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TNN | New Delhi | Feb 27, 2020:: Their homes are gone, their livelihoods destroyed. But the 40-odd Muslim residents of northeast Delhi’s Ashok Nagar found brotherhood and hope amid the smouldering ruins.
When a mob burnt down their homes and shops on Tuesday, the Hindu neighbours gave them more than succour -they opened their homes to the victims.
A 1,000-strong mob had entered the colony near Badi Masjid around 1pm. They barged into the mosque where at least 20 people were offering prayers. “I was at the mosque when suddenly a huge group of people entered and started shouting slogans. We ran to save our lives,” recalled Khursheer Alam, standing outside the remains of his house, which was among six ransacked and set ablaze by the rioters.
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The mob also vandalised the mosque and set it ablaze. Mohammad Tayyab, a local, said the mob reached the terrace of the building around 1.30pm, and hoisted the tricolour and a saffron flag. These were removed by locals on Wednesday morning.
Locals in the area kept asking the rioters not to damage any property, but they didn’t listen. All of them were outsiders. “Most of the men in the group had covered their faces and were armed with iron rods. Soon, they started burning down the shops in the area. We were afraid that we would be killed,” said Rajesh Khatri, a resident of Ashok Nagar.
After targeting the shops, the men headed towards the six houses. “There are just six Muslim families living in the
neighbourhood and these men knew about us for sure because they did not target any other house. They didn’t leave a thing, looted everything. Now we are homeless,” said Mohammed Rashid.
“However, when we thought we would be reduced to living on the streets, we were helped by our Hindu friends in the neighbourhood. They have been with us throughout, and have put us up in their homes. We have been living here for the past 25 years and never in these years have we had a single discord with any of our Hindu neighbours. We all co-exist here like a family,” said Rashid.
Said Pintu, their neighbour: “We will stand by them no matter what. We are also Hindus but can never even think of harming people or their property. Some of the shops that have been set on fire were owned by these families only. Now their homes and livelihoods both are destroyed. We will not let them be alone in their misery,” he said.
Neeraj Kumar, another resident of Ashok Nagar’s gali number five, said people in the area were helping each other in the aftermath of the violence. “We did not recognise any of the rioters. People who stay here won’t hurt each other as we have lived peacefully for years. There were two waves of attacks. One around 1 pm and another around 4 pm,” said Kumar.
Danish, whose home was one of the six which was burnt down, said they were helpless before the mob. “We called the police several times but they came an hour late. By that time, much of the damage had been done and they had ransacked most of the houses. The police then took our family to the police station for safety, where we spent the night,” he said.
It was not just the Muslims who suffered. Raj Kumar, who sold slippers from a shop directly underneath the masjid, had his establishment looted and burnt. “They spared no one. While my shop had been shut for the last few days, I had no idea this would happen in Ashok Nagar. I only came to inspect the shop on Wednesday morning and found it had been reduced to ashes,” said Kumar.
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