Till a month ago, Haroon Ali had a home, work as a part-time driver and an additional source of income from supplying stationery to shops. Then the riots stormed through North East Delhi, uprooting hundreds. Ali and his wife, as their home and belongings in Shiv Vihar were destroyed by mobs. The family sought shelter in a relief camp in the neighbouring locality of Old Mustafabad.
Then the coronavirus pandemic arrived in India, shutting down cities, districts, states and finally the whole country. It shut down the relief camp, too, forcing the families who still remained there to look for accommodation elsewhere. Ali and his wife, who is pregnant and due any time, took shelter with relatives in Maujpur, also in North East Delhi.
Now, a coronavirus case has been detected in the heart of Maujpur. A doctor at the mohalla clinic , or community health centre, set up by the Aam Aadmi Party government in Maujpur tested positive for the virus, officials said on Wednesday. His wife and daughter have also tested positive, forcing authorities to put 900 people in the area under quarantine. The doctor is said to have got the virus from a woman who returned from Saudi Arabia and visited the clinic on March 12. Everyone who visited the clinic between March 12 and 18 has been alerted.
Ali and his wife, who moved to Maujpur only in the last couple of days, may not be in that number. But in the densely populated localities of North East Delhi, there is danger of contagion spreading fast. Ali has no choice but to stay on in Maujpur, even though he has few means to fight the virus.
“A person will look for a house if they have anything, even to buy tea you need Rs 5-Rs 10 – I have nothing,” said 33-year-old Ali. Although they had applied for compensation, they had got nothing yet, he said. They had been sent on their way from the camp with a few bags of rations.
With no money, there is no way for him to acquire stationery supplies. “With Delhi on lockdown, how can I find work as a driver?” he asked.
Like thousands hit by humanitarian crises across the world, the effects of the pandemic on the victims of Delhi’s communal violence have been two-fold. There is the direct threat of the disease, currently on the rise in India. Then there is the added economic distress, displacement and insecurity for people who have already lost everything.
In February, simmering tensions over the Citizenship Amendment Act erupted into full-fledged violence, much of it directed against North East Delhi’s Muslim minority. In the end, 53 people were dead. Scores of homes and shops were set alight while others were looted.
Hundreds of Muslim families who fled their homes later took shelter in a temporary camp set up at the Eidgah in Old Mustafabad. Volunteer groups and the Waqf Board, which supervises Muslim properties, had set it up with the help of the Delhi government. Here, people who had lost everything were provided with food and clothes. Primary medical aid was dispensed. Kiosks were set up by non-governmental organisations to help them fill up compensation forms to be submitted to the Delhi government.
At its peak, the camp is estimated to have held about 1,000 people, packed together in tents, clothes and bedding often soaked by the unseasonal rain. Hundreds of families had to use mobile toilets parked outside the Eidgah enclosure. With the coronavirus pandemic spreading into India, even this place of relative safety suddenly became a potential hotspot for disease. Mohammad Shadab, who had stayed at the camp for several weeks, said they had no soap or medicines to fend off potential infection.
For a couple of weeks now, families had started trickling out. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, the remaining families were told to leave. “We said we will not leave until we get compensation,” said Mohammad Shadab, who had lost his home in Shiv Vihar. “They told us if you don’t, we’ll dismantle the camp and make you leave.”
Compensation held up
Shadab, who is also homeless after his rooms in Shiv Vihar were destroyed, has filed for compensation but said he has got nothing, except for Rs 2,000 doled out in the immediate aftermath of the violence. But even the Delhi government’s compensation drive is held up by the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown.
“Multiple applications were filed per person,” said an official in the Delhi government, who did not want to be identified. “Some were filed by NGOs, some they filed on their own. So we were not able to process all of them.”
With the virus spreading and the subsequent lockdown, the official said, legal teams had not been able to visit the area. Some had got interim compensation – those who had lost a family member were to get Rs 1 lakh from the Delhi government, those whose house had been burned Rs 20,000.
“Everyone who has filed an application will get compensation,” the official said. “Everyone who has got interim compensation will definitely get it. But because of Covid, that’s been held up.”
The Union home ministry circular released soon after Modi announced a lockdown on March 24 said all government offices would be closed except for a few handling police, defence and essential services.
Shadab had been looking for a house for a while and found a place just in time. Earlier this week he moved back to Shiv Vihar with his wife, Soni, and their two children, aged three and 16 months. The rent for their new lodgings is Rs 3,000. Shadab said he does not have any money save the Rs 2,000 he was handed. When they left the camp, they were given about 40 kilogrammes of dry rations, he said, and another 10 kilogrammes of potatoes.
Many Muslim residents of Shiv Vihar who fled ravaged homes are fearful of going back to the Hindu-majority locality that turned hostile overnight. But Shadab, who was a drainage worker before the riots and earned a daily wage, has bigger worries now. “My biggest worry is finding work,” he said.
For Raees Ahmad, who had to flee his home in Sabhapur, there is no going back. He has lodgings near the Dilshad Masjid in Mustafabad, a few kilometres away from his old home. The rent is Rs 4,000. At a time of social distancing, 11 members of his family are crammed into two small rooms. “What to do, I have no choice,” said 41-year-old Ahmad. “They gave us Rs 25,000 but that doesn’t cover anything.”
Pillaging mobs burned his home, including his scooter and their washing machine. In better times, Ahmad had run a watch shop. That was also burned down, he said.
“We are asking for help – there is no money here,” said Ahmad. But he is still resolute. “Once this bimari [illness] passes, I will start my shop again,” said Ahmad. “That’s my plan.”