“Way to Pakistan” and Delhi’s riot relief camps
In a relief camp in North East Delhi: residents long for their homes. But distrust and fear stop them from returning. In the course of tracking these relief camps, Asiaville also met a government official who identifies himself as a “kattar Hindu” and has been forced to work for Muslims because of “duty”.
“Oh, Pakistan!” the Sikh man in his late forties said. “Go straight on this road, take a left and cross over to the other side. You will reach Pakistan.” He along with four other men guided us.
We’ll let you know what we saw when we got there.
February 23, exactly a week after Arvind Kejriwal took the oath as the Delhi Chief Minister for the third time, marked the beginning of the worst communal riots that the national capital has witnessed since 1984. The Delhi 2020 riots have claimed over 50 lives and scarred hundreds of families for the rest of their lives. Homes have been burned down, mosques attacked, valuables looted, and livelihoods have been destroyed.
Naturally, the first relief measures required were a place to stay, food, and clothes. The Delhi government has, albeit belatedly, set up nearly 11 relief camps for the riot-affected families. The Kejriwal government’s move to convert night shelters into riot relief camps was criticised by a number of civil society members. The major concern was about the safety of these families. The second argument was that these families have been rendered homeless because of the riots and setting them up in night shelters might adversely impact their dignity or self-respect.
Asiaville travelled to relief camps set up by the government. Two of these were the night shelters which have been converted into relief camps.
Jaffrabad Metro Station became the flashpoint between the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) mob and the pro CAA mob. Anti-CAA protesters had set up a road blockade at this site. Barely two kilometres from here is the anti-CAA sit-in protest which has been going on for the past two months. Fear and rioting has gripped the nearby localities. The lane on the right leads you to the Night Shelter in Seelampur Kabari Market.
Despite being near riot-affected localities, the relief camp here was completely empty. Mohammad Rafique, the caretaker of the camp, told Asiaville, “We have made arrangements for 50 women and children and 50 men. The arrangements for meals have been done as well. But we are yet to see any families.”
The blankets, beds, and storage boxes wait for victim families. The washroom meant for disabled people has been reassigned to women residents.
It was only on the night of February 27 that a few families had rushed to this camp. “They had come here on the night of February 27 but they left for relatives' homes in the morning,” the caretaker of the camp said.
Notably, Rafique acknowledged the biggest flaw of the relief camp – security. “We don’t have any security arrangements for these families. We do stay in touch with the beat police officials but no security deployment has been made for the camp.”
Women riot victims in Chandu Nagar told Asiaville that they want to shift to relief camps which are closer to their homes and have proper security deployment.
Another relief camp that is yet to see any riot victim families is the facility at the Shastri Park red light. ‘Riot affected families are welcome here’, reads the banner hanging outside the portacabin.
Idrish Ahmed, the caretaker of the night shelter, told Asiaville that the arrangements had been made for three meals and accommodation for forty people. Notably, no special arrangements have been made to accommodate or reassure the victims. On offer are the same beds, bedsheets, and blankets for victim families which are used by the homeless on other nights.
Idrsih confirmed that no security has been deployed here either. When asked why families might not have turned up at this centre, he said, “The facility is far off from the riot-affected area. They would preferably go to their relatives’ house.” He further added, staying at a night shelter might hurt the self-respect of the families who until yesterday owned their houses in Delhi.
Wakf bringing relief at the Idgah Camp
What does it take to cook food for hundreds of families, thrice a day, without any payment or monetary return? The kitchen in Mustafabad’s Idgah has been serving food to hundreds of riot-affected families for days now.
While the camp has been set up by the Delhi government, the Delhi Wakf Board has been taking care of the management ever since it was set up. On Wednesday, for the first time, mattresses were brought to the camp.
Hospitals have set up their medical camps at the Idgah. There are classrooms for children. It has the legal authority, help desks for filing complaints, and hundreds of volunteers to assist the families. There are booths to help victims fill up the compensation claim forms. There is heavy security deployment and officials working round the clock. The Delhi Wakf Board chief and incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Amanatullah Khan have been personally overseeing the arrangement.
Probably that's the reason the Idgah relief camp is witnessing a heavy rush of victim families. Almost all of them belong to the Muslim community. Several families who went to stay with their relatives after fleeing from their homes have now relocated to this camp.
47-year-old Riyaz Ahmed’s family is one such family. Ahmed was a resident of North East Delhi’s Chaman Park locality. Even though the rioters were kind enough not to torch his house, Ahmed told Asiaville that everything in the house has either been looted or damaged. His 12-year-old son Sameer’s books are missing. “The mob tore my books and threw it,” Sameer said. When asked whether he knows any of the attackers by name or face, he said, “I can’t say who they were or what was their identity. I can’t blame anyone.”
Meanwhile, Ahmed is planning to return to his house as soon as possible. “We can’t stay in camps or someone else’s house for long. We have to rebuild our homes, search for jobs, and get our life back on track,” he said. “Once we return, the police should deploy five officers in our lanes that would assure us that we are safe,” the 47-year-old fruit-seller said.
Ahmed is not the only one who wants to return home. In Karawal Nagar’s Sri Ram Colony, roughly forty families have taken refuge at a community centre. The centre was among one of the first facilities set up by the Delhi government to provide relief to riot victims. The families here had fled their homes in Garhi Mendu village. Many of them shifted to this centre as early as February 25.
Garhi Mendu, a village in Karawal Nagar, is probably the saddest story of these riots. The Muslims here were allegedly attacked by their own neighbours. The attack was allegedly unprovoked. Several Muslim families had been living in this village – dominated by the Gujjar community – for more than two decades. Now their houses have been ransacked, a few were torched, and Muslim men were beaten up with sticks and rods.
The mosque in Garhi Mendu was damaged and the Maulvi of the mosque was attacked by the communally frenzied mob.
The facility is a guarantee of safety to them. The personnel of Delhi Police, the para-military, and the Delhi Government’s Civil Defence has been deployed for the safety of the residents. The officers from the sub-divisional magistrate’s office have been overseeing the arrangements minutely. So much so that there is a safety check mechanism in place even for the food being brought to the facility. TS Joshi, a government official attached to the SDM office, told Asiaville, “Whoever brings the food at this relief camp is made to eat random samples. We never know the intention of those offering help. I personally can’t risk the lives of so many families.” He further added that the donors are asked to submit a copy of their identification proofs.
The residents here claimed that the arrangements at the relief camp were more than what they expected. Kids can be noticed jumping around, playing endlessly. The elders either spend their days chatting and at times kill hours playing Ludo.
Even though one fails to see any bed sheets on the mattresses – nobody seems to be complaining.
Longing for home appeared to be the strongest feeling. Asma, 37, along with her daughter and two sons, has been staying at the camp for the past week. Even though she doesn’t have any complaints about the government or those handling the camp, she said it feels like “I am living in a jail.” When asked why, Asma responded saying, “Bas dum sa ghutta hai. apna ghar to apna hota hai.” (I feel suffocated here. Nothing can compensate the longing for our own homes.)
Two of the three floors of their houses had been torched by the rioters. Her 20-year-old daughter, Zareena said, “Here we are dependent on others for everything. Even for timing for food.” Both mother and daughter wish to return to their home.
But not everyone has been able to cope with the physical and emotional trauma of the riots. Akeel Ahmed, 64, has been scarred after what transpired on February 24 and 25. “I am planning to leave the relief camp in a few days. But I can’t go back to that village,” Ahmed said. He was first attacked with sticks and rods in front of his wife, and then his house was set on fire.
Ahmed and his wife Chaand Bibi said that they can identify each of the attackers. “Many of these attackers included kids who had grown up in front of our eyes,” Bibi, 62, said. Ahmed has stitches on his head.
Ahmed was part of the peace meeting that took place between the representatives of the Hindu residents of Garhi Mendu, and the representatives of Muslims on March 4. However, he said that the meeting was futile for him. “Unless the village council members give in writing that they will bear the cost of any property loss and will be held responsible for lives of Muslims, I can’t go back to that village,” he said, further adding that his family will now look for a rented apartment.
The reason for such fear is genuine. The Delhi riots might be over, but the hate remains in the North East district. Remember the comment made by the Sikh guy, in his forties, at the beginning of this story? That comment was made in Karawal Nagar. This hate and lack of trust could be the factors that fuelled the Delhi riots for four days. It is a strong enough reason for the riot victims not to trust their neighbours when they return to their homes.
On Wednesday, this correspondent met a government official whose comments left us shocked. This official is in charge of one of the biggest relief camps, run by the Delhi government, for Muslim victims. This extremely efficient government official considers the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Kapil Mishra a “real Hindu Sher'' because of the hate speech he made at Maijpur Chowk. This official said, “My duty has forced me to serve the Muslims here, work for them, but my heart is with my Hindu brothers who were attacked by this community.”
With a big smile on his face, this public servant narrated a story about how he rebuked a Hindu girl – the head of an NGO – for proposing to donate money to Muslim riot victims instead of Hindus.
In the course of the conversation, he likened the Muslims to terrorists. Why? “These Muslims hold meetings in the night. They discuss the CAA and NRC. That is why I don’t feel safe around them. Who knows, the moment I fall asleep, they might strangle me.” If a government official professes such a strong feeling of hatred, the sense of insecurity felt by the riot victims cannot be outrightly dismissed.
The Delhi riots have burnt down the bridge of trust. It might take years to rebuild it.