On Wednesday afternoon, a toddler dressed in a pink-striped sweater and red pants sat patiently at Dayalpur Police Station in North East Delhi’s Gokulpuri. She did not speak much and fiddled with the strings hanging from her sweater as policemen hovered around her, making calls to look for her parents.
The toddler, as Scroll.in reported on March 2, was found crying next to Medina Masjid in Shiv Vihar on February 24, as communal violence engulfed the area. She was spotted by Saood Alam and his family who were escaping the violence. Alam picked her up and brought her to a mosque where his family took refuge. Later, they moved to an empty house in Babunagar which had been opened up by its owner to accommodate displaced families.
The toddler was in Alam’s care since that day. While she spoke enough to ask for food, she was unable to reveal her name.
After the report was published, volunteers working with the Delhi government contacted Scroll.in, seeking more details on the child. On March 4, a coordinator from the Delhi Commission for Women visited the relief camp where the toddler was staying and brought her and Alam to the police station to file a missing complaint.
At the police station, Alam stood close to the child. As policemen scrambled to take down details, a bearded man walked in and claimed to be the grandfather of the child. He identified himself as Mohammad Haroon, 60, and said that the child’s name was Safiya and that his son Javir and daughter-in-law Zulekha were her parents.
A resident of Shiv Vihar, Haroon runs a cart in Babunagar, two km away. He said Safiya lived with him and his 18-year-old daughter since her parents worked in another part of Delhi.
On February 24, when violence broke out, he fled the area with his daughter and granddaughter around 8 pm. As they were escaping, the toddler fell behind. “She stopped at some point and I did not even come to know,” he said.
Haroon and his daughter spent the night on the streets of the nearby locality of Chaman Park, which was an oasis in the middle of the storm. The next morning, a stranger offered them space in his room in Babunagar after which Haroon began to search for the toddler – but could not find her.
Days went by. He lost hope.
Then, on March 4, a volunteer informed Haroon that his grandchild was at the police station.
Within an hour of Haroon’s entry, a harried-looking man dressed in a red shirt and pants dashed into the police station. He identified himself as Javir, 30, and claimed that he was Safiya’s father.
Javir, who goes by a single name, said he had just found out that his child had gone missing – his father had called him an hour ago and asked him to come to the police station. Asked why he hadn’t informed his son, or reported the missing child to the police, Haroon looked lost and offered no clear answers.
Meanwhile, the policemen and the coordinator from the Delhi Commission for Women, a woman named Parvati, looked at Javir suspiciously and asked him to prove that he was the child’s father. Javir took out his phone and showed videos of Safiya he had clicked on January 4. The child in the video and the child sitting at the police station looked identical.
But more proof was needed.
Safiya did not have an Aadhaar card or any other identity proof made, Javir said. But he called his relatives in Araria, Bihar, where the family hails from and got them to send a copy of the Mother and Child Protection Card made during Safiya’s birth to keep track of her immunisation.
The card noted that the child named Safiya was born on April 20, 2017.
A hardworking family
The next to arrive at the police station was Safiya’s mother, Zulekha, who took hold of her as soon as she saw her.
Both Javir and Zulekha were daily wage workers who were employed by a contractor on a drainage project. While the couple’s older children – Shama, 10, and Astara, 5 – lived with them near their work site, they were forced to leave Safiya behind. “In the past, there were instances of children drowning in the drain and the contractor did not want it to happen again,” Javir said.
Despite this, Javir and Zulekha would go meet their daughter regularly and saw her just days before the violence began. “I was too scared to go to the area after the violence started,” he said. “I thought they would be fine.”
On Wednesday evening, Investigating Officer Hem Raj filled out the family’s statement, as the parents got restless to leave. Javir and Zulekha said they had decided to keep Safiya with them. They would go back to their house in Seelampur while Alam and Haroon would head back to the relief camps.
Safiya latched on tightly to her mother, resting her head on her chest. Zulekha, meanwhile, began to plan her homecoming meal. “She eats a lot and she loves rice,” she said.