As lockdown restrictions ease and hustle and bustle in the North East region of Delhi resume, communal tensions continue to stay rife and an atmosphere of fear prevails on the small, narrow lanes of Khajuri Khas, which was hit by riots in February this year.
On the November 27, middle-aged Mehboob Alam was arrested from his home on lane no. 29 by plain-clothed men on charges of rioting. The arrest and the atmosphere of fear have driven many men to move out of the lane and even the area altogether with several fleeing the city. Over 20 families are now living without male members who were bread-winners, with women and children having to fend for themselves.
Alam’s arrest was one of the recent cases. However, ongoing arrests both before and after the lockdown have triggered the men to leave their homes.
The Hindu reported that from March 22 to mid-April, around 25 to 30 arrests were made in the violence-affected, Muslim-majority areas of Northeast Delhi. The Indian Express reported a total of 802 arrests, of which at least 50 were made during the lockdown. But some accounts peg the figure much higher at around six to seven arrests every day.
Earlier this year, Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) had issued a notice to Delhi Police Commissioner S. N. Shrivastava on the grounds that police officers have been “arresting young Muslim boys by the dozens every single day” from North East district, and that the arrests have continued even after the lockdown.
Residents of the area alleged that video evidence was being manipulated to keep the community in check and to arrest several people. Due to these arrests, fear looms large in the area with local residents questioning the intentions of the Delhi Police controlled by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. They have alleged that random persons were being incriminated in the Delhi riots cases citing remote links with the some incident.
‘At least I know he is alive’
Speaking to NewsClick, Parveen, whose husband had left 20 days ago, said, “There is nothing but fear driving us; we feel if so much has happened to us, even our houses were burnt down, now maybe they will take our husbands away and instead, of giving them justice, they (police) may charge them in the case of burning their own houses and inciting riots.”
Rubina* (name changed), another riot victim, added, “On February 25, we were ensured that nothing will happen to us, that mobs will not enter our lanes, yet this happened to us. How do we trust anyone? What if my husband gets arrested like many others? Where will I even go? I can live without him but can’t see him being falsely dragged to jail for no fault of ours.”
The residents believe that their lane remains tense because of the prevalence of the local mosque and fears are rising following the arrest of Alam. “It's like we are in a coma, neither living nor dead,” said Parveen* (name changed), in her 20s, as she sat with her daughter by her side. “My husband has not been staying with us for the last 20 days. It feels like my entire life is falling apart, there is no respite,” she said.
Parveen’s three-story building in the same lane was gutted in the fire during the riots on February 25. “When the riots happened, people were at least sympathetic towards us, towards what had happened with us, that we lost our houses. But now, with no husbands, nobody really knows we are in pain. People think our lives have gone back to normal, there is no sympathy or support for us.” she said.
Don’t have means to earn a living
With the year drawing to a close and no means of economic rebuilding, the families are on the brink of a breakdown. With male members being the sole earning members of the family, the women are finding themselves struggling to make ends meet, while managing their homes and children.
“None of us are educated, it's getting increasingly difficult without our husbands; our entire routines have been destroyed. I have three children, none of them are even in their teens. I have their fees to pay, vegetables to buy and bills are piling up. We are drying up whatever was left. With the pandemic and the riots earlier, we are barely surviving,” says Kausar* (name changed).
Married for close to 15 years now, she said it is the first time she will be separated from her husband—all for a hope that things will normalise and he will return home.
The women said that they are borrowing money from family members or waiting on NGOs to supply rations.
Amidst the pandemic, with no access to schools and online learning being an obstacle, the women managing homes single-handedly are also struggling to pay their children’s fees. “If we fail to pay the fee, my children are not admitted to the online classes. Despite knowing what my circumstances are, the schools are not complying.” said Rukhsar* whose daughter and son are no longer enrolled in classes at the local Farhan International School.
The families are also worried about those who have left. With most men being workers and daily wagers, their families are now dependent on distant relatives. “How will they earn two square meals? Where will they stay and most importantly when will they return? We have no idea,” Parveen said.
Have to lie to children
Rubina, Atifa* and Kausar have not slept in the last 15 days. Speaking to NewsClick, Rubina, whose husband is a house painter, said, “I am scared to even go to the bathroom leaving my child. My daughter turns one year old tomorrow, but my husband will not be with me to celebrate.”
26-year-old Sheikh fled to his village near the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border to ensure he does not get picked up by the police. With their husbands gone for long durations, the women are finding it hard to explain to their children where their fathers are. Ashifa*, a woman in her 30s, whose husband had left the area 15 days ago, said, “I keep telling them he is not well and is at the hospital; I tell my daughter he will be back when he is well, but they ask me why I don’t visit him in the hospital. I have no words.”
Months have passed since the brutal and chilling communal violence in Delhi’s North East district, which left 53 dead, majority of them Muslims. Hindutva outfits continue to terrorise in some areas, claim Muslim residents, alleging that the police stay indifferent towards such incidents.
Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of the victims
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