Delhi riots: Homeless in the city

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on March 13, 2020

Endless wait: A bird’s eye view of the eidgah at Mustafabad, which is now also a relief camp for riot-affected families   -  reuters/anushree fadnavis

Riot-hit people who have taken shelter in a Delhi relief camp fear that it is going to be a long walk home

The blue road signs on the way to the Eidgah relief camp in Mustafabad point to colonies that continue to conjure up images of death and destruction. Khajoori Khas, Bhajanpura, Bhagirathi Vihar and Shiv Vihar — these are all residential areas that witnessed the worst of violence in north-east Delhi late last month.

Lining the roads are charred buildings. Some shops have opened, but the neighbourhoods wear a deserted look, with large sections of residents having sought relief in a camp set up by the Delhi government.

The Eidgah camp is spilling over with people. Jostling for space on the steps leading up to it are relatives of the riot-affected, asking for permission to go inside and meet their kin. Separate timings are displayed on a board for relief supplies and donations, media and others in a bid to manage the large crowds.

Civil and government organisations have set up temporary offices inside, and are offering medical and legal aid as well as police assistance. Two weeks after the riots of February 23-26 — which left 53 dead, 200 injured and 19 mosques damaged — there is little to indicate that the situation has returned to normal.

Over 1,000 people moved to the camp after the violence, according to the Delhi government. The Delhi Legal Services Authority set up by the district magistrate is offering legal aid, but the residents point out that the biggest stumbling block is in the filing of the first information report (FIR), needed for any redress.

“I went to the police and found that FIRs are still not being registered. Instead, a mere case diary number is being issued. In place of independent FIRs for individuals, the cases are being clubbed with an FIR that has already been registered,” says SH Hasnain, a senior Supreme Court advocate present at the camp.

The problem with this system, he points out, is that cases of arson and loot are being filed as minor offences such as theft. “This means that the accused would be out on bail in a day or two. But the written complaint of the aggrieved clearly states the rioters attacked the party concerned with the intentions of killing them. The rioters had weapons, with which they attacked them in vulnerable parts of the body such as their heads. There are many complaints of looting as well.”

The police officers on the premises claim that the situation is under control and it is business as usual, even as thousands of people who were affected by the riots wait inside and outside the camp for paperwork and other help.

Some cannot go back home because their houses have been burned to cinders, others because they still fear for their lives.

Take Salman Khan, an 18-year-old autorickshaw driver whose room was torched down by the rioters. Since the violence, Khan says, he has not slept in his bed. Through the day he is at work, at night he moves to the camp. “I don’t know anything about the future right now,” he laments.

A state-appointed desk, with some of the local youth serving as the ‘civil defence force’, are managing activity and traffic to and fro from the camp. No Union minister has visited the camp yet.

Mohammed Imran, nodal officer of the Delhi Waqf Board running the relief camp at the Mustafabad mosque, says the board is seeking to comfort and rehabilitate the affected. “There are separate camps for women, men and pregnant women within the premises. Child rights groups have been keeping children engaged and providing them with counselling. Medical and legal aid is at hand. We have a police help desk to help people get their FIRs registered.”

He adds that while several civil organisations from across the country have come forward with food, clothing, medicines and other necessities for the riot-affected families, they are in need of more.

At present, there are 730 people in the camp. Imran stresses that the problems of those whose identity documents such as Aadhaar cards were burnt in the fire are being addressed. “Things are much more streamlined now,” he adds. Delhi Minorities Commission member Anshu Anthony, however, said in a recent statement that riot-affected families at the camp seeking to return home were being turned back by paramilitary personnel. “We are appealing to the government to provide the residents with security so they may be rehabilitated,” says Imran.

The residents, clearly, are still in a state of panic. Locals point out that every night since the riots, a male member from every household in the affected areas has been patrolling the colonies.

News of police actions — some unsubstantiated — are flying thick and fast.

“The police have been picking up young men, torturing them and slapping them with false charges,” holds Mohammed Umar, 18, a Std XII Student from Mustafabad. He says a young relative was arrested without cause and the family had to furnish ₹50,000 to get him released.

“Our parents have forbidden us from leaving our colonies, or even talking on the phones, as they fear even the phones may be tapped,” he says.

As days turn into weeks, displaced people await justice, count missing persons and the dead, and look at a bleak future bereft of loved ones, belongings and jobs. “After all this is over, I will have to see how to feed my newborn,” says a local tailor who does not wish to be identified. “Can you help me get my belongings back,” he asks.

Payel Majumdar Upreti

Published on March 12, 2020

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