New Delhi: In one of the narrow lanes of labyrinthine Indira Vihar Chaman Park area of Northeast Delhi, a parking garage of a three-storey building has been turned into a repository of clothes. On Friday, women and children of different ages could be seen picking clothes and dropping them back, if they were not of the right size, into a knee-high pile of donated garments sprawling over a swathe of about 6x5 feet. Denim pants of different sizes were hung on a gate for the men to choose from.
“Apart from the clothes we had on that night, we could not bring a single item here with us. I do not even have my own clothes to wear for the Friday namaaz,” said 62-year-old Khatun, as she drew a sob down her throat. “When there was a window for our safe passage, we just fled for our lives with our children.”
Khatun is one among hundreds of Muslims who had been forced to flee their homes in Shiv Vihar—the worst affected area during the violence that had engulfed the Northeast district of Delhi this week. Many of them have now taken refuge in the neighbouring Muslim-majority Chaman Park area where arrangements for their stay and food have been made by the locals -- not the government.
While Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Friday that the government has set up nine shelters and is distributing cash as compensation, the violence-affected people NewsClick spoke to felt abandoned by all. They said no politician, or government official had reached out to them in the wake of the violence.
“We had kept entry/exit gates of our colony closed and guarded since after the violent clashes started on Sunday night. But on Tuesday, when we found out that these families have managed to find their way out of Shiv Vihar, we opened our gates and let them in. We have arranged accommodation for them at several places in our colony—mostly semi-constructed houses of the locals here, equipped with bathrooms. We are pooling our resources to get them food. Everyone is helping in whatever capacity they can,” Afzal Pradhan, a member of the local Residents’ Welfare Association (RWA) of Chaman Park, told NewsClick.
On Friday morning, the streets around the locality saw movement of the people stepping out for the Friday prayers with the ebb in the tide of violence—amid heavy deployment of the armed forces. But in the temporary accommodation for the violence-affected, stoic-faced women, along with some men and children, sat quietly.
Talking about the atmosphere of terror that prevailed in Shiv Vihar earlier this week, Shabnam told NewsClick, “They [the rioters] came with rods, sticks and other weapons. They shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and kept asking others to raise that slogan as well. We were watching them vandalise Muslim houses and burn the mosque. They looted so many houses; even broke the locks to take all our valuables. Nobody came to our rescue; not even our neighbours. They have also burnt down the bakery where my husband used to work.”
Pointing to her husband who sat across the room with reddened eyes, Shabnam said: “He has been crying since we left. My children keep asking me when we can go back home. What do I tell them? How do I deal with all of this?”
Zareena, another 58-year-old victim, broke down as she spoke about her goats—perhaps the priciest possession she had to leave behind. “We had tied three goats up on the roof; we had to leave them behind. I don’t know what happened to them. I hope they have not burnt them as well.”
Mohammad Mukeem, who claimed to be associated with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party, said the rioters threatened the Muslim residents with a “repeat of Godhra” if they refused to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
“We asked help from several people from the administration, but to no avail. They made an appearance but left soon after. Even the local MLA kept assuring us that he is talking to the higher authorities and asked us to stay indoors and maintain peace. But so far, he hasn’t even enquired about our whereabouts,” said Mukeem, adding that a few locals did help him and his family escape safely.
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Ali Naqvi* (name changed), a 29-year-old, also narrated how a local Hindu family helped him stay safe back home. Even as many others had left their homes on Tuesday night to reach Chaman Park, Ali left his home only on Friday morning. “Thanks to my landlord. He lives on the ground floor and I was a tenant on the upper floor. He put a lock on our house from outside and told people that I had vacated the house and left along with the others. I stayed locked like that for four days. It was difficult, but with his help, I and my family survived and eventually escaped,” said Ali.
The Hindu families of Chaman Park, too, had tales of solidarity and unity to narrate. Taradevi, an ASHA worker, who is from the only three Hindu families in the colony, told NewsClick that she “never once felt scared” during the communal flare-up. “Our [Muslim] brothers have been here with us. They even told us that whatever we need, they can arrange for us. All three families have been absolutely safe here,” she said.
A Hindu temple near these families’ residences has also remained unharmed. Pradhan said: “It was a very delicate situation. Even if an outsider would have vandalised it, the onus would have fallen on the Muslim community and it would have soured our relationships. So, we stood guard outside the temple, making sure that no one touches it or the homes of the Hindu families here.”
While those staying in these temporary shelters are grateful for the help from the locals, most of them are clueless about where to go next.
“Our house has been reduced to ashes. How can we return? Everything we owned has been taken away. I had saved some money for the wedding of my kids; had collected some jewellery. Now we’re left penniless. Will the government help us rebuild our lives? For how long should we rely on the locals here?” asked Khatun.
The AAP government has announced a compensation package for the riot-affected people under its ‘Farishtey Dilli Ke (Angels of Delhi)’ scheme. For damage suffered by residential units, compensation of Rs 5 lakh (Rs 1 lakh for the tenant(s) and Rs 4 lakh for the house owner) has been announced. For substantial damage to the residential units, the compensation is Rs 2.5 Lakh (Rs 50,000 for the tenant(s) and Rs 2 lakh for the owner). For uninsured commercial units, a maximum compensation of Rs 5 lakh has been declared.
But this may not help the victims as much as one would expect. Even if we set aside the problems like the insufficient amount [as compared to the losses they have incurred], timely implementation and specifics of eligibility criteria, one of the most troubling issues in this situation, is the animosity between the two communities.
Back in Shiv Vihar, some Hindu families NewsClick talked to spoke of the fear they are living in as well following the clashes. A resident in her 40s sat by the door of her house [in phase 10, Shiv Vihar] which had a newly pasted sticker that read ‘Jai Shri Ram’. “Abhi to kaafi shant hai, par thodi kapkapi toh ho rahi hai (It’s peaceful now, but there’s a sense of fear still).” When asked about the reason behind pasting this sticker now, the woman admitted, “I am afraid of the looters. They are looting the homes that don’t have such stickers.”
What she implied—that the rioters were sparing Hindu houses in Shiv Vihar—could also be seen in the pattern of ashen and broken structures in this area. While a shop owned by one ‘Manish’ can be seen intact, the blackened and burnt walls and doors of a house next to it, which had inscriptions in Arabic script, bear testimony to the selective targeting.
A large section of this locality—embellished with strings of green flags and glittery festoons—is now empty. Parts of the lanes are filled with spillages of bakery products, medicines, broken parts of computers and other machines from the vandalised shops. Sparse Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel now man these vacant lanes with only stray dogs loitering around.
Arvind Prasad, a resident from lane no 14 [where Hindu families continue to live], who runs a factory in Pahrganj, said: “Everything has been normal here all these years. But recently, after the Citizenship Amendment Act, these people [Muslims] had become very aggressive. They sloganeered and made a lot of noise. Aisa lagata tha jaise ke yahaan Pakistan hi ban gaya hai (It felt like this place is turning into Pakistan).” When asked if any attempts at reconciliation had been made by members of either community, Prasad said no.
Another resident, Sanjay, blamed the politicians for the ruckus the locality has witnessed. A tailor by profession, he said: “I have lived here for 20 years and have been stitching clothes for Hindu and Muslims. We have never had an issue before. These politicians, who came and provoked the people, later left them to spew hatred all by themselves. It is our children who are dying. If a son of a Shah [an influential politician] would have died, they would have controlled this situation way sooner.”
“Aap chahate kya ho? Har 10-20 saal ek danga ho? (What do you want? A riot every 10-20 years?),” he questioned.
(Photos by Pranita Kulkarni, Inputs by Mukund Jha, Sonali and Surangya)
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