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Delhi riots: 'We can only get through this by smiling'

By Trisha Mukherjee
March 13, 2020 13:51 IST
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A solitary patch of violet stands out in what are walls blackened high with soot, a reminder of a room that was once coloured with shades of content and is now littered with the detritus of a riot -- except for a bed on which sits Nazar Mohammad. 

IMAGE: A couple sits in their house, burnt in the recent violence over the amended citizenship law, in Khajuri Khas extension of Northeast Delhi, on March 12, 2020. Photograph: Manvender Vashist / PTI Photo.

His three-storey home in northeast Delhi's Shiv Vihar Phase 7, one of the worst-hit areas in the recent riots, tells the story of not just three days of clashes but also of hope rising from the ashes of violence. 

A peep through the wide open doors into the home of the 44-year-old art teacher in a government school is unsettling. 

Not because of the charred motorcycle outside, not because Nazar is surrounded by walls blackened from what must have been 10 feet high flames and not because it is impossible to walk across without stepping on shards of glass, metal and concrete. 


But because Nazar can be seen smoking a cigarette and smiling widely. 

Asked why he is smiling in times of distress, his wife Irshada Begum interjects, also with a smile, "Aansu toh sukh gaye. Muskurayenge tabhi toh jeeyenge (the tears have all dried up. We can only get through this by smiling)." 

Until two weeks ago, the charred shell was home to the couple and their three sons. Now it is just a horrific reminder of the violence that took away everything they had. 

The communal clashes that broke out in northeast Delhi on February 24 and continued till February 26, claimed at least 53 lives and left over 200 people injured, besides inflicting massive damage to properties and businesses. 

"We have been destroyed," Nazar said, seemingly smoking his worries away.  

The patch of violet is where the couple had put their new 43-inch LED television before the rioters stole it, Nazar informed. 

"Forget about the TV, they even took the set-top box," he said, following it with a  chuckle that makes the visitor distinctly uncomfortable. 

He added that he built the house that now stands in ruins just a year ago on a personal loan borrowed at an interest rate of 16 per cent. 

The violence could not have possibly happened at a worse time for Nazar's family. The violence, rooted in differences over the Citizenship Amendment Act, broke out just before their wedding anniversary on March 5, their eldest son's birthday on March 10 and Irshada's sister's wedding on April 5. 

In another year, another time, the couple said they would have spent the evening together, just the two of them, and gone out for a fancy meal. 

"We did spend the day together. Here. We hugged and wept together," Nazar said. 

The bicycle and touch screen mobile phone bought in advance for their son's birthday have been looted, as has the Rs 5 lakh worth of "emergency" cash and new clothes kept in readiness for the wedding. 

It is, however, not the financial loss that weighs heavy on Nazar's mind but the trauma of his eldest son who witnessed the violence.  

"By god's grace, I make enough money to be able to rebuild our lives. We have done it before, we will do it again. I am really not worried about the money. 

"I am worried about my oldest son. The other two are too young to register what happened, but my oldest has been left traumatised. We returned to this house last Friday, but he just refuses to come back," he said. 

Their son is currently living at his grandparents' house in Shahdara. 

In a statement earlier this month, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said 79 houses and 327 shops were completely gutted in arson during the riots, the worst in the city since 1984.

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Trisha Mukherjee in New Delhi
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