‘Mobs took what fires spared’: Residents left with no homes after Delhi riots
What does it take to rebuild your life when all you had is taken away?
Ask those living in a tent at a relief camp set up by the Delhi government for families affected by the recent riots in Delhi, who are coming to terms with their homes and lives being flattened.
Until last week, most of these families had a house, a bed, a fridge, a television set, a gas cylinder, clothes and other domestic paraphernalia — all of which has now been taken away by mobs that ransacked their house, picking off every little thing they found lying about. When they could not find anything, they set the houses on fire before moving on to another house — to steal, rob or set it on fire.
Sitting inside a makeshift tent, 22-year-old Mohammed Shahrukh a carpenter by profession, says he does not know how he is going to start his life again. The rains on Thursday and Friday took away even the privilege of a dry mattress inside the tent for him to sit on.
“The mobs even stole my two gas cylinders, and all my utensils. They took all of my children’s clothes. They are now left with only one pair of clothes. How do we start again,” wonders Shahrukh.
In north-east Delhi’s Brijpuri, about a hundred Muslim families live in makeshift tents set up by the state government. Most families here are from Chand Bagh — one of the areas hit hardest during the riots. In the violence between Hindus and Muslims, at least 53 have died so far, while over 400 sustained injuries.
According to the Delhi Fire Services, at least 60 houses were set on fire between the nights of February 23 and 25, when rioting was at its peak. Over 1,000 vehicles — most of them motorcycles and auto-rickshaws — were burnt by mobs across different parts of north-east Delhi.
Sitting next to Shahrukh in the Mustafabad eidgah camp is 71-year-old Mohammed Sharafat, a tailor, who said that when he went back to his house almost a week after the riots to assess the damage, he found that rioters had sawed his bed into multiple pieces. His television set, which he had for 28 years was mangled, while the single-door fridge and the mattress were gone.
“The bed was old. It was made of a dense block of wood and was heavy. They could not take it. You know what they did instead? They sawed the bed into many pieces. Who does that? How is that hatred born,” he said.
The Delhi Police have arrested and detained about 1,500 persons from both communities who were allegedly involved in the violence. Two special investigation teams that are probing the 531 different cases related to the violence are sifting through CCTV camera footage to identify rioters.
At the women’s section of the Mustafabad camp, people said the cramped, damp conditions led them to worry about contracting skin infections and other diseases. Hundreds of them are bundled into around 10 makeshift tents set up next to each other. Most women say mobs targeted their clothes and jewellery.
Nagma, 22, has been wearing the same set of clothes since she fled her house on February 25. She says she has no other clothes to change into. She was about get married next week. Her father had bought her new clothes for the wedding. The rioters ensured that not a scrap of those garments remain. Now, sitting under nothing but a sheet of tarpaulin, she has nothing left to change into.
“All those things are gone now, along with the jewellery. Those rioters had enough time to rummage through our clothes and take what was new. Before leaving, they set the old clothes on fire,” she said.
Even so, lack of food, stolen clothes and broken television sets are a smaller concern, the families say. Their bigger worry is the fear of returning to the narrow lanes of north-east Delhi, their home for decades.
For many like Shahrukh, though, whose homes have turned to ash, even that possibility is gone.
He is now, as he says, merely an occupant of tent number 1.