By Arré Bench Feb. 27, 2020
When mob violence takes over the streets, like it did in northeast Delhi, the consequences can be completely unpredictable. And the victims are often only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The week began with India celebrating US President Donald Trump’s first-ever visit to the country with much fanfare. But the enthusiasm was short-lived. Even as Trump dined with India’s President Ram Nath Kovind in Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi, raging mobs engaged in one of the worst communal riots seen in the city in decades, just kilometres away. Both Indian and international news outlets had no choice but to pivot from covering Trump’s largely non-controversial visit to the far more pressing matter of deadly violence claiming at least 35 lives in the capital.
As of Thursday, February 27, the number of injured casualties in the carnage ran into hundreds, houses and religious places of worship were destroyed, and Muslims were seen fleeing neighbourhoods in northeast Delhi. The Delhi high court observed that it cannot allow the repeat of 1984, referring to the anti-Sikh pogrom.
While the riot might have begun over political differences over the Citizenship Amendment Act, as the violence escalated, it became a platform for ugly communalism, with mobs attacking victims on the basis of religion. However, when mob violence takes over the streets, the consequences can be completely unpredictable, and the victims are often only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the unwieldy monster thrashes around, whoever happens to be within striking distance, is in the grip of violence.
Consider the case of Information Bureau employee Ankit Sharma, whose body was found in a drain in Delhi’s Chand Bagh locality. Reports say that 26-year-old Sharma was dragged away from his doorstep by a mob when he was returning home on the evening of 25 February, and his body was only found the next day.
Sharma did not survive his encounter with the rioters, but others, like 19-year-old Vivek Chaudhry, were luckier. Chaudhry was another casualty of the rioting in Delhi – he was on his way to a marketplace when a group cornered and stabbed him in the skull with a metal drill. A photo of Chaudhry went viral, becoming another searing image emblematic of the chaos unfolding in Delhi. After being rushed to Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital, transferred to a different medical facility for tests, and then back to GTB for surgery, Chaudhry was declared stable and had the drill removed from his head.
The fact that a police officer lost his life is a reminder that once a mob is unleashed, nobody is truly safe.
Much like Chaudhry, Mohammed Zubair was an ordinary Delhi resident on the way to a sweet-shop to pick up halwa for his family, when he was set upon by a mob armed with sticks and rods. The photograph of Zubair crouching to protect his head and vital organs while his assailants continue to rain down blows became another symbol of how bad the situation in Delhi had become. Zubair was gravely injured, but is still alive, thankfully. However, he does bear physical and mental scars from the ordeal, and has evacuated his family from Delhi in fear for their safety. “I am not a political person at all. I was just attending the local dua ki namaaz and returning home with sweets for my children,” Zubair told The Indian Express.
Unfortunately, for another Delhi resident who stepped out to buy groceries on Monday, the outcome was fatal. Rahul Solanki was killed in the violence when he left his house to buy some milk for tea, according to his father. Simply having the courage to go about his ordinary affairs while his city was burning cost Solanki his life.
On the other hand was Delhi Police constable Ratan Lal, who was killed in the line of duty. On Monday, Ratan Lal was deployed to the scene of the riots in North-East Delhi. At the sight of the clashes, he went down in a barrage of stone-pelting. While preliminary reports say that it was injuries from the stones that killed him, the autopsy also shows that Ratan Lal was shot. The fact that a police officer lost his life is a reminder that once a mob is unleashed, nobody is truly safe. The raging fires, both literal and figurative, burn everything and everyone in their presence, regardless of ideology, belief, religion, or indeed, participation in the conflict that sparked off the riot in the first place.
When it comes to attempting to identify those responsible for starting these riots in Delhi, there is bound to be (and already has been) infinitesimal hair-splitting. But while we go on debating who the guilty parties are, what’s clear for all to see is that the victims are – for the most part – innocent. When a mob decides to target a community, any community, it doesn’t discriminate between victims. All it does is stoke hate, in a self-perpetuating cycle of pain and violence. And Delhi has had enough of that in the past week.