Mohammad Shakir wept, as he collected remnants of Quran that were scattered on the barren land, where once stood his home. On April 15, 2018, almost 50 shacks of Rohingya refugees were burnt to the ground, as massive fire broke out in the wee hours, and spread to engulf the whole settlement. Water tenders reached the spot after a few settlers from Madanpur Khadar, Kalandi Kunj informed the Delhi Fire Services (DFS) about the incident. It reportedly took three hours to bring the fire under control.
According to 26 years old Shakir, he was defecating outside his shanty, when he heard the noises. “When I saw smoke coming from my house, I panicked. I informed everyone about the fire by knocking on their doors, and helped women to come out,” Shakir told Newsclick. Shakir’s refugee card and all other documents were burnt in the fire. “We have lost our refugee cards, money and other documents. We are left with nothing,” added Shakir.
In 2017, a petition was filed by two Rohingya immigrants before the Supreme Court, challenging the Centre’s decision to identify and deport Rohingyas refugees to Myanmar. After filing the petition, upon deliberation, two security guards were hired to prevent any untoward incident from happening. The guards used to patrol outside their settlement throughout the night. “After the petition was filed, our local Muslim brothers suggested that we hire a security guard. They suspected threat to our lives. But we couldn’t keep the guards for long, as we ran out of money,” said Shakir.
Fatima and Noor Fatima were sitting together in one of the makeshift settlements. They were talking to each other, when suddenly, Noor started crying. “I am unable to believe that my shop was burnt down,” she said. Noor’s grocery shop was gutted in the fire. “It took me five years to build that shop. Now that the money had started coming in, and I was slightly happy, everything has vanished.”
Zoor Khantun, another Rohingya refugee from the Shine bhag settlement had come to visit her horror-struck extended family. A petite, thin lady with freckles on her face, Zoor, had been consoling her sister, who was traumatized after the incident. Zoor narrated the overall misery of the community in India. “I was in Lucknow earlier. It has been three months since I came to Delhi. As you can see, we are living in miserable conditions. Last year, a girl died, as a few rats bit her on face,” Zoor said in a shaky voice.
Makeshift Settlement and Despair
Gloom has descended upon the 55 Rohingya families, who lost everything in the fire. Naked children can been seen running around in the temporary settlements. Cluster of flies are flying over the food that is kept on the newspaper. Women look distraught and the wrinkles on their forehead reflect the despair of the previous night.
“I have lived my life. It’s better for me to die. All I am concerned about is my children. They have lost their textbooks in the fire. They couldn’t make it to the school today. We were well-settled in Burma and we are living the life of a beggar now,” said Fatima.
In 2015, Fatima’s 3-month-old daughter died following a snake bite. “I have two more children – a boy and a girl. I want them to succeed and live a happy life. I have suffered but I don’t want them to,” she added.
Basic livelihood and necessities
Food, water, sanitary napkins and other basic items have been distributed to the distressed families. Several NGOs, local Muslim people and student activists have been raising funds to help the refugees. “We, with the help from several people, are bulldozing the whole settlement, which was gutted in the fire, to ensure that there are no bumps. Tomorrow, we will shift their temporary tents here,” said Naved Choudhary, President of Minority Empowerment Mission (MEM).
“Many people are volunteering and with their help, we are providing the refugees with water and food and other basic necessities,” he said.
“As I heard the news, I and other student activists from Jamia and Delhi University reached here. We have put up posters in the college – seeking help to raise funds for them. We also received funds from the JNU. Since yesterday, student activists, along with other organisations, are providing them with food and other basic stuff,” said Draupadi, a student from Jamia Milia Islamia.
Women from Al Khair foundation have been taking care of the basic needs of women. “We are arranging sanitary napkins and panties for them and also some clothes,” said Dr Daraksha Firdaus from Al Khair foundation.
Conspiracy and Government’s stand:
“They are living here since last 10 years and nothing like this has happened ever. This was organised. They are innocent people, they don’t understand this,” Naved told Newsclick. “There is a tweet by some BJP supporter where he has written that they have started the fire. I have the screenshot of that tweet. We, along with my team, are going file a complaint against him.”
“Few leaders from AAP had shown up and were promising Rs 25,000 compensation to each family, but nobody has issued any official statement,” he added.
Newsclick is in possession of the screenshot of the tweet Naved has referred to, but the original tweet seems to have disappeared from the social media platform.
Another Rohingya refugee, on condition of anonymity, said, “Our land is given to us by Zakat Foundation and lately, they have been threatening us to leave the land."