Violence in Delhi: Saleem Kassar watched his brother get burned

Later that day, dozens of men pulled 58-year-old Anwar out of his house, shot him, and threw him into the fire in broad daylight, said two witnesses, one of whom was his younger brother Saleem Kassar, 52. Hidden from a Hindu neighbor. He watched it from a window on the third floor.

More than 10 days have passed since Delhi fell into violence to an extent that has not been seen for decades, and the full extent of the bloodshed is still emerging. What happened was far worse than anyone knew at first: At least 53 people were killed or fatally injured in violence that lasted two days. The death toll continues to rise.

The majority of those killed were Muslims, many shot, hacked or burned. A police officer and an intelligence officer were also killed. More than a dozen Hindus, most of whom were shot or attacked. The police – which are directly supervised by the central government – have been criticized for not stopping the violence. Witnesses say some officials have joined the attacks on Muslims.

The brutality was just unfolding when President Trump made his first official trip to India, a 36-hour visit that included a day of meetings in Central Delhi. When Trump ate lunch on February 25 with Modi in a cream and sandstone palace that was originally built for a prince, life 10 miles away was changed forever.

As a widower, Anwar lived alone in a brick shed with a room in the narrow, crowded streets of a district called Shiv Vihar. When he was younger, he ironed clothes. In later years he rented carts to sellers and raised goats on a small vacant lot. His brother Saleem, an auto rickshaw driver, lived on the adjacent street with his wife and children.

When there was trouble, it came quickly. On February 24, large-scale violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims after a provocative speech by a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Modi, threatening opponents of the Citizenship Act.

The next morning, Saleem said, he stepped outside his cramped two-room house and saw that his car had been destroyed. Several young men pushed it away, a prelude to setting it on fire. He hurried back into the house and called on his wife Nasreen and his five children, the youngest 7 and the oldest 20, to run outside. They went so fast that they had no time to put on shoes.

The maroon iron gate to his neighbor’s house was open two doors away. Saleem’s whole family ran into it. “A mob is coming,” he said desperately to his neighbors. They locked the gate and told the family to go upstairs. On the third floor, Saleem locked his family in a room and ran to a window overlooking his brother’s house.

He remembered seeing a crowd of a few hundred people, most of whom wore helmets armed with sticks, swords, and small pistols. He heard calls from “Jai Shri Ram” or “Victory to Lord Ram”, a collective call from the Hindu nationalists and the ruling party.

Then he watched helplessly in terror as Anwar was killed.

Saleem and Jitendra Kumar, a painter living in the area, reported similarly but independently about Anwar’s death. Other witnesses provided details that matched the descriptions of the events by Saleem and Kumar.

First, the mob destroyed Anwars house, threw his clothes and supplies out of the door, and set them on fire, Saleem said. Anwar abused the rioters who destroyed his house, said Kumar.

Some men held Anwar’s arms while another shot him twice, and then the mob threw him into the fire. Anwar staggered to his feet and was shot a third time. The attackers picked up a nearby rickshaw and caught him in the flames.

The mob wasn’t done yet. The next stop was Saleem’s house, where rioters raged through the tiny house and, according to several of his neighbors, everything was in sight. Then they lit it. The neighbors said they shouted and asked the mob to stop for fear of setting their own houses – Hindu houses – on fire.

When night fell, Saleem said, he asked his neighbors to help his family escape the area. The neighbors disguised her as Hindus, put a strip of saffron paste on her forehead, and put a saffron-colored scarf around Saleem’s neck.

“They said to us,” Don’t stop and look at your house, “Saleem recalled.” Don’t try to pick up anything. Just run. “

The streets were calm again days after the violence. More than a dozen residents said they hadn’t seen what happened to Anwar while crouching in their own homes. An unusual number claimed they were out of town that day. A group of neighbors were sitting on a cot they had taken from the rubble of Saleem’s house, and were known to be ignorant of why only his and his brother’s houses were targeted.

“We don’t know why, so how can we say?” said Pawan Kumar, 38, an auto rickshaw driver.

“I felt terrible,” said Jitendra Kumar, the painter who said he was a witness to the murder. “Political leaders share people’s agenda and it’s the common man who dies.”

On a last afternoon, Saleem returned to where his brother was killed. He bent down in the midday sun and searched a pile of black and gray ashes with his hands in search of bones.

He lifted charred fragments that looked like joints and put them in a battered bowl.

“A lot of people were watching from their roofs,” he said, looking up at the surrounding houses. “But nobody saved my brother.”

Two police officers said the authorities recovered half a charred leg from the area and sent it for DNA testing with samples from Saleem and his niece, Anwar’s daughter. Rajesh Deo, a senior Delhi police officer responsible for investigating violence last week, said Thursday that he was not yet aware of the case.

The men who killed his brother were mostly strangers from outside the neighborhood, Saleem said. But he recognized three local men, one of them by name. “I don’t think I can go back there after what I’ve seen,” he said. “We only have clothes on our backs.”

These days, Saleem, a strong man with short black hair, has a hard time sleeping: when he closes his eyes, he returns to the window on the third floor.

He thinks of his house and everything he owns is ruined. He thinks of his brother, a man who preferred to go barefoot and was good with his nieces and nephews. He has brittle and blackened the bones he has collected. One day he plans to bury her down the street in a cemetery.

Tania Dutta contributed to this report.

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