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Mistrust, Despair and a Sliver of Hope: A Week on, Delhi Riot-hit Victims Struggle to Put Back Pieces Together

Men on two-wheelers pass by a shop in Maujpur Road that was set afire by rioters even as the ones beside it remain unscathed a week ago (on left) and after. (News18)

Men on two-wheelers pass by a shop in Maujpur Road that was set afire by rioters even as the ones beside it remain unscathed a week ago (on left) and after. (News18)

There was palpable fear among those whose shops and houses had been vandalised and set afire. There was also mistrust among their neighbouring shop owners who claimed they were unaware of the identities of those who ran the destroyed shops.

The worst spell of rioting in northeast Delhi by all accounts took place on February 25. That is when police received the most number of distress calls — 7,520, or five calls every minute.

News18 was on the ground and saw some of that violence unfold first-hand. In the area around Maujpur and Ghonda, shops were being set on fire, stones thrown and people assaulted.

A week later, News18 revisited those spots to see what had changed over the last seven days, how people were responding to the riots, and what those who had suffered had to say.

In Maujpur and Ghonda, people from the minority community had suffered the most.

There were some signs of fear and mistrust at a few places. There was palpable fear among those whose shops and houses had been vandalised and set afire. They were yet to open their shops even as the rest of markets lifted their shutters. There was also mistrust among their neighbouring shop owners who claimed they did not know even the identities of the people who ran the shops that were destroyed.

At Maujpur Road a week before (left) and after. (News18)

On the Maujpur main road, News18 had counted at least three shops belonging to members of the minority community that were being looted, vandalised and set on fire last Tuesday. One of the stores that was destroyed was a mobile and watch repair centre, flanked by shops that remained untouched.

Raju of Shiva Auto Works, who worked at one of those adjacent shops, said he did not personally know the owner of the burnt-down store, but had seen him visit the spot three days ago to take a look at the damage.

A few steps ahead, News18 spoke to Jayesh Ram, the owner of a crockery shop. The garment shop next to his, owned by a member of the minority community, was set ablaze.

"I don't know who the owner was. I have never spoken to him," said Ram.

"It was a garments shop. That's all I know. I have never spoken to the owner," said Ramesh Chand, another shop owner.

A fruit vendor said the same thing, but when asked whether those involved in these instances of loot and arson were locals or outsiders, he said, "If you throw a lit matchstick in petrol, it will catch flame."

At Yamuna Vihar a week before (left) and after. (News18)

No shop owner around could even recall the name of the owner of the garment shop, which some said has been around for years.

News18 had also witnessed how a rampaging mob had broken into a bakery owned by a member of the minority community, looted it and set it on fire. The two pan vendors on either side of it said they had never spoken to the bakery owner.

"He had come here around two months ago. You see we're busy with work throughout the day. We never got a chance to speak to him," said one of those pan shop vendors.

In Gonda on Yamuna Vihar road, News18 had witnessed a mob of about a thousand persons vandalising, looting and burning down at least seven shops. Here, one found stories of hope at some places, where people from the majority community had gone out of their way to save the shops and lives of those from the minority community, some of whom have now returned to their workplaces.

One of those shops belonged to Mohd Irfan. The mob had broken into his plywood store, vandalised his front office and burnt some of his supplies.

"They would have set all of the plywood on fire as well, only it would have taken a lot of effort to carry the plywood on the main road. We were told the mob was trying to burn the shop entirely, but neighbours stopped them. Otherwise, the entire building could have collapsed because of so much heat and smoke," said Irfan.

He said a neighbour had told him that when the rioters found it impractical to burn the wood, they asked someone for a hose so they could water the wood and destroy it.

"Unfortunately for the mob, they did not get any help. Our neighbors have expressed sympathy and are trying to help us. There was a Muslim couple who lived nearby. We have heard their Hindu neighbours gave them money to sustain themselves after their house was destroyed."

Shadaab with his neighbour Dishant who saved his shop. (News18)

Shadaab is the only other member of the minority community, apart from Irfan, who managed to open his shop after the three-day carnage in this part of the national capital. His auto repair shop was saved by his neighbour who stepped in at the right time.

"On February 25, I was repairing a car when I heard some commotion from the corner of the road. I finished the work quickly and closed my shop. When I tried to leave for home from that area, I saw a mob throwing stones. Neighbours told me to leave from the safe side. At Gonda Chowk, I saw a mob holding bamboo sticks and rods in their hands. I escaped from alleys and went back home in Brahmpuri," Shadaab said.

"In the Brahmpuri area, we decide not to allow any youngsters to assemble (to prevent a backlash). No property has been in our area or any person has faced any trouble. Here, about 11 shops were gutted. My neighbours protected my shop from getting damaged. A disabled man, I wouldn’t have been able to do much anyway," he said.

The neighbour whom Shadaab gave credit for saving his life's earnings, Dishant said when the mob turned towards the former’s shop, he intervened and claimed that it belonged to him.

"We saved Shadaab’s shops by saying it’s our shop. There were many young kids among those who tried to damage his shop. They looted many shops in the area. Locals tried to stop them, but the mob was not listening to anybody. Locals even tried to stop them by throwing stones at them. Some of the shops were damaged and looted in the night and we could not do anything," Dishant said.