Shadab, 22, is ploughing through a heap of rubble. The large polythene bag in his hand has an assortment of things, the charred case of a CPU, a few sooty books, a sheaf of identity cards. Anything that he can salvage from his alma mater, Arun Modern Senior Secondary School, the 30-year-old school in the northeast Delhi neighbourhood of Brijpuri, which was vandalised and gutted on Tuesday evening by a mob. “It all happened in front of my eyes and I couldn’t do anything,” says Shadab, who owns a shoe shop adjacent to the school.
According to Shadab, around fifty men armed with lathis and swords barged into the school between 5 and 6 pm in the evening. “I don’t know who they were. They certainly weren’t locals. They came and plundered and broke everything. I don’t know what they used to light fire, but before I knew it, the whole place was burning,” says Shadab. When he asked them what they were doing, these men just pushed Shadab aside. “It’s as if they were possessed. They wouldn’t listen to reason. I don’t know if they were Hindus or Muslims. I only know they were not human beings,” says Shadab.
He points to a sooty room on the right side of the entrance. “This is the first classroom I ever had,” he says. The room is now devoid of any furniture, a heap of molten plastic chairs is dumped right outside the room. Shadab is lost in thoughts. “This was our playground,” he says pointing to a concrete playground right in the middle of the building complex. “This is where we would have our tiffin,” he says. It’s like a nostalgia trip, but it’s also a nightmare. “They burnt my shoe shop too. I have incurred a huge financial loss but it pains me more to see my school like this. How could anyone do this to a school? Any school?” asks Shadab.
Ghayur Ali, NIOS in-charge of Arun Modern Senior Secondary School has a more practical question. “I don’t know how long will it take to get things in order. We have incurred losses of lakhs. My car was parked here, they burnt it to a hollow shell,” he says pointing to soot-covered white alto parked in a corner of the school complex. By the time Ghayur arrived at the sight on Tuesday night, the school was engulfed in “black, billowing smoke”. “I didn’t know what to do. The locals had doused the fire with drain water. The rioters had broken benches, tables and blackboards. They burnt the library. They broke into the office, took all the laptops and computers. The ones they couldn’t take, they burnt them to a crisp,” says Ali.
The school is affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education and has nearly 1000 students. “We will try to start the school as soon as possible. People of the nearby area depend on this school. Nearly 55 per cent of the students belong to the minority community and the rest are Hindus. We can’t afford to make these kids lose a year,” says Ali.