‘Violence Against Hindus Sad But I Have Faith In Hasina Govt’

Banani Mukherjee Das (35), a PR professional from Kolkata, says India can take a lesson or two from its neighbours to make the minority communities feel safe

I have been watching the events unfolding in Bangladesh ever since the controversy erupted during Durga Puja this year beginning from Comilla. Many people have lost their lives and many a Hindu homes and businesses have been attacked. Be it any religion at the receiving end, I feel sad that people continue to fight and even hurt and kill one another over religious beliefs. More so because my family has its roots in Bangladesh. We belonged to Dhaka before my grandfather shifted to India.

It seems we haven’t learnt any lessons from the pandemic? In raging Covid days, people across the world had transcended barriers of caste, creed, religion etc. to help each other in the name of empathy and humanity. All that camaraderie looks frayed now.

There are reports that Hosain Iqbal, the main perpetrator was of an unsound mind and didn’t realise the consequences his actions would carry. But couldn’t the security have been strengthened, given it is such a huge festival, in fact the biggest festival for Bengali Hindus? And even if one person placed the Quran and then spread rumours about it, why were others so quick to believe and get enraged? The undercurrents of discomfort between communities are there in most parts of the world, they come to the surface only occasionally though.

Das says minority communities can contribute a country’s growth only when they feel safe

I must add that the spirit of syncretism is alive and thriving in Kolkata and will continue to be so. According to me, Mamata Banerjee has ensured that the seeds of hatred cannot be sown in Bengal, especially Kolkata. Like Didi, I feel that the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina or in other words, most women leaders often try to douse the fire of hatred rather than fan the flames.

People across the world are unequivocally praising Bangladesh’s handling of the whole incident, and condemnation from the civil society as a singular voice. I also like how she handled the whole Rohingya crisis which could have been avoided by another woman leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

ALSO READ: Attacks On Hindus In Bangladesh Amid Pujo Is Shocking

Recently there was this case in Pakistan also when a Hindu temple was attacked and the Pakistani government also acted swiftly. Perhaps India could learn a lesson or two about how to handle the rights of minorities and that they should not be scared of being who they are. There have been reports that Bangladesh has overtaken India in GDP per capita, and has better employment opportunities, especially for women. India is below Bangladesh in the Hunger Index as well. I believe Bangladesh has learnt its lesson that hatred doesn’t help a country and its people thrive, only a few people benefit from spreading hatred.

When minorities are respected and feel safe, they feel freer to contribute to their maximum potential and it benefits the country at large. I loved how Sheikh Hasina said that Hindus had contributed equally in Bangladesh’s freedom fight and the same goes for India’ s freedom struggle.

I hope we can sustain the lessons we have learnt from the pandemic and not give in to hatred. We should not lend weight to rumours either. If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we all survive when we help each other survive. There is always a place for love.

‘All Parties Same For Muslims, But No Riots Under Yogi’s Watch’

Mohammad Saleem Riyazuddin, 40, director of Al-Barakaat Public School in Meerut, says while Muslims continue to suffer state apathy, Yogi can be credited with preventing any communal flare-up in last four and half years

There cannot be any comparison between the earlier governments and the current government as far as Muslims are concerned because they all are same. Muslims have always been treated as a vote machine by previous governments. The regime changes but the story remains the same.

As the Yogi Adityanath government completes 4.5 years, we can complement him for at least one achievement: that there has been no major communal riots across the state. In each such riots prior to 2017, Muslims were at the receiving end physically and financially. Apart from isolated incidents of attacks due to religious identity, the government has succeeded in preventing any communal flare-ups, thus saving many innocent lives.

Muslims are always used as a political tool in UP. Previous governments sought votes citing right wing fanatics but didn’t do much for the development of our community. In the current regime, the situation is no different. There is a lot to be done in the field of education, health and general well-being of the minority community across UP.

Yes, there is a sense of uneasiness due to the statements of the state and Centre government leaders. The writing is on the wall: decisions like the CAA and NRC were taken side-lining a particular community and every Muslim understands this. Apart from this fear, nothing on the ground has happened which can actually worry us.

ALSO READ: ‘Muslims In UP Are Uneasy With Yogi At Helm’

The financial health of Muslim community, which is largely involved in small and medium businesses, has been in shambles due to lockdowns, due to Covid-19. I run a small school where children mostly from the Muslim community study. They don’t have facilities to opt for online classes and their academics and our finances both badly suffered during pandemic times.

Those running big schools can survive with online classes, but here, the parents of the students don’t have such facility due to their poor financial backgrounds. The governments must understand this. The situation of the community has remained the same as it was in the previous governments apart for the sense of fear which the right wing people spread, nothing much has changed in last 4.5 years.

The community also needs to understand the current political scenario and stop being just a vote bank. We shall focus on development and future of our children rather than being a political tool for certain political parties. The children need good education; the Muslim localities need better healthcare unit, hygiene and infrastructural development. The poll promises are forgotten after a government comes to power.

Having said that, the only solace in Yogi rule is that no communal riots took place, even though a sense of insecurity remains. Currently, survival in post-Covid times is the main concern in the community. Many businesses have shut. Many students have stopped going to school to help their families. We would want the governments to focus on this.

‘Over 100 People Stayed In My 500sqft House, Slept In Shifts’

Mohammad Hakim, 45, supplies jute bags to shops in Delhi for livelihood. During northeast Delhi communal violence in February, he provided shelter and safety to over 100 victims at his humble house in Chandu Nagar

It was something I have not seen in my lifetime. We migrated to Delhi from Khagariya district of Bihar 20 years back and since then we have been living here peacefully. We never thought such level of communal violence will ever happen here. On the intervening night of February 24 and 25, houses of my relatives was attacked and shops were set of fire. They called me for help.

My wife went there and saw some police personnel escorting my relatives and scores of other residents of the area, houses of whom were attacked by mobs with stones and petrol bombs. The cops left the rescued people in my lane. As my relatives entered my house, scores of others also pleaded for a shelter for some days. These people included women and young children.

Suddenly there was commotion towards the main road. I realised that stone-pelting had started once again. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt so I asked them to immediately enter my house.

ALSO READ: ‘Rioters Came In Thousands’

There were 98 people in all including children. All of them managed to find space in my small house for four days. We didn’t have space to sleep for all of us; so we slept in shifts. I had some ration at my kitchen and it all got over in just two days. There was no milk for children so I requested my neighbours to help.

Even in these difficult times, people helped. My neighbours provided food and milk for the sheltered and their children. I remember not sleeping for four nights due to fear. Riots and clashes continued just two lanes ahead of my house. I was afraid that if anyone came to know that I had given shelter to nearly 100 people, their lives could be in danger. So several of us stayed awake during nights and kept a watch on the lanes.

WATCH: ‘Left Only With The Clothes I Am Wearing’

The violence continued for four days and then abruptly stopped. Some of those who had taken shelter into my house, went to see their houses and found them burnt and looted. Their shops were also gutted. Hence, they came back and are still staying at my place.

I have a two-storied rented accommodation of 500 square feet. On the ground floor, I have a small workshop and godown and on the first floor, I have two small rooms, a kitchen and a washroom. It was all full for four days with no space to even walk. In the huddle, there was fear for an uncertain future. Most of those who had taken shelter were daily-wage labourers and vendors. Their livelihoods were completely lost in the violence. They have to feed their children; I don’t know how they will survive.

ALSO READ: State Riot Machine At Work

I am now trying to help these people to get government compensation. There are children who have to appear in the board exams. I have been buying newspapers for them so that we get all verified information about state measure for the riot-affected and holding of exams. God knows for how long these people will stay. I am getting help from my neighbours and other people to feed them. I just hope this never happens again. Both communities have suffered loss of life and property. The government must not allow such horrific thing to happen again.

‘People Ask Us If We Save Only Hindus Or Musslamans’

A group of concerned civil society activists started a helpline to aid victims of communal violence in northeast Delhi. Environmental activist Priya Pillai was a part of the 35-member team that was formed to facilitate rescue efforts. She tells LokMarg about the harrowing last week.

For the past few days, my phone has not ceased to ring. Last week was horrific. I would have used a stronger word if I could. Delhi has been my home for the past many years. And like many Delhiites, I felt helpless as northeast Delhi burnt and people got butchered – all in the name of religious identity!

I am a part of the Citizens Collective for Peace, a joint initiative by the civil society in Delhi. When violence broke out we decided to help out the victims in whatever little way possible. A team of about 35 people was formed, of which, three sub-teams worked on rescue operations, medical support (which also included lawyers to help with the documentation of medico-legal cases) and information verification. I was a part of the rescue team. 

There was no way that we could go on the ground to facilitate the rescue operations, so we decided to act as a bridge between the police and the complainants and ensure rescue efforts were carried out smoothly.

On February 25th, we circulated our personal numbers, which acted as helplines for the next few days (we never got the time to get dedicated numbers for the helpline). Initially, we had circulated the numbers in our private circles, but looking at the scale of violence, we had to publicly post the numbers. The numbers were posted on multiple WhatsApp groups and Facebook and Twitter.

ALSO READ: ‘We Lost Our Child, Save Others’

Result: Our phones rang incessantly. People called us and we called the Police Control Room (PCR) to file the complaints and facilitate the evacuation. But the first six hours were very challenging for us.

We could not get any headway with the police. While we desperately tried to reach out to them, but were faced with a lackadaisical response. We reached out to senior police officers, but it was appalling how despite repeated requests, they failed to act for more than six hours. Even after giving them a proper address, they kept dilly-dallying, saying things like: “Aap exact location toh bataiye. (Give us the exact location).” 

Relief workers distribute essential food items to the victims of communal violence in northeast Delhi

The people at the PCR even asked me questions like what my marital status was! It is apparently a part of a routine procedure for registering a complaint. But at the time of an emergency, can we afford to go into these banalities?

That night, we got several more distress calls from people who were trying to take their bloodied and burnt kin to the hospital but a wild angry mob was blocking their passage. Two people had succumbed to their injuries, on the road, awaiting medical attention. 

Private as well as government ambulances carrying victims were not being allowed to reach Al Hind Hospital in Mustafabad. The Police was a mute spectator. 

ALSO READ: ‘Rioters Came In Thousands, Cops Were 200’

However, as a result of a petition filed by civil society activists, the DCP East was ordered by a two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court, to escort ambulances to ensure safe passage for the injured. The order was passed by Justice Muralidhar and Justice Bhambani post-midnight after attempts to seek help from Delhi Police failed.

Within minutes of the order, the Delhi police evacuated several critically injured people and carried out rescue operations. Thus proving that the Delhi Police can work efficiently and effectively, if it has the will to do so. They could have easily quelled the riots within 24 hours, but the police and political class, let the city burn. They let down the city they were mandated to protect and nurture.

The next two days, we worked round the clock coordinating and facilitating rescue operations with the police. People in the rescue team got the calls, the information verification team, verified the details to ensure it wasn’t a hoax call. If the caller was looking for medical help, we would connect them to the medical support team, who would coordinate with the victims and ambulances. Members of the medical team were there at the hospitals making sure the victims had reached safely and were receiving medical attention.

We got all kinds of calls from both Muslims and Hindus.

Many muslim families were trapped in their homes or teraces, telling us that there was a mob outside chanting slogans and likely to burn down the house if they left. Some of them called us saying their homes were being looted. We had to counsel them and talk them into evacuating the premises. We told them that the mobs will burn down their house anyway, so why stay and risk your life.

In some cases the callers did not want to give their numbers to the police, so we had to constantly coordinate with the police and the complainants to facilitate the rescue. When the police asked us for the phone number of the victims, we were forced to tell them that people did not trust them. They feared that they would be harassed by the police. So we were coordinating with them until we were sure that they had been escorted to a safe place.

Many Hindus called us saying that they were living in Muslim dominated areas and were fearing for their lives — they were mostly calling out of panic.

Certain calls made us wonder if communalism and intolerance had taken over all of humanity. Was there no thread of humanism left in these people? People asked us: “Kya aap sirf Mussalmanon ko bachate hain? (Do you just save Muslims?)” and “Achha toh aap Hinduon ko bhi bachaate hain? (So you rescue Hindus too?)” Our response was the same every time, we said that we help everyone who is affected by the violence.

We also got calls from people who started asking: “Aap kaun hain, kya kaam karte hain, aapka naam kya hai?” We firmly refused to divulge our personal details, and politely asked them not to waste our time.

We have taken a risk to circulate our personal numbers. With apps like TrueCaller, it is very easy to track people down. But we couldn’t just sit and do nothing, while people butchered each other and the state machinery failed to act.

Then there were some moments of encouragement, when people called us (from even outside Delhi), showering praises and blessings. Such messages kept us going.

The rescue operations are now over, with no new fresh clashes. We were not as effective as a government machinery would have been, but we still managed to play a role in saving a few hundred lives. It is now up to the Delhi government to provide relief to the victims.

‘Rioters Came in Thousands, Policemen Were Just 200’

ACP Anuj Kumar, who was injured while trying to curb the violent clashes in Northeast Delhi, recounts the communal riots that cost 42 lives

On February 25, I had arrived at the troubled spot along with District Commissioner of Police Amit Sharma and about 200 police personnel when the tension began to raise its ugly head near Seelampur area in Northeast Delhi.

We were instructed that the road linking Signature Bridge with the border of Ghaziabad should not remain blocked. Slowly and steadily, a crowd started getting bigger. The crowd included both men and women. Soon the crowd swelled to about 20,000-25,000 headcount. I don’t know whether they had planned to block the road as they did previously.

ALSO READ: ‘We Lost Our Child, Save Other’

We spoke to them peacefully and asked them to remain confined to the service road instead of the main road. Till then, rumours had started spreading that some women and children had lost their lives in a police shootout. There was construction underway near the bridge, so stones and bricks were lying there. The rioters started pelting us with stones suddenly and many of us were injured, including DCP Amit Sharma who was bleeding severely.

The police fired teargas shells to disperse the rioters but the effort was futile as the distance between the protestors and the security was large. We were standing on two opposite ends of the road. We didn’t want to open fire as many women took part in the protest. But we were heavily outnumbered.

ALSO READ: State Riot Machine At Work

My aim then was to first rescue the DCP because he was bleeding heavily. But we also didn’t want to hurt any protestor. I later came to know that the force have lost Head Constable Rattan Lal to the violence.

‘We Lost Our Child To Delhi Communal Riots, Save Others’

Rahul Solanki, 25, an engineer, was allegedly shot by a violent mob in Karawal Nagar area in Northeast Delhi. His uncle Sanjeev S Solanki recounts how police inaction was responsible for their loss

Ours is the only Hindu house at a Muslim-majority locality in Karawal Nagar. We always wanted to relocate as many Hindus of the locality sold their houses over a period of time and moved. We remain the only Hindu family there. It seems we failed to sell our house in time and it is too late now.

The tension in Karawal Nagar began from Sunday. There were incidents of stone pelting in the neighborhood and some violent clashes between pro- and anti-Citizenship Act groups. There was no police presence in our area and possibly that emboldened the miscreants.

ALSO READ: Fires That Can Burn The Nation

We were cautious as we are the only Hindu family in the area. On Monday, when Rahul went to his job, we saw escalation of violence near our area on news channels. The family called him and asked him to be home early and stay safe.

When Rahul reached home, we heaved a sigh of relief. But after a few minutes, he went out to buy grocery from a nearby shop and a few gunshots were heard. We were informed that Rahul had been shot by a group of protesters from close range. We rushed to the spot and took him to GTB (Guru Teg Bahadur) hospital where he was declared dead. His father and mother are inconsolable.

ALSO READ: Lynch Militia And Communal Faultlines

What was the fault of Rahul? He was not part of any protest, he was targeted because of his religion. He had no political affiliation. He was just a breadwinner for his family. We had high hopes from him and were planning to fix his marriage soon.

Over last two days every time we heard commotion outside our house, we called at police control room for help and reassurance. But there was no response. Police came only after Rahul was killed. What good is this force now for us?

We don’t want any violence; we don’t want any revenge; we have lost a son and; we don’t want others to face what we are facing today. But justice should be delivered to us.

I appeal our politicians to come out of their houses and visit the affected areas. All of them should witness what happened to us and call upon people not to indulge in violence. They were out making speeches during election campaigning. Where are they holed up now when the vote needs them?

Common people have little to do with CAA or NRC. Rahul was targeted because police presence was not there. There shall be no space and no support for violent protests in the country. Why can’t the police shoot back to those who are shooting at innocent residents? What is stopping them? I feel Delhi needs rule of an iron hand to deal with such murderous mob. Or else many more innocents will die.