Mohammad Munazir arrived in Delhi, metropolitan India, decades ago, leaving poverty in his hometown, the state of Bihar. His father worked as a farmer who manages other people’s gardens for nothing.
Initially, like millions of other poor migrants, he lived in tarpaulin huts, on the outskirts of the densely populated Indian capital.
He worked in a bookbinding shop and moved to Khajuri Khas, a slum in northeast Delhi, a place with a literacy level lower than the national average.
When the bookbinding shop went bankrupt, Munazir decided to start his own business. He bought a cart, rice and chicken, then began trading biryani rice. The business is successful.
“I am like a hero, everyone likes my cooking,” he said as reported by the BBC.
Every day, he cooks 15 kilograms of biryani and gets up to 900 rupees (around Rp174,000) for his efforts. Finally Munazir’s life began to improve.
About three years ago, Munazir and his brother who worked as a driver collected 2.4 million rupees from their savings and bought a house – a simple two-storey building on a narrow street.
On each floor there are two narrow windowless rooms, a small kitchen and a bathroom. The building was too crowded for two families, but for Munazir and his brother, he was home.
They even install air conditioners to keep their families comfortable during the humid summer in Delhi.
“This [house] is a nest that I have finally built for my wife and six children after struggling all my life,” Munazir said. “This is the only thing I want in this life, my only dream is to come true.”
The dream was devoured by fire on Tuesday (2/26) morning last week.
Munazir’s house was robbed and burned by a group of young men wearing masks and helmets. They combed the neighborhood where Munazir lived, armed with wooden sticks, hockey sticks, stones and bottles filled with gasoline.
They chanted “Jai Shri Ram”, or “Victory for Dewa Rama”, a greeting that has turned into a deadly slogan of radical Hindu groups in recent years.
Khajuri Khas is one of the slums hit by the deadliest religious riots in Delhi in decades, triggered by clashes over controversial citizenship laws.
There was no killing here. But three days of rioting and arson ended up taking more than 40 lives, leaving hundreds more injured and missing.
Millions of dollars worth of property destroyed. And there is evidence that Muslims are targeted, with many examples showing some policemen helping rioters, or simply ignoring them.
There are about 200 houses and shops on the narrow streets of Khajuri Khas, one fifth of which belong to Muslims. But it is almost impossible to distinguish buildings owned by Muslims from those owned by Hindus. The buildings even share walls and roof lines.
But last week, rioters easily targeted Muslim houses and shops. The ruins of Muslim houses covered in soot now stand next to untouched and untidy Hindu homes.
Muslim-owned shops and training centers and soda factories burned down. While shops belonging to Hindus have begun to open.
The only thing that still belongs to the two communities is that the streets are full of remnants of violence: broken glass, burning vehicles, torn textbooks, charcoal bread.
Only the goat’s breed between the debris of the building showed signs of life.
“I have no idea whether the rioters are insiders or outsiders. We cannot see their faces. But how can they recognize our closed houses without the help of local residents?” Munazir wondered.
Overnight, suspicion grew between the two communities.
Across from Munazir’s house which is now burnt down is a two-storey building owned by a Hindu neighbor who trades betel leaves and lives with his two sons, who work in a public transportation company.
For years, said Munazir, residents lived peacefully next door. “I even went to the house for a time. He could have left the house and tried to negotiate with the masses,” Munazir said. “Maybe my house can be saved.”
In the morning when the masses began to enter the residential neighborhood, Munazir seemed to be bombarded by sudden fear. He called the police and the fire department.
A Hindu who works as a school teacher tries to calm the armed men and asks them to leave.
“Don’t worry, nothing will happen. Go home,” he told restless Muslim citizens.
A young Hindu man tried to stop the masses who were about to enter another road. But the rioters did not want to hear his plea, and soon surged into the streets. At that time Munazir ran to his house and then locked the front door.
The crowd tried to break the door of Munazir’s house, and then turned to a mosque not far from there, throwing Molotov cocktails at the building. The police, said Munazir, arrived six hours later, and led the Muslims to safety while witnessed by rioters, who sometimes slapped and pelted residents who had fled with stones.
After residents fled with the police, rioters entered their homes, burning and looting at will. “You’re lucky to be alive,” a policeman told Munazir. “We will take you wherever you want.”
He was asked to go to his brother’s house in a street inhabited by Muslim majority residents not far from there.
When he arrived with his family, he found that 70 men, women and children from 11 local families had taken shelter in three small rooms.
Among them was a young woman who tied her six-day-old baby to her waist and jumped over three roofs to get to safety. All their homes have been destroyed.
The police helped bring several people to the place, and at least 40 others were rescued by a brave woman who was the owner of the building.
“We are still wondering why the police did not return to housing and protect our homes. Why didn’t they call for help? Was it intentional, or did they not have enough energy?” said Fayaz Alam, a young engineer who migrated to Delhi to look for work.
That is why most of the 70 ‘refugees’ in Khajuri Khas owe their lives to Mushtari Khatoon, an old woman who mustered the courage to cross the main road, entered riot-ridden streets, and brought Muslim women and children to safety in the early hours of the morning .
He passed the rampaging mob and went to the scene of the riots “four to five times” to take them nearly a kilometer to his home. Women and children jump from roof to roof until they find a safe building to get out.
Khatoon ended up saving more lives than the police.
“From now on we must protect ourselves. Delhi will not save us anymore,” he said. There was a challenging tone, rather than despair, in his voice.