NEW DELHI – A year ago on Tuesday, hours before then American President Donald Trump landed in India, religious riots in New Delhi claimed 53 lives and displaced hundreds of families who struggle to rebuild their lives in an endless wait for justice.
Among the dead in the worst in Hindu-Muslim clashes in decades in the Indian capital, 40 were Muslims, like Khurshid Saifi, an interior designer who survived a brutal beating while escaping a crowd in a mosque.
“They had sticks and iron rods, and they started beating me up. (…) Somehow, I managed to get out of the mosque, but outside a mob of 70-80 people was standing there. They beat me until I fell unconscious. Next, I woke up in a hospital,” Saifi told EFE.
He runs a small shop where he sells eatables now after dropping out of his earlier profession due to the debilitating injuries he received in the attack.
The father of three lost an eye and has undergone multiple surgeries. He has metal plates inserted into the cheekbone to hold it in place.
“I was unable to chew my food for almost six months, and even now I can’t do it fully,” he said.
The victim, who was considered dead at a hospital at one point, has identified three Hindu men from the same locality who were part of the mob that attacked him, despite alleged pressure from police to withdraw the complaint.
Eyes hid behind sunglasses, Saifi recounted how the men threatened to kill him as they shouted “now we will give you azaadi (freedom),” referring to a popular slogan of the peaceful protests that engulfed the country in December 2019 against a new citizenship law brought by the Hindu right-wing government of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The law sought to naturalize illegal non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The law, according to nonprofit Human Rights Watch, “discriminates against Muslims, making religion the basis for citizenship for the first time” in India.
During months of demonstrations, one of the modes of protests was blocking some roads of the capital with sit-in camps, which provoked the ire of radical Hindu groups, who threatened to end it by force if the police did not do so.
On Feb. 23, 2020, hours before the clashes broke out, local BJP leader Kapil Mishra gave an “ultimatum” to the police to remove the protesters, a speech which has been identified in a report by the Delhi Minorities Commission as an “instigating factor” for the violence.
Moreover, the report also alleged that the violence followed an “organized and systematic pattern,” with groups of between 100 and 1,000, “most of them outsiders,” selectively attacking Muslims and their properties chanting Hindu religious slogans.
The narrative goes against the version offered by the police, which said in a statement in June that the violence, which coincided with Trump’s visit, stemmed from a conspiracy of those opposing the citizenship law to harm the image of the country.
Instead of acting on it, the police “ignored” Mishra’s alleged provocations and “other speeches and statements inciting violence against anti-CAA protesters,” the minorities commission has said.
“If I had to, I would redo what I did on Feb. 23,” Mishra said on Monday at an event promoting a book that backs the conspiracy theory about the clashes.
“I have no regrets,” he asserted.
The people injured in the violence also include 52-year-old Muslim man Mohammad Wakeel, who used to run a small food shop until he lost everything to violence.
On a night during the violence, his street was shrouded in darkness as there was no electricity.
Wakeel was trapped in his small apartment when a mob threw stones at him from the street.
The family also retaliated for a while before “losing all courage.”
“Then I told my children to run. I just peeked outside from the balcony and the moment I looked outside, they threw acid on my face,” Wakeel told EFE, in a renovated house destroyed after it was set ablaze.
With his eyes annihilated, eyelids hidden under a massive scar, the man explained how the attack had left scars on his stomach and shoulders.
Doctors had to remove shards of broken glass from his body after a mob threw a bottle at him.
As the aggressors wore helmets, Wakeel was unable to identify anyone.
His wife Mumtaz, 45, is constantly by his side, helping him hold a cup of tea and biscuits as she laments her “bad luck.”
“We have lost trust on humans, now we trust only Allah,” she confessed.