justice system,” they said.

A video showing the police’s anti-Muslim bias during the riots also gained media attention. In the video, several policemen could be seen forcing five grievously injured Muslim men lying on the street to sing the Indian national anthem to “prove their patriotism.” One among them, 23-year-old Faizan, died hours later. 

He was denied medical aid during 36 hours of his detention despite being badly injured, the activists said.

“None of the policemen involved in the incident has been brought to account for the cold-blooded murder,” they said. 

Zafarul Islam, former chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission said that “there should be a proper judicial commission to look into the Delhi violence. There must be an investigation against people like Kapil Mishra, Ragini Tiwari and others who incited the violence. And if we fail to speak on such matters, injustices will keep on happening.”

As long as Modi is in power, Vakeel said, he feels he has no chance of getting justice. “The situation of the minority Muslim community has worsened since BJP took power. The scope for justice is minimum,” he added.


Muhammad Raafi is a journalist based in New Delhi. He tweets at @mohammadraafi