New Delhi: Ankit Pal was worried about his co-worker Dilbar Negi. Both used to work at Anil Sweets in Shiv Vihar Chowk. On Tuesday, the place they worked at was set on fire.
"For the last two days, we have been hiding in our homes. Only today (Wednesday) have we come out to check our neighbourhood. Everything seems destroyed. But what's most worrying is that we haven't been able to get in touch with our co-worker Dilbar Negi,” Pal told News18.
As with most other charred establishments and houses, News18 stepped into the multi-story sweet shop to see how gruesome and complete the arson had been. Smoke was still billowing from one of its portions.
As we ascended to the second floor, we suddenly came across a badly charred body. Apart from a part of the face and torso, everything had turned to ash. It was not known whether the body belonged to Negi or anyone else. Within minutes, a police team arrived at the spot and took away the corpse.
(A vandalised private school in Shiv Vihar. News18)
Shiv Vihar Chowk, lying at the intersection of Mustafabad and Karawal Nagar, has many such stories of gruesome violence — violence that will take many more days to be discovered and comprehended in all its entirety.
In the communal clashes that ravaged this part of northeast Delhi over the past three days, nothing remained untouched — a school was completely vandalised and each of its classrooms meticulously torched; a godown and all the three dozen cars in it reduced to ashes; smoke still emanating from several houses, shops and vehicles.
Only a few hours ago, five houses were torched in nearby Bhagirathi Vihar. At the chowk itself, at least half a dozen houses and shops were set afire on Wednesday morning.
(A fire personnel dousing the flames of a burnt shop. News18)
Fire tenders were still trying to douse the flames. A heavy cloud of smoke hung over the entire stretch. Any direction taken from the tri-junction of Shiv Vihar led to stories of mayhem, arson and loot.
“You should have come here yesterday (Tuesday). It took us half an hour to reach this spot — so severe was the stone-pelting and whatnot," said a paramilitary soldier. "This place looked like a war zone.”
"I've lost everything. They set fire to my shop," said Mukesh Kumar, standing in front of his hardware shop as firefighters hosed down the flames.
"If the police had come here on time, we would somehow have been able to save our property. Eight people, including myself, were hiding inside for 24 hours, until yesterday when we tried to escape," he said. "If we hadn't made it in time, maybe rioters would have set us on fire as well. For 30 years, we lived in this area thinking it was home to us and to our families. All that has changed now."
(A student's report card lying on the corridor of a damaged school. News18)
While police and paramilitary forces have been able to enforce a curfew in these areas, which saw the greatest intensity of communal violence over the past three days, one could sense unease and unrest in the interior areas where youngsters gathered at intersections to keep vigil.
There are parts of Karawal Nagar where lanes directly lead to Mustafabad. At Gali Number 9, big groups of youngsters from both communities, standing barely a hundred metres apart, could be seen anxiously eyeing each other.
In Maujpur, members of a community complained that curfew "was only for us. Not for the other".
In Khajuri Khas, people were trying to collect remains from around 25 houses that had been vandalised, looted and set on fire on Tuesday. They were angry that the police did not reach the spot for 1.5 hours when rioting was underway.
"For one-and-a-half to two hours, a mob of over 1,000 people looted our houses and set them on fire with impunity. There was no sign of the police," said Mohan Singh, an autorickshaw driver, holding onto his 24-inch television set recovered from his burnt house. "It took me an entire lifetime to build my house. Everything has gone now."
Roads and bylanes in Maujpur, Gokalpuri, Bhagirathi Colony, Mustafabad, Karawal Nagar, Shiv Vihar, Chand Bagh and Khureji, where News18 travelled extensively, were littered with smouldering remains of shops, houses, trucks, tractors and private vehicles.
In Khureji Khas, an employee of a food delivery company asked a police constable when businesses would reopen.
"I have not gone out to deliver anything for four days now," said the 45-year-old man.