Delhi riots: As the dust settles, scale of tragedy starts to unfold
At least 79 houses, 52 shops, five godowns, four mosques, three factories and two schools were set ablaze between Monday and Wednesday morning during the riots in north-east Delhi that claimed 38 lives and left about 350 injured.
A rough estimate by the Delhi Fire Service (DFS), which attended 218 calls related to arson during the riots from Monday to 8am on Thursday, suggests that more than 500 vehicles, including two-wheelers, were burnt between Monday and Thursday morning.
DFS data accessed by HT shows that Tuesday was the worst day of the riots and alone witnessed 89 incidents of arson. While Wednesday saw 57 incidents of arson, 23 took place on Monday. Fourteen incidents of arson also took place between midnight and 8am on Thursday, the data shows.
Most of these buildings and vehicles were burnt using petrol and kerosene by the raging groups moving around with no fixed plan, but armed with torches and petrol bombs.
Officials said a majority of these buildings and vehicles had been gutted completely.
Fire services chief Atul Garg said that despite the arson, only one death was reported due to fire.
“We had to remove a burnt body of an elderly woman from a building near Khajuri. She was trapped in her house when the rioters set it afire. She may have lost consciousness due to asphyxiation, after which her body was burnt. There was no other casualty because of fire,” Garg said.
The director said that from Monday till Thursday afternoon, more than 100 of their firefighters remained deployed in north-east Delhi at four fire stations in the region. “The fire stations that fall in the riot-hit areas are Gokalpuri, Shastri Park, Tahirpur and Shahdara. Usually these fire stations have two fire tenders each, always ready to respond. We increased these numbers to at least six to eight fire tenders in each fire station, as the phones in our control room just did not stop ringing,” said Garg, who led the fire fighters in the riot-hit areas on Tuesday.
However, many residents said they received no aid from the fire fighters when their houses and shops were burnt by raging mobs.
Bilkis Khatoon, who lives right behind the mosque in Ashok Nagar that was burnt, said the mob also set her house on fire.
“My house was completely damaged. There is nothing left. Had the firefighters reached in time, they could have saved my belongings and valuables,” she said, in tears.
An HT reporter who was in Gokalpuri during the riots on Tuesday said that around 11am, when a tyre and bike accessories market in Gokalpuri was burnt, a fire tender could not reach the spot because it was stopped near Gokalpuri Metro station by a violent mob, and its personnel thrashed.
The fire tender was also destroyed.
Director Garg said five firefighters were injured in the violence. “While on our way to the spots, we had to face severe stone-pelting and vandalism. On our request, the police had given us two teams that cordoned us through the violent mob every time. We tried attending every call that we received. In most incidents of fire, the occupants of the buildings were either rescued by neighbours or they managed to escape in time,” he said.
Garg said five fire tenders were also damaged. While one was completely burnt, four others were vandalised and are repairable, he said.