It's important that we don't forget the other deadly virus afflicting us

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The horrors unleashed by the riots are still with us, however, even if the helmet-wearing mobs have retreated into the shadows
Much was made of the “two Delhis” on view last month — the Delhi of ceremonial welcomes and grand state banquets during the Trump visit, and the Delhi of mob violence taking place in poor neighbourhoods less than an hour’s drive away. The visitors have gone but the contrast holds. The well-ordered and affluent parts of the city remain largely sealed off from what is still unfolding in areas that are, ironically, closer than ever before, because of the nearly 60-km-long Pink Line of the Delhi Metro. It’s the mental journey, requiring sustained empathy, that is hard. Which is why, after a brief period of engagement with the virus of hate that convulsed Northeast Delhi, the conversation — in the media and in living rooms — is now shifting to the prospect of another virus, Covid-19, stalking the land.

The horrors unleashed by the riots are still with us, however, even if the helmet-wearing mobs have retreated into the shadows. 

Nothing prepares you for Phase 7 Shiv Vihar. Even the media’s dismal description of this neighbourhood as a “ghost town” seems pallid when you come face to face with the new architecture created by vicious hands in one constricted lane after another. There are rows upon rows of narrow homes, of which some are so untouched by violence that the decorations from last Diwali still hang gracefully over their doorways, while an occasional saffron flag perched on a rooftop flutters in the March breeze.

Every now and then, among them, is a blackened travesty of a house, its gaping doorway inviting you in to survey mangled fans, fridges that look like battered trunks, smashed tiny kitchens, a TV that, having melted in extreme heat, reminds you of Salvador Dali’s melting clocks. The floors are a carpet of glass shards, the pages of a child’s notebook or a rubber slipper among them. And — there is no other way to say this — these are mostly Muslim homes, the horror of the arson attacks on them accentuated by the sight of the unharmed houses on either side, or by the little embellishments that the owner of the ill-fated home had splurged on, like a granite doorway with engraved Urdu inscriptions.

Obviously, the riots were a complex affair, the details still being pieced together, and it is painfully clear they took their toll on Hindus too. But the blighted gallis of Shiv Vihar, and indeed many other gallis in Northeast Delhi, show what sometimes seems to be lost in generic, overly careful “both sides lost” arguments: the frequency of menacingly well-informed, indeed forensic, acts of savagery against Muslim homes and livelihoods.

The first time you see a home where the landlord is Hindu and tenants Muslims, and only the possessions of the tenants have been destroyed, you don’t suspect a pattern. But claims of such a trend came up more than once during the half day I spent with a group of volunteers helping people fill in compensation forms at a relief camp. In one case, a couple renting from a Muslim landlord said their home had been devastated, but their shop, rented from a Hindu, had been spared — except for its contents, which were now unusable.

The camp, located in the Eidgah grounds at Mustafabad, is run by the Waqf Board in association with the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government which, after failing to be on the ground during the riots, came inexcusably late to the rescue and relief story. This camp is where many of the newly homeless can be found, after huddling for days in the homes of kind strangers.

In a large crowded tent, a friend and I show a group of women, all petrified at the prospect of returning to the places they fled, pictures of gutted homes we took on our mobile phones. They watch transfixed. “No, none of these, but it’s very close,” exclaims one finally. “I heard it was burnt, I haven’t seen it,” she adds helplessly. (Later, I read a report that a man died of a stroke at the camp shortly after making the short journey to his burnt down house in Shiv Vihar.)

After visiting the camp two days in a row, I feel I am looking at a shattered version of Shaheen Bagh, the women no longer up there on a stage, leading the sit-in, but confined to a tent with their children while their next moves are being decided by other people. The atmosphere, too, is far removed from the heady, carnival-like celebration of national symbols that the anti-CAA-NRC protests have been. Yet, as with Shaheen Bagh, what you mostly see around you at this camp is Muslims supporting each other in a common struggle — aided by a sprinkling of liberals and other minorities. As at Shaheen Bagh, their spirited presence highlights the appalling indifference of the state.

While the BJP’s Kapil Mishra has been crowdfunding for the “underprivileged Hindu families” afflicted by the riots, “echo chambers” of the non-bigoted on Facebook and WhatsApp are full of posts asking for clothes, grains, medical supplies, rubber chappals even, for all victims of the riots. The Sikhs, who enriched the life of Shaheen Bagh with their langars (community kitchens), are at the Eidgah grounds too, an immaculately dressed posse of them arriving with dinner on the very evening the camp is being set up. The next afternoon, crowds line up to receive the contents of Shiromani Akali Dal’s truck that has arrived with relief materials. I notice two medical clinics, one manned by medical personnel from St Stephen’s Hospital, the other from Holy Family Hospital. In a nearby lane, doctors from Alshifa Hospital are handing out medicines.

By contrast, a doctor friend who approached a big corporate hospital suggesting it send doctors to the riot-affected areas was told it was not undertaking any CSR (corporate social responsibility) work at present. Nor it appears are others from the corporate world in Northeast Delhi. The prime minister and home minister announce on Twitter that they will not attend Holi milans — out of deference to the rampant coronavirus. But in Parliament, the government wants to discuss the riots only after Holi and the Speaker insists on parliamentary etiquette being followed to the letter. Should one be surprised? This is, after all, the “other Delhi”, and its show must go on.



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