Coronavirus Fears Are a Double Whammy for Displaced Victims of Delhi Riots

Written by Suprakash Majumdar on

New Delhi: “They killed my brother and broke both my hands, my house is burnt. I have no money and nowhere to go if they throw me out of here” said Nizamuddin, whose address for the last one month has been Tent-11, Idgah Relief camp – but maybe not for too long.

Delhi witnessed its worst communal conflict in decades between February 23 and February 27, 2020. Fifty-three people were killed, hundreds were injured and numerous houses and cars were burnt. The riots broke out in North East Delhi.

After the riots, hundreds of people who had been affected by the violence fled what they called their homes for decades in the fear of violence from the brethren of Delhi. Some of them left Delhi, moving to different cities to their relatives. People who were unable to go elsewhere were forced to live in the relief camps built by the Delhi government and the Delhi Waqf Board.

For the last month, about 870 people have been calling this relief camp their home. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic in India, the future of the residents of the camp is in darkness. The Delhi Waqf board and the state government has ordered that the camp be vacated on an immediate basis to keep the virus from spreading.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a serious issue and we don’t want to endanger the health and lives of the people in the camp,” said Mohammed Imran, media coordinator and nodal officer of Delhi Waqf Board. “We also don’t want these people to take the relief services for granted.”

“Sanitation was a challenge for us but we have tried our best. We have tried to ensure that proper precautions are taken by providing the camp residents with hand sanitisers and masks,” said Dr Wasim Qamar. “So many people are living in this small area which make these people more vulnerable to the disease. It is better for such people to return to their homes immediately.”

For the people like Nizamuddin, who lost his family members and his limbs in the riots, news like this is devastating. “I don’t have money, I don’t have a house and I can’t even use the toilet on my own because my hands are broken,” he said with tears in his eyes. “Where will I go? I don’t want to be a liability but I need someone to take care of me, and I have no family left.”

“We have issued compensation and we have tried to make sure many people get their cheques today. The ones who have received these cheques have already left the camp and returned home,” said Mohammed Imran. “We are also working hard to clear all the cheques as soon as possible but this will obviously take time.”

Rukhsar, a young woman who has her wedding in a few weeks, left the camp and returned to her home with her family. “No one understands the pain and misery we’ve gone through. My father’s handicraft business has been shut after the riots and we have no money left nor have we received any compensation yet,” she said. “These are difficult times for us. We have to think about our next meal and my family has to think about my wedding as well.”

Deserted city roads on the second day of the complete lockdown in the national capital to contain the spread of coronavirus, in New Delhi, March 24, 2020.  Photo: PTI/Atul Yadav

Although the Delhi Waqf Board has announced Rs 1,00,000 and three months of ration supplies to the victims whose houses were burned and Rs 60,000 to the tenants who were forced to leave their houses due to fear or their house owner had forced them to leave, many of the victims have not received any forms of compensation. While weddings ceremonies can be considered to be unimportant during these times, most of the affected people in the riots had saved their entire life’s income to get their children married off.

Another resident of the camp, Wasim is unsure about himself and his family’s future. “I am a menial worker, I don’t have resources or money to look after my family now, where will I go?” Wasim asked holding his son in his arms. “If I don’t get the compensation, I will not move from this camp.”

The coronavirus outbreak is more dangerous for victims like Wasim, Rukhsar and Nizamuddin, who already have suffered through tumultuous circumstances during the Delhi pogroms, and are being pushed into more dangerous situations.

Although the area around the Idgah Relief Camp does not have any coronavirus cases yet, the dense population of the area makes the camp a fertile ground for the virus to incubate and spread in. The decision to vacate the camp was, of course, important. However, the relief and the compensation amount are more important for victims of the riots.

“We are currently working on giving these people compensation and a place to live as soon as possible but there are also many legal issues related to the compensation amount,” said Dr Wasim, a doctor working in the relief camp. “These kinds of things take time and it is unfortunate that this pandemic is making things worse for these people but we are trying our best,” he added.

According to Imran, the reconstruction work of the tyre market which was burned on the night of February 24 has already begun. “For the people whose houses have been burnt or damaged, we have inspected their houses before handing out the compensation amount to them,” Imran said.

Thousands were forced to leave their homes due to the violence in the capital of the country and victims are now being forced to leave the relief camp because of a global pandemic.

People in the camps fear that if they are forced to leave the camp and they don’t get a proper place to live, they will be more susceptible to catching the disease. Most people in the camp are clueless about their future. Many of them are still in grief after losing their loved ones and many are still recovering from their trauma, mental and physical alike.

The Delhi Waqf Board and the Delhi government may be working towards stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but a proper and fast process is needed to ensure the security and lives of these people. Until then, people like Nizamuddin, Rukhsar and Wasim will live in fear of the people they used to call their brothers and a global pandemic, a double whammy for such victims.

Suprakash Majumdar is a freelance journalist and has previously worked with the National Herald and Asian News International.

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