For more than a decade, Nisha Mewati and her family lived peacefully in the Shiv Vihar area of northeast Delhi, a mixed-neighborhood where Hindus and Muslims lived cheek by jowl.
But their world changed last February. “And suddenly it changed,” said 22-year-old Nisha, sadness flickering through her eyes.
On February 25, 2020, in the morning, when she heard shouts of “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram), a Hindu chant that has recently become a rallying cry for murder, reverberating some distance from her home, she was going about her daily chores.
“A Muslim family was being dragged from their house in an adjacent lane and beaten by a Hindu mob,” she told Al Jazeera.
For a few days, the neighborhood had been tense as violent Hindu mobs began targeting Muslims who opposed the new citizenship law passed by the Hindu nationalist government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party Party (BJP).
“But we didn’t expect it to hit us. Our family thought we would be safe in our home.”
They’ve been wrong.
Together with several other areas, Nisha’s neighborhood was engulfed in anti-Muslim violence that led to the killing of more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, in New Delhi, the capital of India.
Nisha and her family, fearing for their lives, hurriedly left their home and took shelter at a relative’s place in an adjacent Muslim-majority area as the cries in the neighborhood intensified.
They stayed away for 15 days, and it was clear when they came back that they were not welcome.
“Before the riots, Muslims and Hindus both lived together without any issues. But once we returned it was clear things had changed. Our friends in the colony were no longer our friends. They had turned strangers, if not enemies,” Nisha told Al Jazeera. “They yelled out ‘rioters’ on seeing us.”
A few days after Nisha returned to her neighborhood with her family, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The outbreak in the nation was linked in New Delhi by the media and many ruling party leaders to a congregation held by the Tablighi Jamaat-a Muslim missionary organization. It gave hostile Hindu residents another opportunity to attack their Muslim neighbours.
“Hindu residents of the lane used to cover their mouths when they saw us (Muslims). They called us ‘corona’,” Nisha said. “So, we stopped coming out of the house. Our brothers used to go out only to purchase groceries. After three-four months we sold our house.”
Two other Muslim families who used to live on Nisha’s sidewalk have moved out as well.
On 23 Feb 2020, Delhi Police assaulted five Muslim men who were lying on the floor and writhing in pain and made them sing the national anthem and ‘Vande Mataram’. Faizan, who sustained bullet injuries, died on February 28. 1/2#DelhiPogrom pic.twitter.com/aUxuIKY54K— Nabiya Khan | نبیہ خان (@NabiyaKhan11) February 23, 2021