New Delhi Feb 28: As deadly clashes hit northeast 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 Prasad's father then organised the wedding for the following day, saying his Muslim neighbours were family and he was comforted by their presence.
Savitri Prasad, a 23-year-old bride, takes her wedding vows inside her parents' house.
"My Muslim brothers are protecting me today," Savitri Prasad 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 Prasad'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, and the area littered with rocks used in pitched battles between mobs on both sides.
Savitri Prasad sits in her parents' home before taking her wedding vows. At least 38 people have been killed in the fighting in Chand Bagh and nearby areas of Delhi this week, and hundreds of people have been injured in the worst violence in the capital in decades.
"We went to the terrace and just saw smoke and more smoke," Bhoday Prasad, Savitri Prasad'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 Prasad was to have henna applied on her hands in a pre-wedding ritual, violence had already spiralled out of control.
The groom Gulshan arrives to take wedding vows with Savitri Prasad at her parents' house.
"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 neighbours.
Violence ebbed on Wednesday, but markets remained shut and residents stayed indoors, fearful of further clashes.
Savitri Prasad'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 Prasad'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 Prasad, 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."