New Delhi: February 24 was a usual day for Advocate Mohammad Yusuf. Unaware of what destiny had in store for him, he left home at Bhagtan Mohalla in North-East Delhi’s Ghonda village for Karkardooma Court to defend his cases. At around 1:30 p.m that day he got a call. The caller, an acquaintance, told him about communal tension gripping the area, with rioters armed with rods and sticks assembling at several locations.
As the caller hung up, Yusuf dialled his mother to inform her about the situation and ask her to shift to a safer place along with the entire family. But the call didn’t go through. He then called his younger brother, asking him to shift the family to one of their relatives’ place in Jaffrabad.
“My mother refused to go anywhere, saying that we have been living in the locality for decades and trust our neighbours. She asked me not to worry as things would be fine,” the composed lawyer told Newsclick.
At around 3 p.m, stone pelting began in the area and two vehicles were set ablaze. Amid chaos all around, his family fled to take shelter at his uncle’s residence in Jaffrabad, where they are still staying.
“The man who had called me earlier, once again rang me up to tell me that a mobile shop (owned by one Taj Mohammad) close to our house had been set on fire,” he said, adding that he wrapped up work and headed to his uncle’s house where his family had taken refuge.
“It was like qayamat ki raat (a night of doom), which was the longest ever. I kept calling people in the area to take stock of the situation. They told us rioters are enjoying a free run, and are on a rampage, targeting properties and burning them down,” he said.
The next morning (February 25), Yusuf called his “best” friend, Deepak Sharma, a constable with the Delhi Police.
“I requested him to come to Jaffrabad, collect the keys, go to my house and take possession of valuables, such as documents, cash and jewellery. But he was too busy that day because of the deadly violence in the region. He promised me that he would come the next day and do the needful,” the lawyer continued.
But Sharma perhaps failed to realise that every passing minute was like a grace period for those who were being targeted. Yusuf got a call at around 11 p.m from one of his neighbours who informed him that the rioters had broken into his flat on the second floor in the apartment he was living in.
“I made frantic calls to some influential people in the area, but these went in vain. No one came forward to help me. I called one Rakesh Rana, a well-wisher of mine, who gave numbers of two policemen who were deployed in the same area. But they also did not help. In the meantime, my brother called the police helpline at the toll free number 100. We were provided a unique number (which is a complaint number for record) and assured that a police team will soon be dispatched but nothing of that sort happened,” he said.
As promised, constable Sharma came to take the keys. Yusuf explained to him where the valuable items were.
“He returned in 10 minutes. Both his hands were black as if they had been immersed in ashes. He hugged me and burst into tears, expressing remorse that he could not save my house. At this moment, I realised that my house had been burnt. But I fell short of words. I sat on the floor in shock, with hundreds of questions doing rounds in my head: why didn’t my neighbours, before whom I have grown up, intervene when the rioters broke into my house; what were they doing when the house was being set it on fire; where did our relations of decades go; what about the trust they had on us and we had on them? I was asking myself, ‘Aag kyun lagai? Loot lete jo lootna tha unhone, koi diqqat nahin thi (Why did they burnt the house? They should have looted whatever they wanted, there was no problem),” said Yusuf, adding that the next challenge before him was to break thi news to his mother.
The lawyer said he controlled his emotions, gathered courage and told his mother that their house has been burnt down. “It shakes me whenever I recall the moment — my mother crying inconsolably. This was the second occasion when I saw tears in her eyes, since my father had passed away one-and-a-half-years ago,” said Yusuf, who broke down.
Yusuf said he dialled an inspector of his area to let him know about the incident. “He also felt bad and told me that the culprits would be dealt with an iron hand. He offered me monetary help, but I refused, urging him to do a fair investigation and ensure justice,” he said.
The first person, according to the lawyer, to extend a helping hand to him were his two non-Muslim friends. “They asked me to meet them. But I did not go, realising that they would offer me money and I would feel bad accepting it. After they expressed their angst because of me not respecting the good relations we have and not going to meet them, I had to visit them. They were the one who first gave me some money despite my hesitation to accept it. They consoled me and assured me any kind of help in beginning life from scratch,” he said.
ONLY 2 ARRESTS DESPITE VIDEO CLEARLY SHOWING RIOTERS
Though Yusuf hopes there would be a fair and impartial investigation, only two persons have been arrested so far. In the name of recovery, one of them has been shown possessing a small gas cylinder belonging to Yusuf’s house.
Asked if he could recognise those who were visible in the purported video, which is also in possession of Newsclick, the lawyer said they all were locals and he could clearly recognise them. “They are local boys, not outsiders. Very few of them are masked. The faces of majority of them are clearly visible. I know most of them,” he said.
Asked if he still believes that an unbiased probe is going on in his case, he said let the police do its work. “Once the matter comes up in court, only then I will be able to comment on it. But yes, I reject the narrative of involvement of outsiders. Targeted destruction can never take place without the involvement of locals,” he added.
“The has been severe criticism of the police investigation into riot-related cases across North-East Delhi, but I hope it would be fair and unbiased, at least in my case, as I have been assured by different officials,” he added.
Based on Yusuf’s brother’s complaint, an FIR has been registered under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 380 (theft in dwelling house), 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of Rs 50), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc) and 34 (common intention).
FIGHT TO ENSURE JUSTICE FOR OTHERS CONTINUES
Despite being a victim, Yusuf’s fight to ensure that justice is done to the riot victims continues. In fact, he says, the incident has made him feel the pain of loss and, therefore, he can now argue better.
“I am representing several victims and those who have been arbitrary arrested by the police. It’s true that I have suffered a huge loss worth around a crore, but I have not let it take a toll on my professional duties. This is a testing time for all those who have suffered and I need to stand with them. First, a particular community was targeted and made to suffer losses of lives and properties and now the same community is being implicated in false cases. Their boys are being picked by the police on false charges. So, it is time for us to stay strong and deliver our best so that the victims can get justice and the culprits are brought to book,” he added.