‘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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.