NEW DELHI: A month after Mohammad Akhtar’s house was set ablaze in Shiv Vihar during the Delhi riots, the 52-year-old returned to his neighbourhood on Tuesday. Coming back to the charred remains of his home was the only option available to him as the tent that served as his temporary shelter was dismantled. Akhtar had been living at the Eidgah relief camp in Mustafabad, which housed at least 600 riot-displaced victims.
“We weren’t forced to leave. But the ration at the camp was running out. The caterer had already packed up and left. There was nothing left there,” said Akhtar, who once farmed dairy for a living. He has no source of earning now, and is apprehensive about the future.
Fear over Covid-19 has forced the administration to look for alternate shelters for those displaced by the riots, which claimed 53 lives. Delhi Waqf Board, which was managing the site, confirmed that at least five tents have been dismantled and the residents are being shifted to rented properties in the neighbourhood. But many of these families who are being relocated have nowhere to go and little to eat.
Aqueel Ahmad, the caterer who was in-charge of the kitchen at Eidgah, confirmed that there was a lack of essential goods because of supply shortage. An SOS message about the lack of essential goods, including oil, milk, wheat and rice had been shared widely on social media platforms just a day ago. “We prepared our last meal at Eidgah today. The authorities have asked us to leave because they are moving the residents to different places. For the last two days, we were struggling to prepare food for the residents because essentials like oil and milk were hard to come by in bulk,” Ahmad said.
Fear of the contagious disease has also led people to leave on their own accord. Akhtar was among the two petitioners, who had moved the Delhi high court on March 20, asking the government to set up a medical camp to screen people for Covid-19 by through thermal scanners. The HC passed an order on March 23, asking the government to set up the camp within 48 hours. But even before the deadline for compliance ended, the Waqf board began to dismantle camps.
“This is a clear violation of the court’s order. The government can be held accountable for contempt of court if it’s making people leave without screening them,” said a lawyer who had represented Akhtar at the HC.
Wasim was among those who left because of fear around Corona virus. “We left two days ago because people started saying it wasn’t safe to live with so many people as the disease could spread,” he said. The 30-year-old has taken up a rented house, but there’s no work for him. “Some volunteers gave us money for three month rent, but we don’t know how we will eat now, since there is no work,” he said. Wasim didn’t have a bed when he shifted to his one-room house. So, his elderly mother went to live with his cousin in Faridabad.
“We would have brought back our mother when we furnished the house a little. She can’t sleep on the floor because of her age. But now, we can’t even bring her back because of the lockdown,” he added.
Even as the displaced stare at a bleak future, all they pray for is “peace.” “We hope that this does not happen with anyone. Our lives changed overnight because of the riots. And then it changed again when we had to leave the camp at such a short notice. We don’t have a plan for survival but we know we have to try,” said Akhtar.
“If we had our regular incomes, we would have made sure that we fed at least 10 more people in these times of fear, but right now, we don’t even have the clarity about what we would be eating next,” he added.