Cost of violence: Stress, trauma among children
Tuba Aqeel, 13, a resident of riot-hit north-east Delhi’s Brijpuri, has been quiet for a few days now. Every time someone in her family tries to speak to her, she breaks down. Aqeel saw her school being burnt down by a mob on Tuesday, and lost her 17-year-old cousin in the communal riot a day after.
Tuba’s mother Zeenat Aqeel said her daughter is in shock. “She is inconsolable. All the kids in our house were sent to the roof when the rioters entered our neighbourhood on Tuesday. We heard them shouting and crying when they saw the mob vandalising and burning their school. Tuba seems to be the most affected by the incident. On Wednesday, she lost her cousin who was shot in Brahmpuri, when he stepped out to buy milk. She was very close to him,” she said.
Like Tuba, there are hundreds of children in riot-hit north-east Delhi struggling to process the aftermath of communal riots that broke out in their neighbourhood this week. Apart from seeing their schools and neighbourhoods burning, some have also lost family members, friends, and mentors. Many of the children have not stepped out of their homes since Monday.
Fourteen-year-old Samiya Fazil witnessed her school — Arun Modern Public — being attacked on Tuesday. She said they had decorated the school ahead of a CBSE inspection due on February 26. A day before that, the school was torched by rioters. “I was in tears when I saw the building burning. We had all worked so hard to decorate the school. It does not even exist now,” she said.
Nitesh Chak, 14, a resident of Old Mustafabad, said he had never imagined that he would witness scenes of violence like they “showed in movies”.
“My parents locked me and my sister in a room when riots broke out in our area. We managed to peep from a window. There was smoke all over. It was scary to watch a group of people with lathis and rods running amok on the streets. I have stepped out of my house today for the first time since Monday,” he said on Friday.
Many children have also recorded videos of violence on their phones and circulated it among their friends. Vasu Arora, 13, a Class 8 student said he was extremely scared after he saw videos of mobs moving around in his neighbourhood on his father’s phone. “My tuition teacher, who lived here, was killed in the violence. This is the first time somebody I know has died.”
Yatharth Verma, 18, said that he got to know that rioters had entered the lane where his Muslim friend lives in Brahampuri through a forwarded video. “I immediately called his family and asked them to flee. They stayed with us for a day,” he said, adding, “Though our elders talk about this Hindu-Muslim divide, we do not believe in it.”
Many parents in Brijpuri, Bhajanpura, Chand Bagh, Shiv Vihar, Mustafabad and other riot-affected areas said they are worried about their children, who have witnessed the violence in their neigbourhoods.
Mudassir Khan, who died of gunshot wounds, had eight children. “The eldest daughter is 14 and all of them are still processing what has happened to them. Their lives will never be the same,” said Arbaz Khan, his nephew.
Experts say that the chances of long-term impact of violence on children increase with direct exposure. Dr Samir Parikh, a psychiatrist who works with children at Fortis Health Care, said: “For children, who have witnessed violence directly, the key is to ensure that their day to day life is not affected. Adults can use rationality to understand the violence and control their fears. Children often cannot do that,” he said.