A riot isn’t normally the time when one’s faith in humanity is reaffirmed. At least that’s what I believed until I went as part of a fact-finding team to north-east Delhi last Saturday. It was a wet and thundery day, made even more sombre by the harrowing testimonies we heard from survivors, especially those from Shiv Vihar, one of the worst affected localities during the violence. However, the day was brightened by our Uber driver, 41-year-old Gulfam Mansuri. First, after he realised why we were going to north-east Delhi, he put the taxi’s meter off. “Since the riots began, I’ve been wondering how to help,” he said. “If you don’t mind, may I join you?” Then it turned out that many in his extended family resided in Shiv Vihar before violence on February 24 and 25 and were compelled to seek shelter in the neighbouring Chaman Park. And just like that, Mansuri became our self-appointed guide.
That day, Mansuri introduced us to his extended family, listened to survivors’ harrowing tales and throughout, shot videos to share with his friends and family. “The stories of the survivors shook me,” he told us. “But I’m really inspired by all the ordinary middle class people whose hearts are so big that they’ve opened up their homes, kitchens and even coffers to aid their neighbours from Shiv Vihar,” he said. Anyway, the day ended and we bid him farewell thinking this was the last we’d see of him. But the next morning, he called an activist from our team and told her that he was taking the day off and forgoing his daily earnings from Uber to offer his services in Chaman Park. What did he want to do, she asked him. He replied, “I simply want to help...” That morning Mansuri printed out a 100 application forms that have to be filled by anyone wanted compensation for damages incurred during the riots. “I went to Chaman Park and spent the next 10 hours filling the forms,” he said when I called him later in the week. Moreover, he also inspired his nephew to join in the effort. “The following day, I went to Shiv Vihar,” he said. “Here, I filled out forms for Hindu survivors too, for in my mind, suffering has no religion.” He heard about a family which had survived an acid attack during the violence. Traumatised, they simply vanished after making their escape. “I’m trying to get their phone number to offer help and support to them,” he said.
Volunteering in the relief effort, Mansuri was struck by the fact that so many survivors simply needed to talk about what they had gone through. “By simply giving them an opportunity to talk and adding some simple words of sympathy, I think I helped them a little,” he said. After talking to him, I reflected that such acts of humanity by people like Mansuri are the biggest antidotes to the toxic atmosphere that has corroded our social fabric. In fact, this is what he said too while talking about his dreams for his son and daughter, 16 and 18 respectively. “I want them grow up in a liberal society where they’re free to be what they want to be — in a world where compassion would have defeated the forces of hate around us today.”