13/03/2020 4:20 PM IST | Updated 13/03/2020 8:16 PM IST

The Idea of India: Delhi Riots, Delhi Heroes

Four acts of bravery and fortitude.

Betwa Sharma/HuffPost India
Mohinder Singh, Mamta and Dilip Singh, Ravi Parashar, and Mohammed Sarfaraz.

Welcome to the latest instalment of The Idea of India, HuffPost India’s monthly conversation about how we see ourselves as a people and as a nation.

In this instalment, we look at the heroes who have emerged from the communal violence that swept northeast Delhi in the last week of February. Their courage and kindness raise and reinforce the secular values at the core of India’s being and offer hope to a grieving city that lost 53 people in the carnage.

We reported on four acts of bravery and fortitude — a Sikh man who rescued his Muslim neighbours, a Hindu man who removed a saffron flag from atop a mosque, a Hindu couple who refused to let the death of their son become an instrument of polarisation, and a Muslim man who worked with his Hindu neighbours to save their street from rioters.

They defy the state-backed and sustained efforts of the Hindu right to perpetuate a false narrative of victimhood among Hindus and radicalise them against Muslims. In neighbourhood after neighbourhood, people told us the Delhi Police never came as houses and shops — most owned or run by Muslims — were torched and looted. Victims of this violence may never return to these neighbourhoods where Hindus and Muslims have lived together for as long as they can remember. In the absence of an herculean effort by the state to rebuild trust, these mixed communities are on the brink of losing their social and cultural diversity.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi is yet to address the nation. He has neither visited the riot-hit areas or even consoled the victims. For three days, his government did little to control the riots in the national capital. This follows a pattern of disregarding constitutionally protected rights of assembly and free speech since 2014, the recent enactment of a citizenship law that discriminates against Muslims, and the brutal suppression of the protests that followed. All this has been made easier by a largely pliant media and an impotent Opposition, but the unprecedented international condemnation of events inside India is getting louder.

We lean on Mohinder Singh, Ravi Parashar, Mamta and Dilip Singh and Mohammed Sarfaraz, steadying forces in a nation that is tottering but fighting to regain its balance.

How This Sikh Man Rescued Dozens Of Delhi Riot Victims On His Motorbike

On 24 February, as the worst communal violence since the 1984 Sikh riots swept Delhi, Mohinder Singh and Inderjit Singh used a Bullet motorcycle and scooty to transport somewhere between 60 to 80 of their Muslim neighbours to a safe location. They made around 20 trips each from Gokalpuri to Kardampur in one hour. For some of the boys, they tied Sikh turbans to conceal they were Muslim.

“I did not see Hindu or Muslim,” said Singh, who runs an electronics store and is a father to two children. “I just saw people. I saw little children. I felt like they were my children and that nothing should happen to them. We did this because we all should act humanely and help those in need. What more can I say?”

He said, “You have to understand that this is the belief and culture of our community. You may have heard the expression: nanak naam chardi kala, tere bahne sarbat da bhala. Sarbat da bhala means that we want everyone to prosper. We did this to honour humanity and our 10 gurus whose central message is that we should act for everyone to prosper.”

Sarbat da bhala means that we want everyone to prosper.

Meet The Hindu Man Who Removed The Saffron Flag From A Burnt Mosque

On 27 February, Ravi Parashar, removed the saffron flag that rioters had placed atop a mosque in the riot-hit neighbourhood of Karawal Nagar.

The powerful image of the young Hindu man taking down the saffron flag—symbolising a momentary undoing of the violent Hindu nationalism that India’s current crop of leaders is inflicting on its people—offers hope to a city torn by religious violence.

“I will help you. I will go with you and remove the flag,” Parashar, a wholesale watch supplier in Chandni Chowk, and father to a baby and a toddler, told the elderly Muslim cleric who had appealed to a Hindu crowd for help.

“Someone has to do the right thing. Someone has to take a step for peace and brotherhood,” he told us. “It’s not just what 100 or 1,000 people do in a mob. What each person does on his own also counts.”

It’s not just what 100 or 1,000 people do in a mob. What each person does on his own also counts.

Hindu Couple Who Lost Son To Delhi Riots Refuses To Fuel Muslim Mudslinging

It had been 10 days since her son was killed in the communal violence and when we met her, but Mamta Singh could not bear to sit in her house, which feels like it is full of the 23-year-old’s memories.

Her son, Manish Singh, who was studying to be a tax officer, was shot when he stepped out to see the rioting that had erupted in Brijpuri on 25 February, but Mamta and her husband Dilip Singh were adamant in their rejection of any hate politics around their son’s death, pointing out that many Muslims had also died or suffered major losses. The Singhs made it clear that they wanted to know the identity of the person who shot their son, not his religion.

“Of course I don’t blame Muslims for his death. We don’t know who shot him. Why should I blame Muslims when I did not see what even happened or where the bullet came from? A crowd does not have a face,” said Mamta.

“Hindus and Muslims have not died. Innocents have died,” she said.

A crowd does not have a face

Delhi Riots: How A Muslim Temple Builder Tried To Save His Street From Rioters

Over 24 and 25 February, Mohammed Sarfaraz, ran out of his house and into a full-blown riot, pleading with both Hindus and Muslims to stop attacking each other. 

In a conversation with HuffPost India, Sarfaraz, who builds Hindu temples for a living, explained how he worked with his Hindu neighbours to stop the communal violence from spreading to his street in northeast Delhi. “I told my Hindu neighbour that it doesn’t matter who is fighting and where they are fighting, but we won’t let Hindus and Muslims fight in our street,” he said.

“I knew the fighting would last for a few days but we would carry its weight all our lives,” said Sarfaraz. “In the end, we all have to answer to ourselves.”

In the end, we all have to answer to ourselves.

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Please do share your thoughts: What is your Idea of India? Write to me at betwa.sharma@huffpost.in.