Delhi’s Anti-Muslim Riots Robbed Dozens of Children of Their Fathers
For the families of the 53 people killed in the February 2020 riots, the violence has left a deep and permanent wound.
Rihan is slouching on a bed that holds a thin makeshift mattress made of torn bedsheets. With a phone in one hand that illuminates his face in the dingy house, he caresses his eight-month-old sister Firoza with the other hand. As Rukshana Bano stirs a bowl in which a handful lentils float in a watery gravy, she looks at the empty jars that stare back at her with a need to be refilled.
“He couldn’t even see his new-born child,” Rukshana says. Firoz Ahmed, Rukshana’s husband, was killed during the anti-Muslim riots in Delhi in late February 2020. Firoz was returning home to Loni in Ghaziabad on the day riots broke out in northeast Delhi. He was stopped by a mob, who demanded that he show them his ID card. After confirming his Muslim identity, the mob assaulted Firoz. Running away with a broken leg, an injured arm and the horror of hate, he reached Karawal Nagar and sought shelter at a stranger’s home. The next day, the rioting mobs found Firoz, threw him in an auto-richshaw and set fire to it. Thirteen days after his murder, Firoz’s burnt body was fished out of a nearby drain. He was one of 53 people killed in the violence. A further 400 were wounded.
A father of five, Firoz worked as a craftsman making scarves in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market. His youngest child Firoza has never seen her father, as she was born just months after his death. “I edit our recent pictures to include my father’s face, so that we can feel the togetherness that we had when he was alive, even if it is through photos,” says Rihan, Firoz’s teenage son. After Firoz’s death, Rukshana, 33, says that it is a sad truth that Muslim lives have no value in 21st century India. While her family had received monetary compensation of approximately $14,000 from the Delhi Government, she asks, “can any amount of money bring back my Firoz?”
Firoz’s children were among the many – no official figure has been released by the government – that were rendered fatherless when right-wing mobs lit parts of the Indian capital on fire, attacking Muslims indiscriminately. Beginning on February 24 and lasting until the end of the month, the outskirts of northeast Delhi saw anti-Muslim pogroms, in which swarms of anti-Muslim zealots embarked on a mission to cleanse the area, cleanse it of Muslims who had lived in harmony with Hindus for years. Chanting the names of Hindu Gods, mobs looted and vandalized homes and shops, killed and maimed people who were or appeared to be Islamic, leaving behind many children who were oblivious to the crime their fathers committed: the crime of following Islam in Narendra Modi’s India.