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‘Hindu or Muslim?’ Kolkata youths escape mob through sheer luck

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/hindu-or-muslim-kol-youths-escape-mob-through-sheer-luck/articleshow/74326683.cms

KOLKATA: “Hindu ya Mohamedan?” For two Kolkata youths driving back to Delhi, instant anger at this question, thrown at them from someone in an armed mob, quickly turned into fear… fear of getting lynched, trapped inside their car. Their interrogator had taken away the ignition key, and the mob was baying for their blood, hurling invectives and trying to get inside.

It was sheer luck that another person gave them back the car key. “Bhago!” he told them. They did.

The duo — businessmen who are childhood friends — was driving back to Delhi after a holiday in Uttarakhand, when they got caught in mob violence near the UP-Delhi border on Monday evening. For a few minutes, they stared death in the face. They managed to escape, but the memory of what happened — and what almost happened — is terrifying.

‘It was like the WhatsApp forwards we get… but it was terrifyingly real’
My friend Kalim Ahmed from Darga Road and I had gone on a trek to Nag Tibba off Musoorie and were to return to Delhi on Tuesday,” recounts Yousuf Anis, 34, a resident of Topsia near Park Circus. “But Kalim felt unwell on Sunday and we decided to return the following day. There was poor cellular network in the hills, so we had no idea about the communal flare-up in Delhi,” he said.

Once Internet was available, they switched on Google Maps and made their way towards Mangolpuri in northwest Delhi. The app took them to G P Canal Road through Uttar Pradesh. They made good progress and reached Delhi’s outskirts by 6.30pm. Spotting the ‘Welcome to Delhi’ hoarding, Kalim slowed down. A little ahead, 500m from the Delhi-UP border, was a crowd in the middle of the road. Beyond them, a column of black smoke was rising from a building.

“I thought a house had caught fire and the road had been blocked to allow rescue and firefighting. A man asked us to take a U-turn, which we did. As we were going in the opposite direction, the voice-based navigation urged us to take a U-turn and head back. I spotted a lane just ahead and turned back to take it. But a dozen-odd youths blocked the way. What happened next is chilling. I still can’t believe we are alive,” Kalim recounted.

When Kalim rolled down the window to say they were going to Delhi, one of those in the mob asked them if they were Hindu or Muslim. Yousuf said, “We are Muslims. What has that got to do with anything?” What happened next was horrifying. The youth who had asked the question yanked out the car keys, while others tried to open the locked doors. As Yousuf and Kalim cowered in fright, an iron rod shattered the windshield. Several started thumping the car, screaming invectives.

“I have never encountered such visceral hatred,” Yousuf recounted. “I realized then that we were about to die, and started to pray silently,” he added, the horror still palpable in his face. Just when all seemed lost, a man in his mid-40s snatched the keys back from the youth and threw it into the car. “Bhago! (Run),” he told them. Kalim, hands shaking, turned on the ignition and pressed on the accelerator.

“I didn’t know where we were going. I only wanted to reach some place safe. While taking turns, I feared we were going around in circles and could land back at the very place from where we were fleeing. But that didn’t happen. We took the Western Peripheral Expressway, which got us into Delhi via Haryana. We reached the hotel in Mangolpuri at 9.30pm,” Kalim said.

“I felt so shaken that I didn’t even call home till I reached the airport the next day. I realised how close we had been to death. I broke down when I reached home around 1.30am on Wednesday,” Younus said.

“It was like going through videos forwarded on WhatsApp, which you thought were fake, and then realizing it was terrifyingly real,” said Kalim.

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