The trauma of Delhi riots: Women and children still await relief from Kejriwal government
Hundreds of Muslim families might have taken refuge at safer locations, but the challenge now is the availability of food, medicines, doctors even basics such as washrooms and toilets. Women and children are in need of immediate medical care but can't step out, because of immense fear and curfew.
Sixteen-month-old Samaira needed immediate medical help. The toddler was suffering from an acute stomach illness and continuous vomiting. Her mother Farhaat Parveen, 25, kept calling the ambulance. But to no avail. Stepping out was out of the question for two reasons – the threat to life and no money to afford private medical care.
Samaira and her family have taken refuge in North East Delhi’s Chandu Nagar locality. The family home was torched in the Delhi riots. Samaira is not alone. Hundreds of children and women are living in small rooms as refugees or migrants in Chandu Nagar. For them, ever since February 25, this locality has proved to be the only safe refuge.
Back in 2013, Western Uttar Pradesh stood witness to one of the bloodiest communal riots in its history. The Muslim side had paid the highest cost, of targeted communal attacks. The Akhilesh Yadav-led state government was criticised for its failure to contain the riots. However, soon after peace was restored, the Samajwadi Party government had set-up relief camps.
The camps, in the initial days, provided the victim families with roofs over their heads, a sense of safety, an adequate supply of food materials and medical assistance. The UP government had faced criticism from the media, civil society and political quarters for failing to provide the best of relief services to the riot-affected families.
Compare this with the riots we’re seeing now.
In Delhi, the riots last week happened right under the nose of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Central government and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led Delhi government.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, once known as the arch-rival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, remained inactive while the riots were intensifying. He later shifted the goal post by seeking an army intervention to contain the Delhi riots.
The Kejriwal government seems to have turned a blind eye towards its own responsibilities.
The Delhi Government has converted 11 of its night shelters into relief camps. But civil society members are questioning the location of these camps and have raised concerns about safety of these camps. Rights' activist Harsh Mander has expressed "deep dismay" with the Delhi govt for "refusing to set up large relief camps."
According to him, "homeless shelters are no substitute: they offer neither the safety nor dignity which people battered and terrorized by communal hate require from a caring state."
Meanwhile, riot victims such as Shafina Khatoon are looking for relief camps in the areas where they have taken refuge and want security deployment for such camps. She says it is the only way to give a sense of security and safety to them.
Seven cramped rooms of this four-floor building in Chandu Nagar have turned into a refugee shelter. Each room here is hosting ten women and children. The hall or the entrance to the house in the ground is doubling - or tripling - up asthe night stay shelter and dining space for men, and a common area where women and children spend their days. On Friday, the women and children were able to take their first baths, ever since they had to run away from their homes after the communal riots struck different parts of North East Delhi. They don’t have clothes to wear. No medicines to offer to their sick, elderly and children. No money to acquire the essentials. And no safety to step out of the colony.
This building is owned by relatives of Mustari Khatoon and Mohammad Hakim. They have rented the home from these relatives, and live here as tenants. When death was knocking at the doors of women and children in the nearby localities, Khatoon had risked her life to save them. “The police was not allowing us to leave the lanes in Khajuri. I told them I will leave only when all women and children are given safe passage. The forces helped us to return to Chandu Nagar,” she said.
On Tuesday, communal violence had peaked in Sherpur, Chand Bagh and Khajuri Khas Extension. Muslim households were being marked and set on fire; with an intention to burn them alive inside. The rioters from the other camp were targeting Hindu households in certain pockets where adjoining neighbourhoods were dominated by Muslims. The rioting and ruckus continued as Delhi Police tried to restore peace.
Mohammad Hakim and his wife have opened their house to the victims from their community. But their financial strength is not strong enough to provide these families with anything else. “Whatever ration we had at home got over in two days. Now, for food, we are dependent on whatever rations come from outside as help,” Khatoon told Asaiville. The kitchen too is not equipped to provide food for such large numbers.
The building used to house four families on four floors including that of Hakim and his wife. Now it houses nearly 70 people. This means there is an endless struggle even to access basic facilities such as washrooms and toilets.
Hasrat-ul-Begum, 38, a resident of Khajuri Khas extension, said she kept calling the women’s helpline number but to no avail. They had to run for their lives when the fire reached their houses. “Our houses were set on fire while we were still inside. I climbed onto the terrace and ran away with our children,” she said. This meant they didn’t even have enough time to carry their valuables, cash or even clothes. Many of these families have gone back to their homes to try their luck. But structures which used to be their homes have been reduced to debris and everything has been either gutted or ransacked.
It was for the Friday prayers that the locals arranged clothes for the riot-affected families. Begum said, “we bathed and changed clothes for the first time since Tuesday. The colony people have provided us with clothes for the Friday prayers.”
On the lanes of Chandu Bagh, children could be spotted searching for the right piece of clothes. Here we met five-year-old Saina. Before the riots, she had her own home, books and clothes. Now she was standing in the middle of a heap of used clothes. “I have found one shirt for my father and kurti for my sister,” Saina said. When asked whether she has found anything for herself, she replied, “I am here for my sister and father.”
The locals and civil society groups have been doing rounds in the colony – donating clothes and items for ration.
Under the protection of para-military forces, trucks carrying milk and packaged food items are moving in these areas.
On Tuesday, when 23-year-old Juhi Parveen took safe refuge in Chandu Nagar, her daughter was only ten days old. The infant has now been named Sana Khan and her life was at risk in the same week she was born. “Down in the lane, the riots were going on. We held our hands and escaped through the terrace. She was rescued in a similar fashion.” Juhi might have managed to save her daughter's life but at present, both mother and child need medical access. “Sana and I need doctors. We were supposed to visit the doctor for a check up and her medicines,” she said.
The curfew outside doesn’t allow free movement. Moreover, they fear for their lives. Gulnaaz, 35, has been given refuge at Hakim’s building. “The smoke and heat that she suffered on Tuesday has affected my daughter Khushi’s health. She has been suffering from acute stomach-ache. Neither I am left with any money or courage to take her to the hospital,” she said while holding Khushi in her arms. She says, “We need police protection to visit the hospital as we are not very sure about our safety.”
Ideally, the Delhi government should have set up relief camps for these victim families with police protection and access to medical care. Many of them are suffering from psychological trauma. These Muslims families hail mainly from Bihar Khagaria district and adjoining areas. They have lost everything they had built with efforts made by two generations.
Now the search for shelter and a house is the biggest challenge. A few metres from here, near Chandu Nagar Mosque, a three-floor building is giving refuge to another 50-70 riot victims.
The house is owned by a builder Mohammad Kavil and his wife Muni Khatoon. 30-year-old Khatoon told Asiaville, “In the first two days, nearly 250-300 people had taken refuge in the house. With passing days many went back to Bihar and some relocated to those areas of Delhi and Noida which are not affected by the riots.”
Her kitchen only has a two-burner gas stove – incapable of providing for such a large crowd at once. Her tenant Sazia Parveen, 22, shared how they struggled to provide even water to those who had taken refuge at their home. “The water purifier failed to process water for so many people. Eventually, people had to drink water directly from the taps,” Sazia said.
The families living here had to survive without bathing, changing clothes and the washroom too remained inaccessible. As days passed, the crowd reduced. Currently, 20 women, 15 children and 10 male members are still living here.
Fortunately, Muni’s house hasn’t run out of rations. “Together we have been cooking khichdi thrice a day as there are no vegetables. I can’t cook for myself and leave them hungry,” Muni said. Riot victims, especially women, have been pleading with her to let them live in her house. But that would also mean extra pressure on the limited resources.
Mohammad Saifi, 33, has taken refuge in this building. His house and general store were located in Fatima Masjid lane in Khajuri Khas Extension. Both have been ransacked and gutted. Saifi wonders how long they can stay dependent on families such as Muni Khatoon’s.
“The Kejriwal government should act now. We can’t stay dependent on others for food for long. The least Kejriwal can do is to set up relief camps in our areas,” Saifi said in a pleading tone.
Notably, 45-year-old Ibrana, who has been staying in this building since Tuesday, can’t even imagine that possibility. “You people are discussing a relief camp. You are talking about our houses. Right now, we are barely getting roti twice a day.”
While the Kejriwal government has announced a compensation policy for riot victims, it needs to act in a way that would take away basic struggles being faced by those taking refuge localities like Chandu Nagar.
The AAP leadership needs to think -- is it that difficult to set up mobile washrooms and make-shift clinics for elderly and children?
The police officials have been distributing forms in the riot-affected localities. But this fails to address the immediate needs of the people.
At Shiv Vihar market, houses and establishments owned by Hindu families were targeted.
The rioters had unleashed havoc here.
Sujith Tomar’s house is located in the lane next to the car parking which was gutted. The Muslim households here remained untouched and anything and everything owned by the Hindu families were strategically set on fire.
For hours, the Hindu families kept their houses bolted from inside. It was only when the paramilitary forces came to the rescue that they dared to step out of their houses.
Tomar has been living with his relatives in Mustafabad. “The government is yet to offer us even a piece of bread as a relief. It is our Hindu relatives who have given us shelter and food since we ran off from here,” Tomar said.
Unlike Khajuri Khas localities, affected Hindu families of Shiv Vihar market have taken refuge in different localities of Delhi.
A few kilometres from here is Brijpuri. Karan Kapoor’s house and business have been set on fire. “Everything I owned has been gutted by the rioters,” Kapoor said. Notably, he had sustained injuries on his face and back due to the stone pelting by the rioters. “I have not been able to visit a doctor due to curfew,” Kapoor told Asiaville. It again brings back the question of whether the Kejriwal government needs permission from the Central government to bring medical relief to these families.
Back in Chandu Nagar, 35-year-old Safina Begum narrated the story of how her house was set on fire when she ran away with her six children from Khajuri Khas Extension. She too belongs to Bihar’s Khagaria.
“Meine mauth ko apne ankhon se dekha. Ab bhi raat ko jab soti hoon to lagta hai ki mauth ankhon ke samen fir aake khadi ho gai hai", she said. This translates to, “I have seen death right infront of my eyes. And pangs of death are still too palpable for me to sleep. I haven’t been able to sleep at night”.
“It feels like someone might attack us, throw petrol bombs on our bodies. We need relief camps and security,” she continued. Safina longs to go back to her two-storey house in Fatima Masjid. “I don’t wish to name any of the attackers. All that we need is an assurance of our safety from neighbours, so that we can rebuild our houses.” The emotional trauma is too big for these families.
The least the Central government and Kejriwal-led Delhi government can do is to provide them with essentials.