Days after communal violence ripped apart Northeast Delhi, majority of victims in large parts of the riot-affected areas are yet to receive adequate and proper aid from the government agencies, says a fact finding report by a team of civil rights activists.
The team including Anjali Bhardwaj, Annie Raja, Poonam Kaushik, Geetanjali Krishna and Amrita Johri made a visit to Bhajanpura, Chaman Park and Shiv Vihar on February 29, 2020, to take stock of the post riot situation. The team met with both Muslim and Hindu families to understand their immediate concerns and whether ongoing relief efforts adequately address their needs.
In Northeast Delhi, communal violence started on February 24 and carried on till February 26. As per latest figures available, 46 people have died, more than 200 are injured and thousands have been rendered homeless due to destruction and looting of their houses.
“It is clear that the Central and Delhi governments have failed in providing any modicum of relief to those affected or displaced by the recent spate of violence. In each place, families which had to abandon their homes due to violence are taking refuge with their relatives or have made private arrangements in different localities or are staying in temporary accommodation provided by private individuals,” says the report.
Highlighting the role of civil society in providing relief, the report adds, “We did not find any government agency or representative involved in co-ordinating or delivering relief during the time we were there. Further, everyone we spoke to reported having received assistance only from non-government entities. According to those present at the site, all relief including food, clothing and medicines are being provided only by private entities- either through religious bodies (Gurudwaras, Church) or through civil society groups.”
During the field visit, the team said, they could not find a single relief camp which has been set up by the Central and Delhi governments, but, during the time of their visit—from 3 pm to 7 pm—they met a number of private vehicles carrying some relief material to Chaman Park.
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Pointing out that the abdication by the Delhi and central governments of their basic responsibility of providing help to people rendered homeless and vulnerable due to violence is shocking, the report says, “After maintaining a deafening silence for more than 3 days after the violence broke out, the measures announced by the Delhi government are inadequate to meet even the basic needs of affected persons- we did not find even those being implemented on the ground during our visit.”
The report also describes the localities they visited where the victims are now living and how they are surviving.
In Chaman Park, nearly 1,000 people from the Muslim community, who fled from their homes in Shiv Vihar due to the violence, are taking shelter in private homes. The team visited two of these homes, where hundreds of people, mostly women and children, were sitting on the floor in different rooms.
“One room was functioning as a medical camp. The homes belong to private individuals who opened them up to provide emergency shelter. People were extremely anxious and traumatised about the condition of their homes and their future. Several people stated that when men attempted to return to Shiv Vihar to retrieve belongings, especially their documents, they were brutally attacked and there were reports of some people being murdered (we cannot verify this independently). Most families had fled with nothing other than the clothes on their backs,” says the report.
A young man, whom the team had met, had stitches on the back of his head and his left eye was swollen shut. He told the team that “he was returning from Karawal Nagar to check on the condition of his family on the evening of the 25th of February, when he was caught by 16-17 men who asked whether he was Hindu or Muslim. Upon hearing that he was Muslim, they mercilessly beat him,” the report notes.
A madrasa and 2 masjids in the area- Auliya Masjid and Madina Masjid – were also set on fire and looted and destroyed from inside. Eyewitnesses narrated to the team that they saw mobs armed with petrol bombs, guns and rods setting fire to homes and attacking people. They added that the calls to emergency numbers of Police (100) and Fire Brigade (101) went unanswered.
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The report says, “Most people took help of neighbours or relatives to escape while one family reported that the Police helped them escape from their house. As Shiv Vihar is a mixed locality and in several lanes, there are Hindu and Muslim families, we asked people whether they could see recognisable faces of their neighbours in the mob. Every person who we spoke to said it was outsiders who were in the mob- no local person was involved in the violence.”
In Shiv Vihar, the team had visited the deserted galis where thousands of people, both Hindus and Muslims, have abandoned their homes due to the riots. “Rapid Action Force personnel were stationed at every corner. Blackened walls of houses, charred remains of vehicles, burnt household items, furniture from shops strewn on the streets and barricades put up using almirahs and desks bear testimony to the tragic consequences of communal hate & violence.”
“We came across the burnt Auliya masjid and could see the remains of gas cylinders which had been lit and thrown inside. It was our impression that primarily targeted attacks were made on houses and places of worship of Muslims. Some houses belonging to Hindus were also burnt and damaged,” says the report.
A few Hindu families, whom the team could locate, in the riot affected area, said they were taking shelter in nearby localities of Johripur and other areas. They also told the delegation that all the Muslims had abandoned their homes.
The report mentions, “We met with Mithlesh and Sunita, who are neighbours and run a small halwai (sweet) shop in Gali no. 14, 25 foot road. They said that armed mobs entered lanes from both sides and burnt dwellings, destroyed homes, attacked people. They said they tried calling the police and fire brigade repeatedly, but with no success.”
In Shiv Vihar area, several people- only Hindus as no Muslim families have been able to return- reported that the SDM had visited the area and taken down their details for the compensation form.
The case of Bhajanpura was not different. At Bhajanpura main road, a mazar which was barely 10 feet away from a Police Help Centre had been set on fire.
“We met with Azad and his brother Bhoora, who along with 2 other brothers owned these shops - a restaurant called Azad Chicken Centre, a shop selling peanuts and chickpeas, and a fruit shop. In the whole market only these three shops had been set on fire. Burnt fruits, furniture from the restaurant lay strewn around. The brothers said that a mob set the shops on fire around 2.30 pm in the afternoon of the 24th of February, 2020 and started pelting stones on them,” the report describes a first hand information from one of the victims.
Their houses, which were located on top of the shops, were reduced to ashes as well. Though they tried to douse the flames engulfing their vehicles and shops, tear gas shells were thrown into their houses. “16-17 of them (including their little children, women and workers from the restaurant), saved themselves by running to the terrace and jumping into the back-lane from a 12 feet high terrace. They said that 8-10 policemen were standing and watching but did not control the mob, as perhaps they were vastly outnumbered. Despite repeated calls to emergency numbers, the first fire brigade arrived only around 7 pm by which time the shops and houses were completely gutted and all the belongings inside were reduced to ashes,” the report adds, describing how the police force remained a silent spectator during the rioting.
Like in many other cases, the brothers shared that they returned at night and tried to secure the entrance in a bid to protect their valuables and belongings, but everything had already been ransacked and looted including money and jewellery kept in the house. All the remaining things had been burnt.
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The report states that, “They had not heard of the compensation offered by the Delhi government and said no official, other than the Police had met with them. When we told them about the compensation announced, they said that the government should extend loans as well as the compensation amounts declared may not be adequate. They were keen to rebuild and restart all three shops. The brothers proudly shared that their grandfather Bundu Khan had served in the Indian Army.”
The civil rights activists have called upon the central government and the Delhi government to immediately provide relief in a dignified manner to victims. The activists demanded that the relief measures must include safe shelter with adequate privacy for families who have been forced to abandon their houses, where they can stay till their homes are rebuilt and the atmosphere is conducive for their return; provision of cooked food, preferably through 24x7 community kitchens; 24x7 medical camps in affected areas including availability of gynaecologists and child psychologists; clean clothing; camps for helping people obtain copies of official documents which have been destroyed in the violence and arson; facilitation desks for providing legal help and completing formalities for seeking compensation, etc.