Delhi violence: A narrow lane in Chaman Park is victims' new home

People camping in Chaman Park say that neither politicians nor the district administration has visited them yet.
Amakeshift bamboo gate and a few tired men guard a narrow lane in northeast Delhi’s Chaman Park. This is where several hundred women and children who managed to flee with their lives and little more from the neighbouring Shiv Vihar, an area that had still not been sanitised by the police, are camping. Their menfolk are sleeping in the masjid in the neighbouring street and spend their time standing guard over their families. Local residents have offered living space, food, even medical help to them. They wonder how long they can sustain this effort. Also the conditions are so crowded that contagious diseases like diarrhoea and scabies are spreading.

Gulnaz, with her two children who are two and a half, and five, is one of them. “The mob started entering our neighbourhood around 1 pm on February 24,” she says. “We first assumed we’d be safe if we stayed indoors.” Instead, by evening, that mob started breaking doors, entering houses. “It was like a war,” she says. “We saw them throw a gas cylinder under a car; the explosion made it fly up like you see in movies ...” Under cover of darkness, she and hundreds fled to neighbouring Chaman Park and have been there since. 

“I don’t know if it was out of fear or the smoke, but I simply couldn’t breathe that day,” recounts Nafisa, a widow who was in her Shiv Vihar home with her youngest daughter Baby, 13. “When we fled, the mob threw stones at us and my daughter was hurt badly,” she says. 

“All we could do was keep running ...” The left side of Baby’s face is swollen even now and she can barely open her eye. “My house was the only asset I owned,” Nafisa wails. “I don’t know what will happen to us now!”

Ramzano, who is too tired to even stand, says: “My daughter and I were alone at home on February 25, when the mob started breaking down doors. My son Ahmed Hassan, who lives nearby with his family, got caught by the mob while coming to rescue us.” He was beaten up and then attacked with swords. The mob burnt his vehicle and was threatening to throw him on top of it. “From my terrace, we screamed and cried for mercy,” she says. Eventually, the mob moved on, leaving Ahmed alive. 

The family fled to the shelter in Chaman Park. Today, Ahmed is too scared to go to the hospital even though his wounds need treatment.

Every person camping in Chaman Park and every resident who’s helping them says that neither politicians nor the district administration has visited them yet. On February 29, when activists were finally allowed to enter, Karwan e Mohabbat started setting up a relief camp in a local school. 

Their team and Jesuit priests from Vidyajyoti College of Theology are helping victims file FIRs and applications for compensation. Both organisations have also organised clinics and free dispensaries. Gurudwaras are also helping. 

“But how long can private relief measures be sustained?” questions Poonam Kaushik, an activist and lawyer. “The government has to set up a long-term relief programme here because the rehabilitation of these survivors will take months!” says Anjali Bhardwaj of Satark Nagrik Sangathan. 
Septuagenarian Hasmuda Ansari, whose daughter carried her to safety on that fateful Monday night from their Shiv Vihar home, just wants to know if her “beloved Masjid is still standing”.

Shiv Vihar is shrouded in unearthly quiet. Hasmuda Ansari’s beloved Masjid has been burnt to crisp inside. A pile of burnt motorcycles lie outside. Some lanes have been barricaded with bamboo, broken furniture, metal scraps and more. Every couple of yards, there are policemen in full riot gear. 

Other than some signs of life outside a temple, the place is completely deserted. An inner lane seems worst affected. It is completely blackened with soot and still reeks of smoke and burnt rubber. Piles of stones and bricks used by the rioters lie underfoot. Outside a ransacked and burnt bakery, a lone dog eats biscuits scattered on the road. 

At the end of this lane is the relatively unscathed Hindu quarter. Two women stand outside a photostat centre, their eyes attesting to the sleepless nights they’ve endured. “How can we sleep with the ever-present fear of being attacked by a Muslim mob?” one says. They aver that violence here wasn’t one-sided. But it is starkly clear that mostly the Muslim side of the lane has been destroyed. Outside a boarded-up shop, a handwritten sheet flutters in the breeze. It reads Jai Shree Ram. The women say, “The line you see between the destroyed Muslim side and ours is no less than the India-Pakistan border.”

Shiv Vihar will take years to rebuild. Rebuilding trust and amity between the two communities which have lived amicably together for decades, is likely to be harder. And without a concerted and focused relief effort by the government — both might be impossible to achieve.

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