“Hum poori tarah se barbad hai,” said 41-year-old Shahnaz Idrisi. We have been completely ruined. Idrisi and her family were among scores who fled from their homes as communal violence gripped North East Delhi from February 23 to 26.
At least 53 people were killed during the violence, most of them Muslims. Hundreds were injured and more than a thousand people were displaced from their homes. For weeks, decomposed bodies were still being fished out of drains from around North East Delhi, the epicentre of the violence.
Before the displaced families could return home, a new strain of coronavirus, characterised as a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, began to sweep through Delhi.
After exactly two months, the violence seems like a distant past. India has been under a nationwide lockdown since March 25 to curb the spread of the coronavirus that has affected 19,984 and left 640 dead across the country as of April 22. The national capital alone has recorded more than 2,000 cases.
However, this has not stopped Delhi Police from filing cases and arresting people who they accuse of instigating the violence.
On Tuesday, police booked Jamia Millia Islamia students Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar, and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid for allegedly hatching a conspiracy to incite communal riots under the draconian anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and on charges of sedition, murder, rioting and attempt to create enmity between groups on ground of religion.
On April 13, The Indian Express reported that Delhi police had made more than 800 arrests in connection with the violence after officials from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs asked the police to ensure that the investigation does not slow down. An unidentified official was quoted in the report saying that the ministry “insisted that police must continue making arrests under any circumstances”.
But families affected by the violence still continue to pick up pieces of the livelihoods they lost.
Idrisi and her husband Mohammad Shaukeen, 42, ran a tailoring shop below their house, in gali number seven in Shiv Vihar, which was ransacked. Their home was looted – jewellery and cash amounting to Rs 2 lakh was stolen – before it was burnt to the ground, Idrisi said. In their compensation form, the family pegged its losses at around Rs 15 lakh but they have not yet received any compensation from the Delhi government.
The family had filed a first information report on February 28 at Karawal Nagar police station about the attack but had not heard back from the police about the investigation in two months, Idrisi said.
Their savings have dried up and going out to earn is not an option either.
All Idrisi has left is one kilo of onions, half a kilo of wheat flour, some tea, spices and half a container of cooking oil to feed the family of six. “This will just last us for the next two days if we eat properly twice a day,” she said over the phone.
No money, no food
Before the riots, the family lived in Shiv Vihar. As violence ensued, several families from here fled to neighbouring areas. On February 25 night, Idrisi and Shaukeen fled from their home with their four children aged 18, 17, 16 and seven.
They stayed with their relatives in Loni, a town in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, for a few days till they rented a room there for Rs 3,500 per month. The family has not been able to pay rent for April, Idrisi said.
Idrisi has a ration card that the family used to get food grains on April 2 from the ration shop in Shiv Vihar. She got 17 kgs of wheat and 5 kgs of rice that they travelled to get on their motorcycle. But she said she was unsure of how they would step out the next month to travel to the ration shop in Shiv Vihar.
Another family from the locality, Mohammad Shadab, 23, and his 20-year-old wife Soni, and their two children, aged three years and 15 months, had not yet received any compensation. The Delhi government offered Rs 5 lakh for total damage of residential units, Rs 2.5 lakh for substantial damage and Rs 15,000 for minor damage. For the loss of household items in homes that were damaged, Rs 25,000 has been assured as immediate relief.
Shadab and his family fled from their home in Shiv Vihar on the night of February 25. They lived next to Medina Masjid, a mosque that was desecrated that night. After the violence, the family stayed in a house that the owner opened for them. They later moved to a relief camp in Eidgah, Mustafabad that was set up by the Delhi government. On March 24, however after the nationwide lockdown was announced, the camp was cleared out.
Three hundred families living at the camp scrambled to find another place to shelter. Before they left the camp, authorities had given families a bag rations weighing 40 kgs that consisted of wheat flour, rice, sugar, and 10 kgs of potatoes, Shadab said. His family moved into a room in Shiv Vihar but he has not been able to pay his landlord the rent of Rs 2,000.
“I have asked him to wait till I find work,” said Shadab, who worked as a daily-wage earner and has just about Rs 260 left.
Ten days ago, some residents in the locality distributed 5 kgs of wheat flour, one kilo of dal, half a litre of oil, some spices and bathing soap to every family that had moved back to the locality after the violence. The leftover ration will last the family two days more, he said. They do not have a ration card either.
Some of these families found it difficult to cope under the lockdown after being displaced from their homes because of the riots.
“We would be much better off if the riots had not happened,” Shadab said. “I cannot forget how they broke the masjid. I did not expect my friends to turn against us like this.”
Both Idrisi and Shadab said they would have preferred to go back to their families in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had the lockdown been announced days before it was enforced.
But even then, Idrisi was having a hard time convincing her daughters to move to her parents’ home in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. “They have lost faith,” she said. “They do not want to move. They cried so much that night [February 25]. I do not know what would have happened to them if we did not run.”
Shadab’s home was further away in Bihar’s Araria district. He wanted to book a train ticket but transport services were stopped as the lockdown was announced. Some of his neighbours in Shiv Vihar who came from Uttar Pradesh walked back to their villages, he said. Besides, not all families returned to the locality in the aftermath of the violence. “Shiv Vihar is empty now,” he said.
Living under the lockdown after the violence meant that Idrisi would not be able to plan her 18-year-old daughter’s wedding.
“Our tension has just increased,” she said. “She was supposed to get married in April. But we do not even have jewellery or clothes now. We left everything. My children had such good clothes.”
Shadab said he was not afraid of the spread of the virus as the family had some soap and supply of water but said he unsure of how they would observe and fast during the month of Ramzan, which starts on April 23.
“We need fruits and dates...these are very expensive to buy,” said Shadab. “We have to drink milk in the morning but the kirana store is not allowing us to buy on credit...I can understand they [grocers] are also struggling. How will we fast?”