The violence that ensued in northeast Delhi on the night of 23 February rendered many homeless. Shops and homes were looted, destroyed and set on fire, and 53 people were killed.
We visited Shiv Vihar and Khajuri Khas on 11 March to see how people were coping with the aftermath of the violence, especially shopkeepers who lost their livelihoods. Many who had fled to safer areas have now returned to tend to the damages caused, in hopes of rebuilding their lives and starting afresh.
Violence-Hit Shops Get Second Chance
Like many other shopkeepers, 52-year-old Mukesh shut his shop when news of violence reached him on the afternoon of 24 February. He fled along with other workers. Mukesh and his brother Ravinder returned to find the shop charred to ashes.
Mukesh has been able to clear out his entire shop. He awaits the promised government aid.
Two shops away from Mukesh is Mansoor’s welding shop. The cylinders in his shops caught fire and exploded. Mansoor’s eldest son, whom we met at the shop, aspired to work in West Asia and was trying to move to Bahrain to earn a living. After the violence, his seems like a shattered dream.
As we moved to another lane in Shiv Vihar, 50-year-old Dulichand was clearing out the rubble in his shop to facilitate reconstruction. His bakery Anil Pastry Shop was looted and set ablaze on 24 February. His family lives on the floor above the shop, and they all fled immediately through the back door, abandoning both his shop and home.
He says that 15 fridges in his shop were taken out and then his shop was set on fire. He is currently staying at his brother’s house a few lanes away. His shop is being renovated with whatever money he had saved over the years.
School Comes to Life
DRP Convent School, which was vandalised and set on fire, was our next stop. Students and staff were not present in the school premises during the attack. However, benches, lab equipment, appliances, blackboards, etc were damaged. The school is currently under reconstruction.
A week earlier to our visit, the school campus had soot on walls, charred books and desks, and melted lab equipment. This time the school had its walls painted over, desks fixed and new equipment set up.
On our way out we met a few students gathered at the school gates to collect their examination schedules.
Students had returned to school after 17 days.
Help From Other Quarters
Most shops were shut and the streets left empty in an otherwise chaotic Khajoori Khas. We came across Khalsa Aid volunteers who have been working to reconstruct shops of those affected.
Ashok Kumar’s furniture shop was completely ruined with all his products (furniture and foam) serving as fuel for the fire. His shop is currently being reconstructed by Khalsa Aid.
Mohammed Yousuf, whose medical store was also destroyed in this violence, told us his shop did not have insurance. Yousuf’s wife had passed away the previous year and he’s the only one to support his children and their education.
Yousuf appeared disturbed when we met him, but was extremely grateful for the Khalsa Aid, without whom he would have given up his shop.
Our next stop was the Gokulpuri Tyre Market. We met Khalid Khan and Mohammed Aslam whose shops were being cleared out to facilitate construction. Khalid told us that out of the 224 shops in the market, half were set on fire and the rest looted.
Khan's shop was the only source of income for his family. His eldest daughter’s wedding is scheduled in September 2020.
“Ab mai kahan se manage karunga, 10 lakh ka loan liya tha, beti ki shaadi hai September mein (How will I manage now, I had taken a loan of Rs10 lakh, it is my daughter’s wedding in September).”Khalid Khan, Shopkeeper, Gokulpuri Tyre Market
As we left Khan’s shop we saw that he sold the damaged goods for Rs 700 to a scrap dealer, goods that he had originally purchased for 2 lakh.
The shopkeepers in the market are provided aid by the Delhi Wakf Board which has promised them reconstruction.
Most of the shopkeepers told us that government aid has not reached them yet and they are beginning to lose hope. Many still have left their shops and homes in ruin as evidence for visiting officials. Many of the shopkeepers we approached asked us, “Kahan se layenge paise? Sab kuch toh isi mein chala gaya. (Where will we get money for the reconstruction? We have lost everything.)"
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