New Delhi: “A raging crowd yelling Jai Shri Ram pulled me out of the auto and I fainted. This is all I remember after nine months,” says 22-year-old Shahrukh.
Shahrukh had been returning from a religious event on the afternoon of February 24, 2020, when his autorickshaw was stopped by a mob at Shiv Vihar Tiraha. He had been dragged out of the auto, beaten up and left on the street, unconscious.
Seven hours later, Shahrukh’s younger brother, Sameer, began frantically contacting people, asking if they knew where Shahrukh was. Sameer had heard about the violence and was anxious about his missing brother. Later, one of their cousins phoned Sameer to tell him he had seen Shahrukh being assaulted and had run away to save his own life.
The same day, Sameer received a video of Shahrukh being brutally attacked by rioters holding rods. The video showed the rioters shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ while assaulting Shahrukh and dragging him for at least 500 meters on the road.
Abrasions on Shahrukh’s body left traces of blood on the street. The video went on to show Shahrukh being dragged without his trousers, his eyes bleeding and his face completely concealed by his own blood, as rioters took turns to beat him with their rods.
The barbaric beating left the 22-year-old garment seller completely blind in his left eye and only able to sense changes in light with his right eye. Shahrukh had also been shot. The bullet had gone right through his chest.
At the hospital
On February 25, Sameer received calls and photos from the families of riot victims at Guru Teg Bhadur (GTB) Hospital, informing him that his brother had been found there. When Shahrukh’s family arrived at the hospital, they discovered that he had been placed in the mortuary, since he had had nobody to admit him to the hospital.
GTB Hospital refused to admit Shahrukh even when his family arrived because none of them was carrying an Aadhaar card. Amid stone-pelting on the streets, the family had to return home to collect their cards before the admission process could begin at the hospital.
Shahrukh regained consciousness after 17 days.
“Jab mujhe hosh aaya aur maine aankhein kholi, mujhe kuch dikhaai hi nahi dia, aur main phir bayhosh hogaya (When I regained consciousness and opened my eyes, I couldn’t see anything and then I fainted again),” Shahrukh told The Wire. He added, “I couldn’t make sense of why my body was so battered, why every inch of me hurt and what my crime had been.”
Shahrukh now understands that the darkness that is his existence today is because he chose to wear his skullcap on a day that forced many Muslims to rethink the meaning of the word ‘Indian’.
“Mujhe toh filhal pata hi nahi kya ho raha hai, andhere mein jee raha hu main (At the moment I don’t know what is happening around me, I’ve been living in darkness since the riots),” he said. “I just wake up to fall back asleep at night; I do nothing all day. Only namaz (prayers) brings me peace.”
Only justice will do
The video shows one of the perpetrators of the assault on Shahrukh very clearly. Sameer claims that this man is the owner of a medical store in Shiv Vihar, yet he continues to live freely, as though nothing had happened.
This state of affairs may not last long, according to Sub-Inspector Ankit Kumar from Karawal Nagar police station. “Before it was re-allotted to me, the case file was incomplete,” he explained. “We have just completed the filing process. I have personally seen the identified rioter. He will be arrested soon.”
The assault on Shahrukh wasn’t just an emotional catastrophe for the family. It was a financial blow too, since he was the only earning member in the family of four. His father is bed-ridden and requires assistance with daily tasks. The family has received monetary compensation from the Delhi government, but their topmost priority is to see the perpetrators behind bars.
Shahrukh’s mother, Shehnaz, says that when her son needs assistance for the simplest tasks, it is like burning coal placed on her heart. “Hume in dangaiyon ke liye sirf umar qaid chahiye, jawaan bacche ki, hum sabki zindagi barbaad kar di (We want life imprisonment for the rioters; they have destroyed my child’s life and all our lives),” said Shehnaz.