Four Years of Delhi Riots: Memories Haunt Widows who Struggle to Make Ends Meet

How Delhi riots changed the mixed neighborhood of Muslims and Hindus forever. This is the third and final part of The Mooknayak’s three-story series on 2020 Delhi riots.
Imrana and fiza
Imrana and fiza

New Delhi: The ghost of the 2020 communal riots in northeast Delhi still does not let Mallika, Imrana, Sunita and Neetu who lost their husbands to the horrific violence. The violent chants ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Victory to Lord Rama) and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ (Long Live Mother India), — which were being shouted during the clashes that began from February 23 and continued for next four days — still echo in their ears and give them sleepless nights.

A homicidal crowd stormed into Mallika’s four-storey building at Bhagirathi Vihar on february 25 and fatally beat her husband, Musharraf. Maybe his life would not be sufficient to slake their bloodlust, she said, they hauled his body three steps downstairs, lit it on fire and then threw the burnt remains into a nearby drain.

After she was alerted by her landlord that a group of young men were searching homes for Muslim men, she hid her husband under a bed. But the rioting mob, which was going door-to-door to hunt down the men folk, spotted and pulled him out.


“They killed him and set his corpse on fire in front of us. Even my 12-year-old daughter’s repeated cries for mercy failed to melt their heart,” the mother of three spoke chokingly and with her hands shaking.

“We begged them to spare him for humanity’s sake, but we were told ‘Muslims are not humans’,” she told The Mooknayak, recalling the horror of the fateful day.

For the mid-40s woman, the misery had not ended even with her husband’s brutal murder. Sensing a threat to her life and the lives of her children, she decided to leave the house. 

She managed to flee for safety by misidentifying herself as a Hindu to the raging mobs by wearing ‘sindoor’ (vermilion) on her forehead.

“As we were leaving, another group of rioters on the road stopped me, my daughter and son. They were doubtful of our Hindu outlook. So, to confirm our identity, my infant son’s pants were unzipped to check if he had undergone circumcision. They attacked all of us after learning that we are Muslims. However, we were able to go unharmed somehow,” she narrated.

They temporarily took refuge at their relative’s place at neighboring Loni in Uttar Pradesh. They are currently renting a place in Gokulpuri.

“Nothing in our home was spared. Everything we owned was either looted or broken,” she said.

After losing to the sole breadwinner of her family to the riots, she is currently battling financial difficulties and uncertainty.

Although she was compensated by the Delhi government with Rs 10 lakh, her financial condition remains poor. 

“I used some of the money on the marriage of my eldest daughter (who was 18 in 2020). A substantial sum of the fund was spent to begin life afresh. I have two kids to take care of: a 15-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. I used to work in cloth stitching factories, but since the pandemic, I have had trouble finding employment. Whatever compensation money remains, we are making ends meet. It will run out soon if I don’t get a job,” she stated.

In this case, the police have already filed a chargesheet and made nine arrests.

Mallika is not the sole such survivor. The violence widowed over 15 women. Majority of them said the monetary compensation they were given was not enough, claiming it was even insufficient for reconstructing their destroyed homes during the communal fire.

More than 53 people (38 Muslim victims and 15 Hindus) lost their lives and properties worth crores were damaged in the sectarian violence that continued for around four days from February 23 to 27 that year. Despite video evidence showing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra and others inciting mobs with hate speech, the government called the violence spontaneous.

Shot by Rioters, Hated by Families

Imrana, 35, and her eight daughters enjoyed a comfortable life until February 25, 2020, when her husband, Muhammad Mudassir Khan, 37, was shot dead at Maujpur — where he had gone to pay one of her daughters’ school fees.

“Half an hour after he reached there, he told me over phone that violence had erupted in the area — with people indulging in stone pelting,” she recalled. 

He stayed with his friend in nearby Kardampuri. “The next day (February 25), he called me once again — informing me that the situation had worsened. I advised him not to venture out and continue to stay there. At around 1.30 pm, we had a video call. He was panicking and wished to return to his children. I consoled and told him not to come as violence had engulfed almost all localities of the region,” she narrated.

About half an hour after their phone call, Imrana was informed by someone that her husband Mudassir had been shot.

“Unable to come to terms and disbelieving the information, I dialed my husband but didn’t get any response. One of my repeated calls was finally responded to. But the person who received my call on my husband's number was a stranger. He verified that Mudassir had been shot at and rushed to Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital. He had actually passed away minutes after being hit by the gunshot,” she added, continuing that her brother-in-law and another relative had hurried her to the hospital under police protection. They were handed over the body after mandatory paperwork.

“We asked him not to come, but he was returning because he was worried about our safety as violence had spread throughout the area (trans-Yamuna region),” she explained.

Mudassir’s scrap business was booming. But with his death, his family is surviving on the mercy of his younger brother — who took over his business and allegedly does not give a single dime to his bereaved sister-in-law. 

Imrana alleged earlier, he used to give her Rs 15,000 every month. But after a year, he stopped giving the fund.

“I also did not get the donations individuals had sent to us. My in-laws withdrew all the money, she said. 

She opened a beauty parlor on the ground floor of her husband’s four-story building at Mustafabad (with one living room on each floor) with the help of several activists in an effort to increase revenue for the family’s living expenses. But she had to bring the shutter down as her in-laws supposedly did not allow it.

“Since my second-eldest daughter, Fiza, is a trained beautician, I opened the parlor. But my in-laws did not think it was appropriate,” she said with visible despair on her face.

The mother now hopes that her daughters find a decent career, which also allows them to balance their education.

She went on to say that she also fears losing her home. “My in-laws want me to move back to my parents’ place and leave the house, which also has my husband’s share,” she said and burst into tears.

Her eldest daughter is enrolled in a prestigious private school in Delhi for grade XII. The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind pays for her living expenses in the school’s hostel.

Imrana has no idea how her police case is progressing at all. She claims that the police never recorded her statement and she was never called before a judge.

Neither her father-in-law nor brother-in-law wished to speak on the matter on one pretext or the other. The police too declined to comment, arguing all such matters are subjudice and therefore, it won’t be ethical for them to comment.

The FIR of this case (no. 0094/2020) dated February 26, 2020, was registered at Welcome police station against unidentified people. It simply quotes an MLC (medico-legal case) issued by the GTB Hospital that says Mudassir was “brought dead in main casualty in unconscious and unresponsive state” and it was “found lying unconscious at Kabir Nagar, Street No. 1 at 12:15 pm on 25/02/2020”.

Accessed by The Mooknayak, the FIR has been registered under sections 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder), among others, of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 27 of the Arms Act.

Prem Singh and Sunita
Prem Singh and Sunita

Curse of Conflict: Lone Life Ahead

Prem Singh, a Brijpuri native, lost his life when he went out early on February 25 to get milk for his three young daughters. Unaware of the rioting outside, he left home between 7-8 am, and never returned.

His 25-year-old wife Sunita started dialing him anxiously as time passed, but his cell phone was unreachable.

When Sunita leaves for work, her two younger daughters are left alone in a rented one-room apartment.

“When he didn’t return till 4 pm, I started looking for him. I visited every place he used to go. I even searched the GTB Hospital for him, believing he would have been hurt in the violence. But he was hard to find. Finally, my landlady and I went to the police, but they did not even receive our complaint,” she said.

She claimed that the police only reported him missing until a story appeared in the media. She was called by the police to the GTB Hospital morgue on February 29 in order to identify a body that they had found that day.

“It was his body,” she said and took a long pause as if she did not want to revisit the incident anymore.

“During the hunt, I had not for a moment considered this option. Everything around me seemed to be collapsing like a pack of cards. I had lost my pillar of support,” she narrated the sequence of events — with tears rolling down her face.

At the time, she was expecting her fourth child. “I am the mother of four children. How would I look after them all by myself? How would they study? Who will feed them as the sole breadwinner of my family is gone? These are a few questions I often ask to myself,” she said, with her face bearing a stoic expression.

Sunita got Rs 20 lakh (Rs 10 lakh from the government and another Rs 10 lakh from individuals as donations), which she has invested in a government bank as a fixed deposit for her children’s future. She works as a domestic help to earn a living.

While her two elder daughters go to school, she has to leave her two younger daughters in the one-room rented accommodation all alone when she goes out for work.

“It’s very difficult for a mother to leave her children who are infants unattended, but I am left with no option but to take this harsh decision,” she said when asked as to how she manages her work as well as her family life.

Her in-laws reside at Kasganj in Uttar Pradesh. 

Asked who she thinks is responsible for so many deaths and destruction, her prompt reply was: “Politicians.”

“I don’t know who killed my husband; therefore, I won’t blame anyone for that. But I know they (the political leaders) were the ones who ignited the fire for their vested interests. Had they not provoked people, my husband would have been alive,” she elaborated.

Sunita does not know anything about the status of her case. “No police officer ever came to me to record my statement, nor was I called by any court,” she added. 

Sources said the police had arrested four persons from Kardampuri in connection with Singh’s murder. But further details are not available. Unable to bear the legal expenses, Sunita did not hire any lawyer.


Justice: A Failed Battle

The fact that Saiba was unable to see her husband Aas Mohammad’s face saying goodbye forever hurts her the most. The 30-year-old had stepped out early on February 25 to “buy bidi (cigarettes made with dry leaves and rough tobacco)”, but he never came back.

Five days after he went missing, his decomposed body — with bloated stomach, a deep cut on his abdomen, a round hole in one of his cheeks, and an incision on his right temple — were fished out of Gokulpuri Nala, a drain adjacent to the Gokulpuri police station, on March 1.

His body was one of the three unidentified corpses — which had been lying in the mortuary of the GTB Hospital for days. It wasn’t until they contacted the Gokulpuri police station, which had images of the bodies recovered from the drain. His family members found his mortal remains on March 9, the 13th day of his disappearance.

The members of the deceased family were requested to examine the bodies that were kept in the mortuary. The mortal remains were decomposed beyond recognition. They were able to identify Aas, thanks to his green jacket, black pants and a chain.

The victim left his phone at home, so it was impossible to get in touch with him after he disappeared. Additionally, he had no identity card with him. When his family attempted to register an online complaint, it was “rejected”. The violence had escalated that evening, and the Delhi Police had issued a shoot-at-sight order — making it impossible for the family to go looking for him.

Due to the family’s “lack of faith” in law enforcement and a rumor that the rioters were apprehending Muslims who were heading to the police station, they were also hesitant to physically file a missing complaint.

They therefore started the hunt in hospitals days later rather than calling the police first. “We attempted multiple visits to the GTB Hospital without any luck,” said Saiba, 30.

She claimed her husband got a call on his cell phone and left the house. “We never thought something like this could potentially occur. The only victims of this violence have been innocent people,” she claimed.

Aas was a clothes vendor who lived in New Mustafabad’s Shakti Vihar. She claimed that even after three years, her children still couldn’t accept the loss of their father. She said, “They frequently have emotional outbursts and start crying inconsolably.”

Sonam, the second of her three siblings, and her eldest son Rehan attend a private school. Her youngest daughter Saima suffers from congenital hearing problems and cannot speak.

Saiba’s in-laws are said to have grown resentful of her when she declined to offer them the Rs 10 lakh compensation. As a result, she was abandoned by her in-laws family and forced to start working as a daily wager. She was earning livelihood by making face masks, but she had to stop working when she began to have “unbearable” headaches.

A postmortem was performed at the RML Hospital on Aas's body prior to its transfer to the GTB Hospital morgue.

Saiba claimed that even before the autopsy report was released, the police had concluded that he died from drug misuse and that there were no bruises on his body. According to the FIR, a syringe and an Avil bottle were discovered from the possession of the deceased.

However, his post-mortem report concluded that he was struck fatally in the head by lethal weapons. It claimed that rioters had thrown the body down the drain in an attempt to obliterate any proof.

The police registered a case under sections 147, 148, 149, 302, 201 of the IPC against “unknown rioters” for rioting, unlawful assembly, murder and evidence destruction.

Dismissing the assertion that Aas was a drug addict, his wife alleged that the “cover up” in the case began right from the beginning.

Those in the knowhow of the case stated, Aas was at the Johripur-Bhagirathi Vihar Puliya (culvert) in Delhi Police's custody on February 25 night. Over the course of that fatal night and the next day, at least seven more people were killed and their mortal remains were thrown into the drain.

“The Delhi Police filed false reports against unknown individuals, even though they were well aware of the identity of the culprits. The uniformed soldiers would have driven the rioters away if they had wished to do so. But they did nothing but act like mute spectators as a crowd went on rampage,” they said, declining to be quoted by the names.

Saiba stated she is unaware of any information pertaining to the police case.

Neetu Saini
Neetu Saini

Traited by Benefactors?

Although 32-year-old Neetu Saini and 33-year-old Naresh Saini planned to be married for eternity, fate had other plans for them. A few days prior to commemorating their ninth wedding anniversary on February 7, 2020, he was shot at fatally on February 25 between 3:30 and 4:00 in the morning and later succumbed to injuries.

Since the evening of February 24, the tension has been building. “To protect the safety of the locals, there was a vigil along our lane at Brahampuri, close to Shahdara. Among them was also my husband. He came back, and we had dinner together. He informed me that we needed to stay vigilant,” she said — describing the sequence of events. 

It was early hours and there was a disturbance outside. There was now violence. “Before I could tell him to stay put, he and his older brother left and stopped outside the main entrance of our lane. Soon, a bullet went through his torso, causing a puddle of blood to spill out,” she recalled.

After being taken to GTB Hospital quickly, he received treatment for 10 days but could not survive. He passed away on March 5, 2020.

Naresh died, she alleged, because of medical “negligence”. “The post-mortem report showed the bullet was lodged in the vertebral backbone, contrary to the doctors’ claims that it had been removed,” she said.

He didn’t gain consciousness until he died. Neetu said, “He would still be alive if he had received an honest treatment.”

Despite grand promises from political heavyweights, she remains penniless after four years. 

“Northeast Delhi MP Manoj Tiwari ji (from the BJP) had come to visit us. He was accompanied by BJP MLA from the Ghonda Assembly segment, Ajay Mahawar ji. He gave me a financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh and assured me of a job. I received a request to turn in necessary documents at the local MLA’s office. I followed through, but nothing more transpired,” she said and added, “Forget about the MP, even the legislator’s personal assistant no longer answers my calls”.

She said she feels deceived by them and their party she had trusted. “Those who claim to be champions of the Hindu causes never returned to check on the victims’ families in the past four years,'' a visibly upset Neetu stated, without mentioning specific names. “They have only advanced their political careers at the expense of innocent lives. It is merely a betrayal.”

She is making a living by running her husband’s vegetable store. In addition to Rs 2,500, which she got from the Delhi government as widow pension, an NGO run by the CPI-M (Communist Party of India - Marxist) gives her Rs 1,000 every month as a scholarship for her children. She sets up a vegetable stall for a few hours every day outside her son’s school.

“I earn a meagre sum from the makeshift vegetable shop,” the woman stated.

She has deposited the compensation amount in a bank for further education of her two children (two daughters aged 10 and 11).

She lives in a one-room flat on the ground floor of a four-storeyed structure, which is constructed on 42-square yards of land in Brahmapuri. It’s a shared property, which also houses her husband’s siblings.

The family of the deceased is unaware of the case status, despite the fact that the police filed a FIR in relation to the murder. 

“Neither me nor my in-laws know what transpired in the investigation, what is going on in the court and how the case is advancing,” she said, adding that she will keep reminding the police, the government and the “loud-mouth” leaders that they “failed” to ensure justice and bring the perpetrators to book.

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