ٖFeature: Shops destroyed, father no more, son in jail: Delhi riots throw this Muslim family into penury

Zafar Aafaq

In late February 2020, when in Indian capital New Delhi a mob showed up, 30-year-old Shahnawaz Ansari hid himself inside the shop hoping the rioters would pass without noticing him. But, armed with rods, batons and molotov cocktails, they broke the shutters. They dragged him out and were about to beat him.

“He knew some of the men in the mob and pleaded with folded hands for his life,” recalls his brother Shahzeb Ansari. They let him go.

The mob, however, set fire to the entire market including shops of Shahnawaz and his father Mohammad Rashid in Shiv Vihar locality of North East Delhi when parts of the Indian capital convulsed with worst communal violence in decades, leaving more than 50 people dead, majority of them Muslim.

Almost a week after the violence, police knocked on the door of the family and picked up Shahnawaz. Three days later when Shahzeb and Rashid went to check on him, they were told by officials of Crime Branch of Dehi Police that he is facing charges of murder, rioting and arson and that more than a dozen of cases had been filed against him.

The family accuses police of obtaining Shahnawaz’s confession statements under duress. “He told us that he was beaten up by police in custody to get him to sign on blank papers,” said his brother Shahzeb.

Activists say that the Delhi Police are hounding innocent people and leaving out those who instigated and participated in the riots. The rioters committed large-scale arson, setting ablaze homes of Muslims and mosques. There was also violence in retaliation by Muslim youth during the riots. But Iqbal’s family says their son is innocent.

The police, the family said, also heard their complaint related to fire to their shops but arrested three Muslims. “Eyewitnesses told us it was a Hindu mob and yet they arrested Muslims.”

The loss of shops, arrest under number of cases and alleged torture inflicted on Shahnawaz left his father deeply traumatised. “He could not bear this feeling that we lost everything in the riots and yet our son was put into jail,” recalls Shahzeb

He went into depression and died of a heart attack in June 2020.

The family originally hailing from a village near Budaun in Uttar Pradesh had shifted to Delhi in early 2000.

With elder brother in jail and father no more, Shahzeb had to shoulder the responsibility of providing for the family of three— mother, sister and himself. This forced him to compromise on his dreams. “I was passionate about studying since childhood but after this tragedy I had to quit my education and start earning.”

The family also renovated the shop on their own but when it was time to restart the business, the owner bluntly refused to hand over the keys without giving any reason. “I cried a lot that day,” said Shahzeb.

Before the riots, the family was doing well but now they are living in penury barely able to make ends meet. “We have been seeking help from Shahnawaz’s friends.”

Shahzeb joined a factory where he used to pack boxes. He would be paid Rs 8,000 per month. “It was not much but we are able to manage without having to seek alms,” he said.

But after a year he lost that job “because I could not be regular as I had to run to lawyers and courts to attend my brother’s cases.”

Shahzeb says police have no evidence against his brother but we don’t understand why courts have not set him free.

Shahnawaz is represented by Advocate Z Babar Chauhan who is associated with Jamiat Ulama.

Babar said bail has been granted in a number of cases and is awaiting in some more. “We have moved to the high court. We are hopeful he will be granted bail in other cases as well. He is totally innocent,” said Babar, speaking with media over the phone.

The family is grateful to Jamiat for coming to their aid; they had spent all their savings on legal fees. “We were at the brink of selling our house but Jamiat gave us a lawyer without charging even a penny.”

Earlier this year he took up a three months course after an acquaintance promised him a job as a computer operator.

Courtesy: Clarion India