As deadly clashes between Hindu and Muslim groups rocked parts of the Indian capital Delhi this week, the family of a young Hindu woman living in a Muslim-majority area was forced to cancel her wedding.
Dressed in her wedding finery, her hands laced maroon with henna and her skin cleansed with turmeric, 23-year-old Savitri Prasad said she was weeping in her home as violent mobs battled outside on Tuesday, which was to have been her wedding day.
But Savitri’s father then organised the wedding for the following day, saying his Muslim neighbours were family and he was comforted by their presence.
“My Muslim brothers are protecting me today,” Savitri told a Reuters team that visited the house on the day of the ceremony, breaking down again as her family and neighbours comforted her.
The rituals took place at Savitri’s home, a small brick building in a narrow alley in the Chand Bagh district. Steps away, the main street looked like a war zone, with cars and shops vandalised, a Muslim shrine torched and the area littered with rocks used in pitched battles between mobs on both sides.
At least 32 people have been killed in the fighting in Chand Bagh and nearby areas of the capital this week, and hundreds of Hindus and Muslims have been injured in the worst sectarian riots in the Indian capital in decades.
“We went to the terrace and just saw smoke and more smoke,” Bhoday Prasad, Savitri’s father, said of the scene on Monday and Tuesday. “It is terrifying. We just want peace.”
Bhoday Prasad said he has lived in the area for years alongside Muslims without any trouble.
“We don’t know who the people behind the violence are, but they are not my neighbours. There is no enmity between Hindus and Muslims here.”
On Monday evening, the day Savitri was to have henna applied on her hands in a pre-wedding ritual, violence had already spiralled out of control.
“We could hear a lot of commotion outside, but I had the henna applied, hoping things would be better next day,” she said. Instead, they got worse.
Her father told the groom and his family it was too dangerous to come to the house.
“Our heart pains for her, who would want their daughter to be sitting home crying when she is supposed to be happy?” said Sameena Begum, one of the Muslim neighbours.
Violence ebbed on Wednesday, but markets remained shut and residents stayed indoors, fearful of further clashes. Savitri’s father said he decided to organise a scaled-down ceremony.
“Hindu or Muslim, we are all humans and we are all terrified of the violence,” said Savitri’s cousin Pooja, as she helped the bride dress for the ceremony. “This fight was not about religion, but it has been made so.”
Muslim neighbours gathered to offer blessings as the groom arrived and the wedding rituals took place, with a Hindu priest reciting holy verses and the groom and bride taking the rounds of a small pyre set up inside the house.
“We live peacefully with our Hindu brothers,” said Aamir Malik, who was standing guard with several other men outside the home. “We are everything for them. It’s been like that. We are here for them.”
Following an exchange of garlands, Savitri, her husband and his family were escorted out of the alleys by her family and neighbours.
“Today, none of our relatives could attend my daughter’s wedding,” said Bhoday Prasad. “But our Muslim neighbours are here. They are our family.”