As the fires ebbed, and roads to one of areas worst affected by the riots, Shiv Vihar Phase 7, opened up, 25-year-old Arshi picked her way out of the rubble of what was once her home in an area that is now a ghost town. When her family fled a few days ago, she says, their only thought was to save their lives as mobs tore down doors, set gas cylinders alight and destroyed their belongings.
My home is all right, says Arshi; but when she asked what she could salvage, she looks at her bare hands, and says, nothing at all. No clothes, no prized possessions, and no memories of the years her family has lived here.
As the district administration sets up relief centres and hands out claim forms for compensation, the family’s biggest worry, however, is that their crucial documents and all the papers in the house are strewn everywhere.
Aslam, a scrap dealer salvaged two bags worth of belongings from his home where he lived with his wife and three small children. He breaks down as he realises the mobs left nothing of the used refrigerators and air conditioner he had recently acquired with all his savings of ₹55,000.
“I really have nothing to get back on my feet with,” he adds, picking through the remains of computer parts and auto parts that lined his store, looking for his tools. His son Aftab, who accompanied his father back to Shiv Vihar, is visibly shaking with fear and wracked with sobs. A district official arrived to take stock of the losses, but soon lost interest and drove away, they say later.
According to resident welfare association officials, when the violence subsided and the fires burnt out, gangs of men began looting every building that was deserted. Many of them can still be seen, skulking in and out of the homes in the narrow lanes, right under the nose of the RAF and police personnel deployed to guard the streets, their t-shirts bulging with stolen goods.
As a result, the biggest task for officials will be not only distributing aid but also arranging new identification papers for the riot-affected.
For days, residents here either hid inside their homes without food or water, or took shelter at homes in other parts of riot-torn North-East Delhi. One of the officials, who asked not to be named, says he helped drive dozens out of the area to safety, until two men brandished a sword at him to stop him. Among those he saved was a paraplegic who had hidden in his own kitchen for three days without eating a thing. As he recounted the story, tears flowed down the official’s face.
Kamla Devi (name changed) returned to her home in the same gali. “We lived very happily together here, she said, as she checks her kitchen rations and other belongings. We can’t return until the others come back,” she adds.
Phase 7 was a mixed locality of Hindus and Muslims, she said, but since the violence of February, those whose homes were burnt, had moved into either Hindu or Muslim dominated areas nearby.
The fear of the police is as palpable as the smell of smoke in the area; people recount how unresponsive the forces were despite dozens of calls to 100. “They kept saying they would come, but it wasn’t until after Mr. Trump left India, and the NSA visited the area that the first batch came,” says Sanjeev (last name witheld).
“When we called and said the mobs are targetting Muslims in our gali, the police said, ‘you wanted Azaadi? Here it is’,” recalls Farhana.
In Chaman Park, just a stone’s throw from their own vandalised homes, hundreds of women are now crowding warehouses and garage spaces, opened out by owners for the riot displaced.
Donations of food are coming in from the community and citizens groups from around Delhi. As a man walks in with a bag of oranges to distribute, the children let out whoops of joy and run to him.
In a corner, Mumtaz Jehan sits quietly praying for her husband Imam Mohammad Vakil and their 20-year-old daughter Anam, both of whom are in hospital after a man threw acid on them as they fled the Madina mosque. Other women crowd around with their stories with one common refrain — they want to go back to their homes, which they fear will be taken over by intruders.
RAF officials say they are policing the area day and night to ensure no one can illegally occupy homes, and are escorting small groups as often as possible to check on the condition of their homes.
For most of the affected people, the return home — filled with horrific memories of the fateful night when they fled, the deaths of loved ones and the stark, charred rooms bereft of all their belongings — is cold comfort.
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