New Delhi, Feb 28, 2020: One meal. That is all 21-year-old Tasleen Fatima got to share with her husband, 22-year-old Ashfaq Hussain, before he was killed by rioters in east Delhi on February 25. The couple had been married for just 12 days.
At his house in a crowded lane inside Gokulpuri in east Delhi’s Mustafabad, Fatima could not stop bawling. "I did not even get to know who he was," she said between sobs.
A Wedding and a Funeral
Tasleen had married Ashfaq in Sakhni, Bulandshahr on February 14, Valentine’s Day. The husband, a resident of Delhi, had traveled back to Mustafabad on Sunday night at about the same time the conflict first started brewing in nearby Maujpur and Jaffrabad in east Delhi.
As reports of the violence reached Bulandshahr, the bride and the groom’s father, along with other members of the family, waited another day to return. "But we were running out of clothes. We needed to come back," Tasleen’s aunt Shabana Naaz, who gave her away at the wedding, told News18.
By the time Fatima joined her husband in Delhi on late Tuesday morning, the situation in Gokulpuri and the rest of Mustafabad was tense.
At 2 pm on Tuesday, Tasleen cooked some food, and she and Ashfaq ate along with the family. It was the first meal the couple had shared together since the wedding. The fanfare of the wedding and Ashfaq’s early departure had kept the duo from spending any time together.
An electrician by profession, Ashfaq stepped out soon after lunch after receiving a call. A nearby house had lost power and his services were needed. Little did he or his family know that the young man would never make it back home.
Ashfaq was allegedly shot nearby and his body taken away before his family even found out he was dead.
"I was returning from evening namaz when a local told me they saw my boy bleeding and that he was taken to a local hospital," Ashfaq’s father, a vegetable vendor, said.
Ashfaq was taken to Al Hind hospital in New Mustafabad where he breathed his last. His body was then sent to GTB Hospital in Dilshad Garden. The family does not know when they will receive the body for last rites after post-mortem.
According to locals, mobs armed with guns, sticks, petrol bombs and other weapons started arriving in hordes in Mustafabad from Sunday night and by Tuesday, things were out of hand. "We kept calling cops, fire stations, but no one came. Even ambulances were not allowed to enter till Wednesday," Ashfaq’s uncle Mukhtar Ahmed told News18.
A religious structure nearby was burnt, along with a school. Several homes along the lanes of Mustafabad were gutted.
Ahmed alleged that it was only after BJP leader Kapil Mishra called on his supporters to gather in Maujpur against anti-CAA protesters that violence started. The family believes that if security forces had responded to the SOS sent by locals and started to converge in the area from Sunday, or even Monday, the deaths could have been avoided.
"He Was a Son to Me"
Just a few lanes down, yet another young woman, Anam Khan, was distraught with loss while awaiting the body of her 24-year-old brother, Shahzaan Khan, who went missing on Monday.
On Wednesday, his family learnt that his body was in Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar hospital in Dilshad Garden.
Shahzaan’s landlady Kamlesh Sisodia said she felt like she had lost a son. "He was a very sweet boy, never got in trouble with others," Kamlesh told News18.
In the two-storey house that Shahzaan’s family had rented from Sisodia for five years, the family of the deceased had just started to gather after doctors at GTB Hospital confirmed his death.
According to Shahzaan’s sister Anam, the boy had gone missing on Monday afternoon. "We had no idea where he was for three days. Then on Tuesday, we were informed that he was hurt and taken to GTB. They said he was okay so we had hope,” Anam said.
However, all hope was over on Wednesday when the hospital confirmed the death. Much like Ashfaq’s family, Shahzaan’s father Azeer Ahmed Khan was unable to confirm the cause of death. "We can only say once the post-mortem is done," one of Shahzaan’s six brothers told News18.
Waiting for the Funeral
On Wednesday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the locality to take stock of the damage and assure locals. But many in the lane felt that the assurances were too little and too late. "Much of the damage could have been avoided had the government and security forces acted on time,” CP Sagar, a former employee with the BSES and a resident of Gokulpuri for over two decades, said.
Shahzaan’s landlady Kamlesh who has also lived in the area for years agreed that the violence was politically motivated. “Hindus and Muslims have co-habited this neighbourhood for decades. The violence only started after politicians like Kapil Mishra started inciting mobs,” she said, adding that she considered the BJP leader directly responsible for deaths in the area.
The families of both Ashfaq and Shahzaan are currently waiting for the bodies to be sent to them. Both the houses are swarming with people with even local Hindus coming to attend the mourning. Parents of Ashfaq’s Hindu friends also mourned his loss.
"He was here often, sometimes to fix an electronic item or just to meet with my son, Karan. They were friends," Chandra Pal Thakur, who lived in the Hindu-dominated lane opposite Ashfaq’s, said.
Back at home, Ashfaq’s father sat in a corner of his electric workshop and wept. "We want all those who died in the incident to be called martyrs, including Ashfaq," he said. He hoped that the government would honour the dead by punishing the killers and also be prompt with compensation, a sentiment that was echoed by the family of Shahzaan.
Meanwhile, in her room upstairs, Ashfaq’s widow Tasleen was burning up with a fever. Not having touched a drop of water or a morsel of food since Tuesday, the young widow was uncertain about what her future would look like. "We will wait for the body to be sent back," one of Tasleen’s aunts said, adding that a decision would then have to be taken regarding her future.
"We can’t watch her die every day," she said.