Kin of woman killed in Delhi riots recall terror
Gulista Begum is the daughter-in-law of Akbari Begum, 85, who died in the fire during the communal riots that rocked northeast Delhi in late February.Updated: Jul 08, 2020 00:06 IST
“As rioters climbed up our house, one of them placed a sword on my elder daughter’s neck; when a man from the mob shouted ladkiyan Laxmi hoti hain, ladkiyon ko kuch nahi karna (girls are goddess Laxmi, do not harm them in anyway) ...they went the other way and set our house afire,” said Gulista Begum.
Gulista Begum is the daughter-in-law of Akbari Begum, 85, who died in the fire during the communal riots that rocked northeast Delhi in late February. She was the only woman among 53 fatalities in the violence that also left more than 400 injured; the police have filed 750 first information reports (FIRs) in connection with the riots .
Gulista’s statement is a part of the charge sheet Delhi police have filed in the murder case of Akbari Begum, who died of asphyxiation and also had 72% burn injuries. In her statement, Gulista related how the family was stuck on the rooftop of the burning house; the mob left with Rs 8 lakh cash, her jewellery and other valuables.
Gulista, 43, gave a written statement to the police, a copy of which is with Hindustan Times. She said that on the day of the incident on February 25, she was in her house in Gamri Village, Bhajanpura, with her younger son, two daughters and mother-in-law.
Her husband Mohammad Saeed Salmani, 49, who ran a ready-made garments workshop from the ground and first floor of their four-storey house, had stepped out to buy milk and her elder son had taken his pregnant wife to the hospital.
Gulista said in her statement, part of the 671-page charge sheet filed on June 8 in the Karkardooma court, that around 11 am, when she was cooking on the second floor of the house, the mob broke open the lock of the main gate and set on fire piles of garments stashed on the ground floor. She said the mob then climbed up to the first floor and also set it on fire.
The man who placed a sword on her elder daughter’s neck spared her after one member of the mob shouted that women shouldn’t be harmed, likening them to Laxmi.The rioters then looted jewellery, cash and other valuables from her almirah. “They then set afire the second floor and fled the floor shutting the door with all of us inside,” Gulista said.
An employee of the garments workshop then broke the locked door and they escaped the smoke-filled room and reached the terrace. Because the rioters had also set the third floor on fire, her mother-in-law Akbari Begum could not escape because of the smoke and died of asphyxiation and burn injuries.
Asif Salmani, 19, Gulista Begum’s younger son, who was also trapped with the family on the rooftop, said in his statement that the mob even tried to climb up to the roof but couldn’t because he and others started pelting the rioters with stones from the debris on the roof.
“We even tried to use a rope to get on to our neighbour’s roof but he threatened us not to do so. Meanwhile, my sister was hit with a stone that the rioters were throwing at our house. After some time, police and some of our neighbours used a ladder to help us get down. The rioters even threw stones on the police vehicle in which they took us to the police station,” Salmani said.
Gulista Begum added to her statement that her husband had received a delivery of clothes for their workshop just two days ago because of which the ground and first floors were full of raw material that may have fuelled the fire that destroyed appliances and furniture as well.
The police later arrested six men for setting the house on fire and killing Akbari Begum. The police have charge-sheeted the six men under Indian Penal Code sections 396 (dacoity with murder), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapons), 455 (house break-in) and 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substances), among others.
The arrested men were Arun Kumar, 26, his brother, Varun Kumar, 22, Vishal Singh,29, Ravi Kumar, 24, Prakash Chand,36, and Suraj Singh, 28.
According to Delhi police, the arrests were based on technical evidence, video footage recorded by local area residents, eyewitnesses account and the statements of Begum’s family members.
The charge sheet, accessed by HT, mentions that Begum’s post mortem reports read she died of “asphyxia as a result of antemortem inhalation of smoke.” It said: “Most of the burns were superficial” but “total body surface burnt was 72%”.
Advocate Mehmood Pracha, counsel for the family of the victim, said that while the police had arrested and charged the six suspects, they were only foot soldiers. “ The main perpetrators are still at large,” he said.
A Delhi police officer privy to the probe, who wished not to be named, said the charge-sheet has been submitted in the Karkardooma court on June 8. “The court is due to take cognizance after which trial in Begum’s murder and dacoity case will begin against the six arrested accused,” the officer said.
A Delhi police spokesperson said the department couldn’t comment on the case because the matter is sub judice.