Delhi riots: Muslim women remember the horror of Molotov cocktails and fires

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Women and children take refuge in the Indira Vihar refuge

The deadly religious riots that swept parts of the Indian capital are showing that women and children are often the most vulnerable victims of any conflict, writes BBC Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

The violence in north-east Delhi resulted in the death of over 40 people and the victims include both Hindus and Muslims. For the thousands of Muslim women and children left homeless, the future looks bleak.


In a large crowded room in the Indira Vihar area, dozens of women and children displaced by the unrest are sitting on rugs and mats. Many of the young women carry children, but there are also small children and slightly older children who play in a group.

The room belongs to a Muslim businessman. It has been transformed into a refuge for displaced persons.

The women and children here fled the Hindu mob revolt which attacked their homes in Shiv Vihar, one of the worst affected areas.

Shiv Vihar, a working class Hindu-dominated neighborhood with a sizable Muslim population, is a maze of narrow lanes located near a dirty slush. A couple of hundred meters along the same drainage channel are the Muslim-majority areas of Chaman Park and Indira Vihar.

Separating areas with a Hindu and Muslim majority is only one way and the two communities have lived together peacefully for decades. But now everything has changed.

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Bushra Sheikh

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Nasreen Ansari (left) and his mother Noor Jehan Ansari have lived at the refuge for the past few days

Nasreen Ansari, who is among those who fled their homes in Shiv Vihar, says that their ordeal started on Tuesday afternoon when only women were home. Their men were miles away in another part of Delhi to attend an Ijtema, a Muslim religious gathering.

“We saw about 50-60 men. I don’t know who they were, we had never seen them before,” says Nasreen. “They said they had come to protect us and told us to stay indoors.”

As she and other women watched from their windows and terraces, they soon realized that men were not there to protect them.

He shows me a video shot from the window. It shows some men, they wear all helmets and carry long wooden sticks.

Nasreen claims that men were shouting Hindu religious slogans such as Jai Shri Ram (Ave Lord Ram) and reciting the lines of Hanuman Chalisa (a hymn that praises the powers of Hanuman, the monkey god).

Her mother, Noor Jehan Ansari, says a Muslim neighbor called her to say that her home had been set on fire.

“From our window, we could see the home of another Muslim neighbor and his pharmacy on fire.”

The attackers, he says, vandalize the electricity transformer and as dusk approaches, the area plunges into darkness.

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Getty Images

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Thousands of people have fled Shiv Vihar

“Soon, there were fires around us, they were throwing Molotov cocktails and kitchen gas canisters, targeting Muslim shops and houses. Hindu houses were unharmed,” he says. “We never thought anything like this could happen. Our only fault is that we were born Muslim.”

Nasreen says women have made dozens of calls to the police. “Each time they would assure us that they would be here in five minutes.”

At one point, Nasreen says he called some relatives and told them that “they wouldn’t survive the night.”

They were finally rescued at 3:00 am, 12 hours after the siege of their homes began, when the police finally arrived, accompanied by Muslim men from Chaman Park and Indira Vihar.

“We ran for our lives, with only our clothes on our backs. We didn’t even have time to put our shoes on,” he says.

Several other women at the shelter have told similar stories about what they were subjected to that night.

Shira Malik, 19, said she and her family took refuge in a neighbor’s home. “We got trapped. From the outside it rained cocktails of stones and Molotov cocktails.”

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Shira Malik (left) said she and her family took refuge in a neighbor’s home

Many women told me how close they were to being sexually assaulted that night. The attackers, they said, pulled their scarves and tore off their clothes.

A mother of a one-year-old boy cried as she told how her clothes were torn to pieces by several men who entered her home.

Another woman, in her thirties, said that the only reason she was alive was because of the help of her Hindu neighbors.

“My neighbors said to the crowd, ‘She is one of us. There is no Muslim woman here.’ When the crowd went to the back lane, they helped me escape, “he said.

The senseless violence of the last few days began on Sunday evening as a small clash a few kilometers from Shiv Vihar between supporters and opponents of a controversial new citizenship law.

Within hours, he had hit many other neighborhoods, including Shiv Vihar and Chaman Park.

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Many of the women said how close they were to sexual assault that night

As I walk through the area, the streets still testify to the chaos that has been visited here. Dozens of policemen in riot gear keep watch, ensuring that new violence does not occur.

Bricks and stones are scattered everywhere, there are burnt vehicles, shops and houses. In Shiv Vihar, in front of the drain there is a mosque which was also set on fire by vandals.

Returning to Indira Vihar’s refuge, the women say they have no idea when, if at all, they will be able to return home.

Shabana Rehman says her three children keep asking her when they can go home.

“My house was set on fire by arsonists. Where will we go now? What is the future of my children? Who will take care of us? We have lost all our documents,” she says, the tears running down her cheeks.

His decades-old home in Shiv Vihar is a short walk away, but the gap seems unbridgeable.

More information on the Delhi riots:

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Media captionIn the horror night of Delhi

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