THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 10 MARCH, 2020
Accounts of 3 Families
NEW DELHI: Faizan’s mother was amongst the women celebrating Republic Day on January 26 as they all together hoisted the Indian national flag, sang the national anthem and celebrated democracy at the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protest site at Kardampuri chowk. Exactly a month later her son died of deep injuries sustained after he had been grabbed randomly by the Delhi police , beaten black and blue, and dumped with four others who in visible agony were all made to sing the national anthem. The horrific video has since been in circulation.
The women of Kardampuri mohalla in north-east Delhi had been sitting on peaceful protest against CAA for six weeks before the violence, inspired by Shaheen Bagh. They were sitting on the side of the road, with hundreds gathering there every evening in what had become bursts of nationalism across India ever since the government decided to bring in CAA along with National Register of Citizenship and the National Population Register.
On that fateful day January 24 tension grew in Kardampuri along with the adjoining localities after Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra’s infamous speech. Locals said that a mob started collecting at Maujpur chowk, and word spread of possible violence. Faizan, earning a living on daily wages, returned home to find that his mother ---as was usual---had gone to the protest site. Worried for her safety he went back to the main road looking for her, when hell broke loose. He ran along with everyone else who was running “from the advancing mob” when he was grabbed by the Delhi policemen who took him aside and, as was learnt later, beat him relentlessly.
His mother wailed and sobbed, unable to get over the death of her son. Her other sons are married, and one who is unemployed. Faizan was the only one who brought in some money for her --- visible in the tiny room with just a few utensils, a takht (wooden bed) where a grandson sat along with her married daughter, poverty peeping at us from every crevice.
The last days had been agony for her, as she had no idea where her son was in the initial hours on Feb 24. “I was so worried, I did not know what to do,” she cried reliving the days. Word came later in the evening from an unexpected source --- a local who was at the hospital where the police took Faizan and other for quick first aid. Faizan had Rs 1500 in his pocket and was conscious enough to give it to the local person with a “please give this to my mother.” For her the money was gold, as it ignited hope that made her rush to the hospital late in the evening to find that he was not there.
“Someone told me to go to the Jyotinagar thana (police station). I went there, I knew my boy was there, but they would not let me see him, I pleaded, ‘just let me look at him so I know he is safe, I will go away I promise’ but they refused. They told me to leave, I waited till 1am but finally came back home,” she said amidst sobs.The next day was as futile, and she was unable to get any word from the police. On the night of Feb 25 she got word from the police, along with two other families, to collect her son from the police station. They did not know how to traverse the violence hit streets, all single women whose husbands had died. Hers had 20 years ago, and this woman raised nine children on daily wages and married them all except the last two, Faizan and Salman.
A Hindu neighbour --- yet another story of goodness in a land made barren by hate---offered to escort the women and took them to the police station late at night in an auto rickshaw. Faizan was not able to stand, his body was black and blue, and the cops told her to take him home. “I asked them for a piece of paper, anything to prove that he had been with them, but they refused. I begged, ‘just give me something for the hospital as they will not treat him’ but no, they told me to get out,” she said. She brought her boy home, but the relief was shortlived. He was restless, in acute pain and just could not sit in one place.
Next morning she took him to a local doctor Dr Sherwani who said that the blood had congealed all through his body, and he was in deep distress. “I tried to take his blood pressure and there was no reading on the instrument. I finally found a very weak pulse. Shocked, I knew there was little I could do, he was in urgent need of proper medical attention and I referred him to a larger hospital,” he said. Faizan’s injuries were internal, and the visit to the hospital earlier had just taken care of visible gashes on his face and head that were stitched up. He arranged for an ambulance to take him to the LNJP hospital. He was admitted and died two hours later.
As we spoke Faizan’s mother stopped crying, her eyes helpless and resigned. There was no emotion when others who had collected relief for her, pressed the envelope into her hand. For the grieving woman a life of struggle had taken too heavy a toll, with her future staring bleakly at her. Her son had earlier been working sewing clothes for the garment factories in Gandhinagar, but as this barely got the family any money, he had started working in what his mother described as the “chicken market.” He was just 23 years old
We tracked two others of the five men the Delhi police had picked up, beaten and terrorised as their mothers had no hesitation in saying. They were more fortunate than Faizan perhaps, in that they had survived the assault and with life there is hope. The three from Kardampuri who had faced a violence that no youth should ever have to,had a lot in common --- all with widowed mothers, all unemployed, all acutely poor, and all without a criminal record of any kind as their families said, just random detention by the cops in which they were beaten to a pulp. They had all recently stepped into the world to share their mothers burden of looking after the family with a few hundred rupees on a good day, and nothing on the many bad days of a month.
The youngest was Mohammad Farhan, 18 years, who drives an auto rickshaw on daily wages. He was standing on the main road, hoping for work, he says when stone pelting started. There was complete chaos. “I was standing alone on the side and suddenly the police grabbed me, maybe they thought I was pelting stones as well, I do not know,” he said. They took him aside and beat him, “it went on for I do not know how long, I thought I would die.” He said others were lying there too, “I don’t know how many or who.” He thinks he lost consciousness as he then found himself at the local hospital where the cops had taken him. He received stitches on his head that had split open, covering him in blood. The doctors said they would have to admit him, and that probably saved his life. Like the others, the first person they thought of or called out for, Farhan also asked for his mother who came rushing.
Did they hurl abuse at you? He looked away but then whispered, “yes”. Like what? Silence and then “you want azadi, here is azadi and other things.” His mother, aunt and sister sat around, all smiling now as their boy was alive and clearly on the road to recovery. His father was a vegetable vendor and died several years ago. He like his four siblings was brought up by their mother, who worked sewing garments for the factory in Gandhinagar. A question, what now takes the smile off their faces. No one knows what the morrow will bring. “At night like everyone else we stay awake, all work has stopped, areas around are under curfew, maybe there will be more attacks, we don’t know anything now,” the mother and aunt said.
Mohammad Rafiq has not been as fortunate. And is in deep deep pain, reflected in a weak voice and eyes that were listless and helpless. He was “beaten and beaten, it seemed it would never stop.” He was at home when he heard that there had been big trouble at the main road, he could hear the sounds so ran to see if he could find his mother and other family members who had all gone for the protest at the chowk. People were pelting stones, people were running back to their homes, so panicking he started running as well. He fell, and before he could get up the police got him, took him to the side and started beating him. “For a long long time, I thought they would never stop,” he said. He was then taken through the same routine, to the hospital for first aid, and then to the police station where he was kept for a night. He was in acute pain, but said that the police did not hit him there. “They told me they could not send me back as there was curfew, and were keeping me there for my own safety,” he said.
Rafiq seemed to be in need of urgent medical attention. But his family is terrified of taking him out of the relative safety of their house. Despite painkillers ---he pointed to a bag full of medicines near him---the pain is keeping him immobile. He can barely walk, he cannot sit or stand, and the family again is destitute, living on daily wages for survival. His mother said she had no idea where he was, and did not know how to search for him as the entire area was under attack. “Someone then told me he is in hospital and alive, and I cried and cried in relief and worry,” she said. It was only the next day that he came back to her, in a state that has left him desolate. He appeared hopeless with the terror of the assault now part of his daily nightmares.
Kardampuri was the second place , after Seelampur, where women came out to protest. These chowks along with Chandbagh, Khajuri and others joined the nation in protesting against CAA with Jaffrabad becoming the final trigger for the assault, that went on for over 48 hours, with a brutality that still has bodies being recovered from drains. There was no violence insider Kardampuri, as it is a dense Muslim area where the mobs were unable to enter. There are very few non-Muslim families here, but those who are were left unscathed. A small temple in one of the twisting gullies, a hallmark of all the localities here, is untouched. “We did not indulge in any violence here,” the locals said. Unlike adjoining localities where residents had either fled or gone indoors, the gullies were active although tense. All work had stopped, the meagre earnings of the residents at a standstill. No one has the savings to survive for an endless period, and the fear and worry was palpable.
No one asked us our names, or our religion. It was immaterial. For them the very fact that we had sat with them, had bothered to listen to them was enough. And soon one realised we were a stereotype for them too. One mother said she heard the first words of kindness at the hospital from “women like you.” Another mother, when asked if anyone had visited the family replied, “no one except some women like you.” We left, unable to give them solace or assure them of a future restored.