As Bareilly burned and tense policemen tried to restore order on its streets, Ramzan Ali (30), a small-time trader, and his family were trapped in their house in the Chak Mehmood locality in the old city.
As the days passed and Hindu and Muslim mobs ran amok, the curfew continued. Food started running out. And the markets were deserted.
Ali’s three-year-old son, unaware of the communal fire scorching the town, demanded ice-cream, and started bawling when offered papads and chapatis that a friendly cop had slipped into their home.
“None of us had imagined the curfew would continue that long (more than two weeks). There was a time when we survived on chapatis and salt,” Ali said. “Even flour stocks vanished.”
On Tuesday, he purchased essentials during a six-hour relaxation of curfew. After 2 p.m., the curfew was back. At the height of the violence, which started on March 2 and has shown signs of ebbing only in the past couple of days, the city’s main vegetable market at Qutubkhana was in flames, banks would barely open, businesses went into a coma and medicine shops were locked.
Waseem Barelvi (60), a poet and former head of the Urdu department in Bareilly College, wept at a peace committee meeting a couple of days ago. “What has happened to my Bareilly?”
There are no easy answers to that one. But the city’s 1 million residents are desperate for normalcy to return.
Dr Ashok Agarwal, owner of the Rohelkhand Private Medical College, said the violence affected the poor and daily wage earners the most. “They must have slept hungry and stared helplessly in a medical emergency.”
The admission rate in his hospital dropped by 90 per cent during the curfew, he said.
With the city’s major markets either closed or vandalised, there has been a major demand-supply gap, with prices of the limited essential commodities shooting up.
“We do business worth Rs 1 crore daily. So you can imagine how much cash clearance is held up. It would be around Rs 500 crore at least,” a bank official said.
“The overall loss to business would be around Rs 750 crore,” Mukesh Singhal, the office bearer of an industrial body said.
D.P. Bhasin, who mans a computerised railway ticket counter said there was a “sharp decline” in the number of people leaving the city.
“The success of any business depends on mobility,” he said. “But these days no one is coming in, no one is going out.”