Mustafabad residents band together to help neighbours during riots, provide shelter and protection in strife-hit northeast Delhi

Ismat Ara

On the periphery of Mustafabad, a man is doing the rounds and requesting people to stay inside their houses. "Andar raho, mehfooz raho sab, (stay indoors, stay safe)" he shouts. Upon asking why, he responds, "The police has now has got orders to shoot at sight. We don't want the police to shoot any people from our locality." The main streets of Mustafabad are mostly empty; there are only police and CRPF personnel, but there are people inside the lanes. They are standing outside their homes to stop anyone from creating a ruckus, they say.

On asking a person how the situation is, he says, "Dekhiye, situation toh kucch hi log kharab kar rahe hain. Hum toh koshish kar rahe hain ki na udhar se hinsa ho, na idhar se (the situation is being spoiled by just a few people. We are trying to ensure that violence isn't caused by that side or this side". Pointing at a house, he says, "Dekhiye, uss ghar me ek Brahmin ladki pichhle teen dino se ruki hui hai, wo ek musalman ka ghar hai (in that house over there is a Brahmin girl who has been staying there for the past three days; the house belongs to a Muslim person)." Bewildered, I go inside the house to enquire.

As a result of the curfew, most lanes of Mustafabad have been barricaded. Firstpost/Ismat Ara

As a result of the curfew, most lanes of Mustafabad have been barricaded. Firstpost/Ismat Ara

Sonia Swami, a Brahmin girl has been staying in Mohommad Arshad Khan's house for the past two days €" ever since the violence began in northeast of Delhi.

"I was in college when the situation started getting out of control. My classmate and friend, Shama, asked me if I would like to come to her place as it was the closest place of safety we could get to from college," she elaborates. Sonia is in the process of completing her undergraduate studies at Ambedkar University along with her friend Shama Malik, who says, "She [Sonia] lives in Shiv Vihar. Her area was completely out of control at that time. I wanted her to be safe, so I brought her along with me. How could I leave knowing that my friend would be unsafe?"

Sonia adds, "My parents were worried earlier, but now that they know I'm at Shama's house, they're at ease."

But this wasn't the only such incident in the area.

Arout 500 metres ahead of this house in Lane No 15 are a row of three Hindu houses. Mohammad Imran, a man in his mid 40s and a driver by profession, says, "These people were extremely scared yesterday after seeing the riot-like situation in the area. Humne kaha inse, tum logon ko bilkul bhi darne ki zarurat nahin hai, hum tumhare saath hain. Tum log hamari zimmedari ho, humare padosi ho, hum tumhara khayal rakhenge (I told them that they had nothing to worry about, because we were with them. They are our responsibility and our neighbours, we will take care of them)." He added he counts one of his Hindu neighbours among his best friends for the past 35 years.

Monu, the man to whom Imran refers, says, "We were very scared last night. There was firing, there was stone-pelting, and we didn't know what to do. Our friend, Imran and some others gave us a lot of courage and helped us escape the place today. They have rekindled humanity. One on hand, there are those who pelt stones and engage in violence, on the other, there are those who help us, cooperate with us in difficult times and love us despite our different identities." He added that he felt extremely safe as his neighbours stayed up all night and guarded their house.

Anti-CAA graffiti on the walls of a Mustafabad lane. Firstpost/Ismat Ara

Anti-CAA graffiti on the walls of a Mustafabad lane. Firstpost/Ismat Ara

According to Harjeet Bhati, a doctor from AIIMS who had formed a team in the Mustafabad area to assist patients, around 25 Muslim families who were hiding in the homes of Hindu families in Shyam Vihar since the violence broke out, were escorted by the police and brought to the Mustafabad hospital on Wednesday. One of the the members of these families says upon arrival, "We are alive because our Hindu neighbours protected us from the RSS goons. Everyone knows who is behind these riots, I am proud of my India that has been landing a slap on the face of the RSS/BJP for decades."

Another man, Mohammad Rashid, who lives nearby, says, "There are some fringe elements who have created such an environment in the area. Nobody wants to see their loved ones dead. There is a temple nearby, surrounded by Muslim areas but it is safe, more or less."

"A lot of our shops in the area were set on fire. There has been chaos all around. Our relatives in Bhagarathi Vihar and Bhajanpura have suffered huge losses due to the burning of their houses and shops. But we don't want to engage in such behaviour," he adds.

Mustafabad is an area dominated by Muslims but surrounded by Hindu localities such as Bhajanpura, Bhagirathi Vihar and Gokulpuri.

There were multiple such stories of kindness from both sides to be witnessed in the Mustafabad region on Wednesday.

Last night, a mosque was set on fire. "More than a hundred people had come and set our mosque ablaze last night. The police did nothing," Faizan, a young man recalls, talking about the most recent case of arson in the area. But since the police has been stationed, a strict curfew imposed and shoot-at-sight orders given, things seem to be under control.

But the sense of fear and insecurity among people is still very palpable. A woman, in her late 70s, says, "Hum bahut zyada dare hue hain. Saari raat sadak pe baithe rehte hain (we are still very frightened; we sit on the road all night long)." She then breaks down and adds, "Kabhi idhar se halla aata hai, kabhi udhar se. Hum sehem jaate hain. Lagta hai auraton ko uthana shuru toh nahin kar denge? Kya hoga hamare saath? Kucch pata nahin hai (sometimes violence comes from here, sometimes from there; we fear they'll soon start picking up and taking away women. What will happen to us?)" She says that she is praying night and day for peace to be restored in her area €" one in which she has spent her entire life.

On the way out, a person comes forward to offer tea. On being asking why he was distributing tea in the curfew-stricken area, he says, "Our jawans have been deployed and since they have come, the riots have somewhat stopped. Nothing major happened in this area today, thanks to them. So I'm just giving them tea and food as a gesture to offer gratitude."

The police is hopeful that the violence will stop, but isn't too confident. "It [rioting] can start at any moment even though we are trying our best avoid it. But you never know, once people get aggressive, it becomes hard to stop them," a police official deployed in the area says.

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