Delhi violence: As tales of brutality during clashes spread, citizens organise to verify threats, lessen suffering

While videos of alleged police brutality and its personnel's behaviour with rioters was doing the rounds on social media after the start of the communal violence in northeast Delhi, ordinary citizens decided to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of the State

Mariya Salim March 02, 2020 14:06:31 IST
Delhi violence: As tales of brutality during clashes spread, citizens organise to verify threats, lessen suffering
  • In northeast Delhi, ordinary citizens decided to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of the State, whether in providing relief, helping with rescue efforts or saving lives of those injured during the violence

  • On 25 February, a group of concerned citizens from various fields got together, decided to intervene and provide some interim rescue and relief

  • Different teams were formed and a mechanism developed whereby SOS calls received were first verified and details of location sought, after which the kind of support and assistance needed was ascertained

While videos of alleged police brutality and its personnel's behaviour with rioters was doing the rounds on social media after the start of the communal violence in northeast Delhi, ordinary citizens decided to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of the State, whether in providing relief, helping with rescue efforts or saving lives of those injured during the violence.

"Nine of them came chanting religious slogans in our area, but we were all outside guarding our homes. They saw us and left," said Imaan (name changed to protect identity), a resident of Mustafabad. He is out on bail after no evidence was found that could prove his involvement in violence during the anti-CAA protests in December last year. Imaan and many like him stood guard and continue to do so in their respective gallis in various violence-hit areas of northeast Delhi. They have lost their faith in the forces ever since verified videos of officers in uniforms using lathis on wounded Muslim citizens, abusing them and asking them to chant slogans went viral on social media.

On 25 February, a group of concerned citizens from various fields got together, decided to intervene and provide some interim rescue and relief to those who continued to be in the middle of the violence in various localities of northeast Delhi. Meanwhile, people across the city were receiving unverified frantic messages of gunshots, houses being burnt, ambulances not being allowed to take the injured to hospitals etc.

Different teams were formed and a mechanism developed whereby SOS calls received were first verified and details of location sought, after which the kind of support and assistance needed was ascertained. Finally, the information on what needs to be done was sent to teams on the ground who would immediately provide support. Each volunteer spent sleepless nights to contribute the little they could while ordinary citizens peacefully demanding action from the chief minister were brutally beaten, made to face water cannons and detained from outside his residence on the night of 25 February.

Rescue teams found it extremely difficult as there was little or no support from officials of violence-affected areas to let ambulances pass. After midnight, an order was passed by the Delhi High Court in the matter of Rahul Roy versus Government of NCT of Delhi and Others, where the DCP, East was ordered to ensure safe passage of those injured to government hospitals, soon after which the critically injured were able to reach hospitals like Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital for treatment with the police starting to cooperate.

Delhi violence As tales of brutality during clashes spread citizens organise to verify threats lessen suffering

File image of the carnage left by violence in northeast Delhi. PTI

Dr Juveria, who was helping coordinate the safe passage of those critically injured from the local Al Hind Hospital to GTB, recounted how the delay cost two of the 10 gunshot victims their lives. "The doctors at Al Hind — a hospital that is not at all equipped to deal with such serious cases — did not get nervous at all. They did all they could to negate any immediate harm to the injured. Those driving ambulances did not let fear grip them and reached the spots that needed them. They did not let the news of the vulnerability of those areas affect their duty, they told me," said Dr Juveria.

But this organising comes at a cost for many. Khalid Saifi, who is in judicial custody at present, was detained from the Khureji area and faced police violence. He was helping rescue people and provide relief and medical aid to those who were critically injured. Locals in Khureji confirm that he went to the protest site two days ago and requested the women and others to consider not blocking any roads as part of their peaceful protest. Two days later, his FIR stated that he asked protesters to pelt stones at the police, with no evidence for this claim whatsoever. Similar accusations were levied against Ishrat Jehan of Khureji as well, who has also been detained. The lawyers who intervened in this particular detention of activists who were providing relief to the violence-affected were assaulted by cops in the Jagatpuri Police Station, including women lawyers who went there to intervene.

Many groups have come forward to do what the State should ideally be doing in a situation like this. People's homes have been burnt to ashes, livelihoods finished and lives lost. Activist Harsh Mander and his team have been very active on the ground and have been working with volunteers to provide relief, rehabilitation, medical and legal help to the violence-affected.

Apart from organisations that are setting up medical camps and temporary rehabilitation centres, young students from universities and colleges have been and continue to be at the forefront of relief work. "My friend goes to Shaheen Bagh at 10 pm every day and is back by fajr (first of the five daily prayers). After college, he comes to help with relief work and stays here till 8 pm. This has been his routine every single day," Asma (name changed to protect identity) told me.

Asma has been helping coordinate the collection of relief materials and sends them after verification of needs to the remotest of areas where even basic supplies are lacking. A volunteer is sent with the relief truck to ensure that the supplies reach those who need them. Working in the current hostile environment however has not been easy. Asma narrated the tale of one of the volunteers in Chand Bagh — a student who was detained by police from a supply truck and mentally harassed through the night. The truck carrying milk for 100 children in the area was also asked to return.

Sharique, working on the ground, recounted how there were no basic supplies in Kardampuri, Shiv Puri, Chand Bagh, Bhajanpura and Karwal Nagar when the violence broke out and how with the help of locals and those coordinating to provide food and evacuation from some of these areas, they were able to reach out to those affected.

The contribution of the Sikh community in providing relief and rehabilitation to the pogrom survivors has been covered by many a media house. What has also been a ray of hope in these past days are the set of stories of how individuals from various communities took it upon themselves to protect people from other communities in their areas. "Dalit residents of Seelampur J-Block are protecting the Muslim residents and have blocked roads pushing out right wing mobs," read a tweet by a Seelampur resident, Ovais Sultan Khan, activist.

Even in these tough times, stories of solidarity, of communities coming out to help those affected brings some hope. Nadeem Khan from United Against Hate recounted how residents of one of the most affected areas, Noor e Elahi asked him to direct the food supply vehicles to Kardampuri saying that there was a greater need there and that they would manage with what they had at the moment. Individuals with personal cars offered to take the injured to hospitals and supply food to doorsteps of families who could not step out. Residents from Shiv Puri told me how unknown people picked up two of the severely-injured men at GTB in their semi conscious state and took them on their bikes to hospitals nearby.

There are hundreds of faceless, nameless people guarding the streets, collecting basic supplies, counselling families and arranging help to fill the vacuum created by agencies whose job is to provide these facilities to the violence-affected as best as possible.

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