The violence in northeast Delhi last week over contentious citizenship law that killed at least 50 people will remain etched in the memory of locals for a long time. But they will also remember stories of courage, survival and brotherhood that emerged at the difficult time and inspired neighbourhoods.
In Gokulpuri, a 53-year-old man, Mohinder Singh, along with his 28-year-old son Inderjeet saved over 60 lives. They helped several Muslim families, who were being attacked by mobs, reach safer places.
“In 1984, I was around 16 and the horrific memories are still fresh. When violence spiraled here, it reminded me of the riots three decades back. It reminded me the importance of human lives,” Mohinder Singh told NDTV.
On February 24, Mohinder Singh was at his shop near his home when a mob barged into the neighbourhood.
Mohinder, along with his son Inderjeet, decided to take out their two wheelers – a scooty and a bike. They ferried at least 60 people stuck in the nearby area of Kardampuri, about 1.5 kilometre away.
“The Muslims gathered and decided that they would have to leave the neighbourhood. But they were caught in mobs. I could not bear to see the fear on the faces of innocent children,” recalled Mohinder Singh.
“We didn’t have much resources but we took out our bike and scooty and started taking people away. During the 1984 riots, it was Hindu families that saved us but during these riots…. we weren’t seeing which community’s people we were saving. It was out of humanity and we just wanted to save humans, irrespective of the religion they belonged to,” he added.
His son Inderjeet echoed similar views and said, “I was not scared when I was transporting people. All I was thinking at that point was that every human, who was in trouble, had to be saved.”
Inderjeet’s neighbour – 30-year-old Mohammad Naeem – is among those those who he helped with his father.
Naeem’s house was looted, set on fire. His shop was vandalised.
There were at least 10 cylinders in his house when it was targeted by a mob. The fire could have been much bigger but it was Inderjeet who got many of those cylinders out and doused the fire by drawing water from a nearby pump.
Recalling the horror of mob attack, Naeem said: “It was a mob of at least 1,000 people who attacked our house and shop. They were raising slogans and many of them even had swords. All the jewellery in the house was also robbed.”
“The women in the family were made to run from the back lane to save their lives. We were left behind and were scared. But it was the Singhs who made us sit on their scooty and dropped us off to a safer place,” he added.
“If they had not taken out the cylinders, shown precense of mind, the whole area…. all nearby houses and shops would have gone up in flames. It was all saved thanks to him,” Naeem said.
Violence swept parts of northeast Delhi for four days last week after clashes escalated over the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA. At least 50 people were killed, over 200 were injured; neighbourhoods turned into ghost towns.
Massive protests have been going on against the CAA since it cleared parliament in December. While the government says the law, which makes religion test for citizenship for first time in the country, will grant citizenship to persecuted minorities of three Muslim majority neighbouring nations, critics say that the CAA is “anti-Muslim”.