Delhi riots: People return but find homes reduced to ashes
Shaheen, 48, returned home after five days on Saturday morning, to find the top two floors of her three-storey house on the main Chand Bagh road charred. The ashes were still warm and the soot fresh. She and her family of six had bounded over several terraces to save their lives on Monday, when rioters ran amok in the streets, throwing stones and firing bullets.
Rummaging through the remains, she came across a copy of the Quran locked in a cupboard, unharmed. Mostly everything else was reduced to ashes.
“At least 17 of us, including my extended family and neighbours, left our houses on Monday when the firing started. A relative called that evening to tell us that houses on the main road were being torched. All this time we stayed at a relative’s house. I still haven’t brought my daughter-in-law back. I am just relieved to find the Quran intact, maybe it’s a sign of something better to come in the future,” Shaheen said.
While rescue and rehabilitation teams went through the area on Saturday to replace burnt cables, most houses were without water and power. Most streets of riot-torn north-east Delhi echo with similar cries.
People who had moved out of their houses during the violence have started coming back, now that the violence has ended, replaced by uneasy calm. Most have lost entire houses and belongings. Lives have been torn apart, and residents are fighting to put it back together, piece by piece.
Shehzad Khan, 43, a resident of Chand Bagh, lost his house and shop in the riots. He came back on Friday evening to find only blackened walls, a pile of charred carts and a motorcycle.
“I lost around Rs 60,000-70,000 cash and everything else. My wife and children are still back in our village near Baraut in Uttar Pradesh. They are too scared to return. I am trying to figure out how to set up my shop again, because we need money,” said Khan, who used to sell sugarcane to vendors, before the riots forced him to flee to his village.
In nearby Brijpuri, a narrow back-alley helped save many lives. People inside the houses ran out from their back doors, as rioters targeted the front. At least 10 of the 15-20 houses in the lane were completely torched.
Virender Chaudhary, 69, along with his son came back on Saturday to see their house, a three-storey building that also housed a shop.
Chaudhary, his wife and daughter-in-law were home when a mob ran in with buckets of petrol and started pounding down the doors on Tuesday evening. “The three of us ran in our slippers. If we did not have a back door opening to the lane on the other side, we would have died inside. Nothing has remained here. That moment still haunts me. We lost everything. I had to buy clothes and shoes, because we had nothing left,” said Chaudhary, who plans to go back to his village in Meerut.
Sushma, 55, who lives in the same lane said that if it were not for the back-alley that rioters could not attack, all the residents here would have been dead.
“I came to see the house and thankfully, it wasn’t burnt. But I will go back to my relative’s place in the evening. There is still so much fear that one can’t start living here right away,” she said.
In many cases, the men had returned to check out the house and fill up forms required to receive compensation in lieu of the damages, while women and children still stayed away. Many others were unaware of the government’s compensation scheme, or where to get the requisite documents.
Mehtab Qamar, a resident of New Mustafabad, sat outside his charred shop crying. His house is above the shop, where the walls and flooring have huge cracks because of the fire.
“I don’t know when and how I will be able to fix the house or shop, even if we get relief money from the government. We had been staying at a friend’s house since Tuesday, but how long can that be for? I will have to rent a place somewhere. When and how will the children go to school? There is nothing left here,” said Qamar, who used to own a plastic-sheets shop.