A few months ago, Pinky would wake up every morning, wear warm clothes to beat the mountain chill and head for school. Now, she wakes up around the same time — to go out begging. She begs for money, food and warm clothes as Delhi’s winter gets harsh, even for this Kashmiri girl.
The 13-year-old lives in a makeshift slum, a kind of camp for Kashmiris, in Seelampur with her family and dozens like them. The families moved to Delhi after a major fire that erupted in the army’s ammunition dump in Khundroo — the biggest in Kashmir — destroyed their homes on August 11.
At the slum, two officials from DDA scouting for an exact count of Kashmiris, is enough to send the distraught lot into silence. Their eyes greet every new face with suspicion. “Last week the police came and said the Republic Day is approaching, restrict your movements. That means no work. For most of January, men will not venture out. Kashmiris are always suspect,” says Ibrahim Dar. Add to this government apathy and you have dozens of children from the hamlet turn into beggars on Delhi’s streets.
Pinky's father Sadiq worked as carpet weaver back home. Now he lifts bags at the Azadpur Mandi. "Yet he can't make enough money to feed us all," says Pinky.
Sonu, 15, too moves from house to house, for money or food. This Class X student wants to get back to school and to his mud-and-stone house in the Valley. "The elders say we are yet to get the money from the government. So we have to stay before we can get our homes," he says. The only thing he knows for sure is that the date for going back keeps getting extended.
Ministry of Defence officials admit there has been a delay in disbursing the ex-gratia relief. Though the ministry released the last installment to the state government only in the last week of October, they would rather blame the state government. "When the defence minister went to Jammu and Kashmir on October 27, the state government had disbursed less than one third of the ex-gratia relief given to them," says a ministry spokesperson. He adds that Defence Minister A.K. Antony had hoped that the state government shows "alacrity and responsiveness" in disbursing the relief.
The ministry says it released Rs 10 crore as interim assistance to the state government on August 28 and another installment two months later, taking the total to Rs 26.75 crore.