‘What hell looks like’: When 170 cars went up in flames during Delhi riots
In north-east Delhi’s Shiv Vihar, over a hundred vehicles now lay wrecked in two parking lots — gutted in the communal riots last week.
“Have you seen what hell looks like? We saw it last week,” Abub Ibrar (35), a resident of Shiv Vihar said, while describing the several hours of rioting in the area.
After Delhi Police relaxed restrictions in Shiv Vihar — one of the worst affected areas in north-east Delhi during the recent communal riots — on Saturday, residents began moving out of their homes and shelters. What they saw shook them.
At least 170 vehicles were parked in two adjacent private parking lots. All of them were set on fire by the rioters on Monday night. The number could be higher as by Sunday afternoon, many vehicles were already towed to the scrapyard. Not a car escaped the fire. The parking lot’s roof was also burnt and blackened with soot. On the first floor, there were stones scattered everywhere that may have been thrown from outside.
“One by one, row by row, the cars caught fire right in front of our eyes. We could see other houses burning in the distance. We made frantic calls to the fire department but they said they could not come. There was no police security,” said Ibrar.
Police officers on the ground said Shiv Vihar, under the Karawal Nagar police station, had suffered severely in the riots. Residents painted a picture of horror that agreed with it.
“Every few minutes there was a loud explosion. It went on for several hours. There was so much smoke that our eyes hurt. It may have been a war zone. We had to stay indoors. There was smoke in our rooms too. There was so much rioting all around. We had to lock our homes and go to the terrace to escape asphyxia, or sit crouched in the balconies to hide from rioters,” said another resident, Manu Sharma,39, who runs a mobile shop in the area.
In the densely populated area, where free space is a premium, most residents parked their cars at the two garages. Shah Alam,32, whose Wagon R car was in the garage, said he paid Rs 2000 monthly to the manager of the garage. It was thought to be a safe spot until Monday night when Shiv Vihar descended into chaos.
Refusing to divulge his name, an employee at the two garages, who has a small office on the first floor, said that on Monday evening, a mob first pelted stones to force open the main gate.
“Later one of them set a Wagon R on fire. I saw the other setting another car on fire. That is all they had to do. Every car caught fire. I ran to save myself.”
Locals were confused as to what the rioters were targeting. In many other areas, rioters had targeted property and people based on their faith. There were all sorts of vehicles — Wagon R, Swift, Ford Endeavour, Mahindra Scorpio, mini trucks and even an autorickshaw.
Police officers on the ground say that the rioters may have found these garages as the perfect place to start the chaos. In the recent riots, police said, with the explosions they cause, rioters targeted vehicles to cause more panic. Police, government and fire officers on the ground are still estimating the damage, which could run into crores. They suspect that the number of vehicles torched in the area in those 48 hours could easily be over a thousand.