Unable to get a last look at Delhi man's body ahead of funeral, family of handcart vendor found in 'drain of death' describes its personal tragedy

  • Anger is building among the residents as they allege police are swooping down on the neighbourhood and picking up innocent young men on rioting charges.

  • Since Aas never used to keep a phone, and neither was he carrying any ID at the time, his identity remained elusive.

  • The joint family lives in Mustafabad, one of the worst-hit neighbourhoods in the Delhi violence.

One of the most tragic aspects of Aas Mohammad’s funeral was that his family could not even see his face properly before the final send-off.

Aas, 30, had stepped out of his house, in Mustafabad’sShakti Vihar, on 25 February to buy smokes, on a day when North East Delhi was under siege from communal assailants.

 Unable to get a last look at Delhi mans body ahead of funeral, family of handcart vendor found in drain of death describes its personal tragedy

The deceased Aas Mohammad. Photo procured by Shone Sateesh

He never returned. Thirteen days later, on 9 March, he became the latest victim in the violence that engulfed the capital in the last week of February, claiming 53 lives. Aas is survived by a nine-year-old son and two daughters aged seven and four.

“He took 10 rupees from me to buy bidis, saying he’ll be back in five minutes,” said his 60-year-old father Mohammad Tehseen Alvi.

Alvi, a garment hawker, was barely recovering from the grief of losing his daughter—Aas’ sister—on 26 January this year to a complicated delivery. He never imagined he would lose his son so senselessly to communal violence.

On the eve of Holi, flames from the Holika pyre leapt in the sky in the lane across Alvi’s house, even as a steady stream of visitors came by to offer condolences.

“I can’t even kiss my son good-bye,” wailed his mother, Zeenat, as the body was taken away for the funeral, amid repeated pleas from the family to see his face for one last time.

Manveer Singh, the investigating officer at Gokulpuri Police Station, where Mustafabad falls, said Aas’ was among the three unidentified bodies lying at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital mortuary.

The body, he added, was retrieved from the drain behind the Gokulpuri Police Station on 1 March, where it had floated after the rain.

On 6 March, the post-mortem was conducted at the RML Hospital, following a Delhi High Court order instructing all government hospitals to preserve the bodies of those who died in the riots, after collecting DNA samples and filming the post-mortem.

The post-mortem report states that Aas died due to fatal blows on his head with deadly weapons, and mentions the case registered against rioters for murder and destruction of evidence under Sections 147/148/149/302/201 of the IPC.

Before the post-mortem report came out, however, the police said he died of drug abuse, as a bottle of Avil and a syringe were found on his body. “His family mentioned he was an addict, and there were no external injuries on the body,” Singh told me initially.

Aas’ family members denied stating this to the police. Aas’uncle Haji Bhullan said the articles could have been planted as his nephew did not have a history of drug abuse.

After he went missing, Alvi claimed he filed a missing person’s complaint with the help of a lawyer but the papers did not reach the police station.

He said he and other family members were terrified to go to the police station to file a complaint. “I searched for my son everywhere except at the police station because I heard they were detaining people who went there,” he said.

In the intervening week, an exasperated Alvi dialled 100 twice and lodged a complaint about his missing son. “They took the details but no action was taken,” he said.

On 9 February, when Alvi visited the Gokulpuri Police Station, he was shown a photo of a body lying in the drain.

“I identified him by his jacket. His face was unrecognizable,” Alvi broke down while recounting. Aas did not own a phone, nor was he carrying any ID at the time.

On the charges of negligence by police, SHO of GokulpuriPS Pramod Joshi said that he was not aware of the complaints made by Alvi and that he would look into the matter. “We put up notices and pamphlets across localities, on the Delhi Police website, even in Doordarshan, to identify the body. We also notified 15 police stations in the area,” he said.

Aas was a garment seller who tried his hands at running a tea stall and a spice business in the past. He later started hawking garments on a cart.

His friends described him as a kind and simple man. “He worked hard and gave all his earnings to his family. He didn’t even have an interest in phones,” shared Muammar, a friend who lived nearby.

“We never imagined such a thing could happen here. Only innocent people have died in this violence,” he said.

Aas’ youngest daughter, Saima, suffers from congenital hearing problems and cannot speak. Son Rehan and daughter Sonam had been told he was away at work. But the children cried when their father’s body arrived.

The joint family lives in Mustafabad, one of the worst-hit neighbourhoods in the Delhi violence. Primarily settled by Muslims, a disproportionately high number of the victims who were killed in the violence hailed from here.

Now, anger is building among the residents as they allege police are swooping down on the neighbourhood and picking up young men on rioting charges.

“Our men are being killed and our men are being arrested. Yeh zulm ki hadd paar kar rahe hai (they are crossing the limits of cruelty),” one of the mourners remarked. In all, 53 people were killed in the riots, most of them Muslim.

The drain in which Aas’ body was found is connected to the drain from where 11 bodies have been recovered. Locals revealed that rioting mobs ambushed people walking on the drain bridge, hacked them and threw their bodies into the open drains crisscrossing the colonies of Shiv Vihar, Bhajanpura, Khajoori Khas and Mustafabad. Many feel the number of deaths will go up as the drain cleaning proceeds.

On 11 March, the Delhi HC directed authorities to preserve the unidentified bodies for two more weeks from the date of publication of their names on the Delhi Police website.

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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2020 13:15:47 IST