Delhi’s Naroda Patiya: Timeline of how Fatima Masjid was set on fire in Khajuri Khas
The rioters first pelted the mosque with stones. Then they hurled petrol bombs. In the videos, young attackers seem to be in no hurry. They wanted to blast cylinders inside the mosque – the impact of which could have brought down the structure.
Stones. Petrol Bombs. A mosque on fire. A communal mob baying for blood. The young men outside the mosque dragged motorbikes from the lane and used the bikes to access the mosque. Their intentions were sinister. In their possession were four small red gas cylinders which they proceeded to place on the bikes, and set them on fire. They wanted to bring Fatima Masjid - located in Gali number 29 of Khajuri Khas Extension - crashing down.
The neighbourhood located in North-East District’s Karawal Nagar constituency is among one of the worst riot-hit areas. The Muslim households here were first identified, attacked, and then set on fire. Molotov cocktails were thrown inside houses when women and children were still inside. A few houses were bolted from the outside to prevent people from escaping through the doors. Many Muslim residents who managed to escape ran for their lives, jumping from one terrace to another, but they couldn’t save their valuables and their homes. Most of them have been ransacked and completely gutted.
Fatima Masjid has paid the biggest price. Asiaville has accessed the video footage and managed to lay bare the timeline of the communal mob’s evil plan.
7 AM: Rioters enter the street
40-year-old Mohammad Munazir recalls the morning of February 25, Tuesday. “Post morning prayers, we were sitting at the Wajukhana (a part of the mosque) and by seven am a few rioters had started gathering in the lane,” he said. “We told the elders from the Hindu community – Uncle ye dekhiye mahaul garam ho raha hai, hum saiyam se hain aap inhe rokiye (The situation is getting tense. We are controlling those from our community, please try to stop them),” Munazir told Asiaville as he narrated the violence that unfolded that morning. His house is right next to Fatima mosque.
The Muslim residents were assured of safety by their Hindu neighbours and were asked to stay inside their homes. Asiaville met Hindu residents of lane number 29 who verified the claims made by Munazir. The elders from nearby villages and locals had tried to stop the rioters in the morning, and even managed to delay their violence for a couple of hours. However, they couldn’t stop them entirely, and mayhem was unleashed.
Around 9 AM: Rioters overpower locals
The attackers had come fully prepared, and they didn’t seem to be in a hurry. It was as though they knew that nobody was coming to stop them. Their attacks were strategic, and aimed at maximising the impact of their attacks. They intended to destroy anything and everything owned by Muslims. The rioters had helmets on. Many of them were holding shields to protect themselves from retaliatory stone-pelting. They had sticks, rods, and of course the Molotovs – commonly known as petrol bombs – at their disposal.
Krishan Kumar, a resident of lane number 29, said that it started at around 8.30 – 8.45 that morning. “When the attack started from the front side (of the mosque) then they (Muslims) retaliated with stone-pelting. The stone-pelting from both sides continued.”
Lane number 29 can be accessed from two sides. One end of the lane opens onto the main road of Sherpur Market, and the other connects it to Sherpur Village – a Gujjar community-dominated area. The narrow lane is densely populated and multi-storey buildings are packed next to each other. This made it easy for the rioters to move from one terrace to another in order to access the different parts of the lane.
Here is the video evidence of the sinister plan of the rioters to bring down Fatima Masjid in North E Delhi's #KhajuriKhas Extension.— Amit Bhardwaj (@tweets_amit) February 29, 2020
On Feb 25, the attackers had put bikes & small cylinders inside the mosque in an attempt to cause a blast.
Who made these young minds arsonists? pic.twitter.com/WukRcsPOTy
The rioters could be seen pelting stones at Fatima Mosque from the rooftops in the videos accessed by Asiaville. All of them were either wearing helmets, or had their faces covered with cloth.
Munazir said that the Muslim residents had locked themselves inside their houses. “The rioters were raising Jai Shree Ram slogans. They knocked at our doors. Called us Katua. Abused us saying - Aa jao Behen don tumhe azadi dete hain.” (Come, we will give you the freedom that you have been asking for.)
Shortly after this, the rioters, who were facing resistance from the locals, repositioned themselves. When they reached the Sherpur village end, they met resistance from a group led by Krishan Kumar, who were holding the fort for the Muslim residents. Kumar, who is a teacher with the Uttar Pradesh government school, and is set to retire this March, said that the mob refused to listen to their appeals after 9 am. “First the rioters said, look at the stone pelting from their end (Muslims). Do you want us to die?” Kumar recalls. “Soon after the young rioters told me – we have respected you for long enough. Now step aside.”
He and other locals were pulled away. “Jab bheed ne humme piche kar diya to yahan se haat gaye, (when the mob forcefully pulled us aside, we moved away from this lane),” said Ajay Singh, in defence of the locals.
Munazir said that the rioters first broke down the gate of the mosque, and then started to torch it.
Around 11 AM: The arson begins, Fatima Masjid set on fire
Mohammad Sarfaraz was recording videos of the attack on his mobile phone whilst standing on the rooftop of Fatima Masjid. In the video which was shot at 11.11 am, Sarfaraz can be heard pleading, “Oye, Masjid mein na lage. Bhai Masjid hai yaar.” (It’s a mosque. Brothers, it’s a mosque.) Most of the attackers appear to be young.
Towards the end of the 29-second video, one of the eight rioters standing on the rooftop of the house right in front of the mosque can be seen throwing Molotov cocktails. The attackers are seen wearing black helmets. Sarfaraz shouts, “They have set the mosque on fire.”
Mohammad Talim Sheikh, an 18-year-old resident, was recording the attack on Fatima Masjid from his rooftop. In the video shot at 11.27 am, the ground floor of the mosque can be seen burning. Sheikh, a first-year Delhi University student, said that the rioters were firing from the rooftops as well.
In the next video, shot at 11.31 am, the mosque and Muslim households can be seen surrounded from all directions by rioters who were on rooftops throughout the neighbourhood. In two videos, shot from the third floor of the mosque, the attackers can be seen continuously targeting the mosque. In one of these videos, a young man can be seen resorting to stone pelting from inside the mosque, aiming at the rioters. Sarfaraz identified him as a Muslim youth.
“The elders from the Hindu community had assured us that they will not let anyone attack from the backside of the lane. But the attack from the backside started soon after the attack on the mosque,” Talim said.
The mob dragged motorbikes owned by Muslims inside the mosque, and arranged small red gas cylinders on these bikes; this could have led to a blast inside the building and brought down the entire structure. The ground floor of Fatima Masjid has been completely gutted. The room with glass panels on the first floor was first vandalised and then set on fire. One portion of the second floor was probably attacked with a Molotov cocktail. The holy books and reading material in the mosque were not spared either.
“They tore down our holy scriptures in front of our eyes. Call it our manliness or cowardice - we didn’t react even then. With folded hands, we told the attackers – we can’t match your strength,” Munazir said. “Please spare us.”
Frantic calls to police
Musahid, a 22-year-old final year student of Delhi University, claimed that when the rioters were starting to turn violent inside Lane number 29, several frantic calls were made by the Muslim community youth. “I had called the police – local ACP, political leaders. But with no avail. The police kept telling us that the rescue party has been blocked by the rioting mob at a nearby school.” To prove his claim, Talim showed us his call records of February 25. Between 10.57 am to 11.41 am, Talim had made five calls to the Emergency number, that is, 100. Sarfaraz shared a similar call list from the day.
Importantly, the lane has several households whose members are either serving Delhi Police officials or who have retired from the police force. Paramjit Singh, one such retried Delhi Police official, told Asiaville, “The police inaction allowed the rioters carrying out such arson. Despite the fact so many Delhi police, serving and retired officials live here, the police parties didn’t reach here on time.” He added, “I have seen 1984 Sikh riots. The attack in our lane was similar to those riots. They identified the houses on the basis of their religious identity and torched them.”
How did the mob get access to the rooftops?
By the time the police arrived, lane number 29 had lived through a nightmare. Fatima Masjid was turned into debris. The destroyed mosque was a symbol of the communal hatred which had seeped deep inside the Hindu youth who had carried out the mayhem.
The local Hindu residents had tried to stop the frenzied mob, a claim which was vouched for by the Muslim residents as well. However, the question remains as to how the rioters gained access to the rooftops of the neighbourhood. How did they manage to surround the mosque and carry out the destruction? Neither the elders such as Krishan Kumar or Ajab Singh – an auto driver who has been living in the lane for years now – nor the young men such as Ajay Singh could offer any explanation to these questions.
Even after everything that the Muslims have gone through, some people, like Mittan Singh who runs a paan shop outside the lane, couldn’t stop themselves from complaining about the inconvenience caused by the Muslims. “They offer namaz on the road, blocking our way. During Bakra-Eid, we are forced to send away our children because they can’t stand the view of goats being sacrificed in the open,” Mithan Singh complained.
Shockingly, a Hindu man who showed us the charred houses in lane number 29 claimed that some of the Hindu residents had removed their autos from the parking site a day before. “Hindus had removed their autos from here a day before, they were informed about the attack well in advance,” he claimed.