Salman Ansari and his family had to move house three times since the Northeast Delhi riots. — Photo by writer

Profiled and isolated, victims of Delhi's communal violence have been pushed further to the edge with Covid

Many in Shiv Vihar and Mustafabad lost their homes in Delhi's communal violence and Covid has pushed them to the edge.

Updated May 24, 2020 10:25pm

On February 23, vicious communal violence broke out in Northeast Delhi and continued for three days. Homes were set on fire, vehicles blasted, neighbourhoods looted and over a dozen mosques vandalised. Though Hindus faced loss of life and property, the brunt of the violence was borne by the Muslim community.

A month later, the nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19 was implemented on March 25. Before long, media and state narratives began to claim that Muslims were "super carriers" of the coronavirus. By then, media persons had mostly disappeared from the riot-torn areas.

Northeast Delhi, one of India's most densely-populated districts according to the last census, is a microcosm of the community's livelihood patterns. Data shows that most Muslim workers are self-employed in the unorganised sector. Participation in salaried jobs is abysmally low. With the lockdown, the vast majority of people here have lost their sources of income.

I spent three days catching up with the people I had met during the violence, nearly 75 days earlier, to find out how the victims — beaten, profiled, isolated, and largely abandoned by the state — had been surviving, from riots to lockdown.

Scenes from riot-torn areas

Zardozi is an elaborate form of embroidery. The process involves craftsmen sitting cross-legged over a wooden frame with fabric stretched across it, using hooks and needles to create patterns with gold wire and sequins. Until a few months ago, Mohammad Qasim used to own a tiny zardozi unit in the Jafrabad neighbourhood, where he embroidered lehengas and sold them to big showrooms in New Delhi.

Around three weeks ago, he opened a grocery shop and is now distributing rations to those in need. Most of the skilled zardozi workers from Bareilly and Rampur in Uttar Pradesh who worked for Qasim were able to leave for home, but some got left behind.

Qasim's friend Babbu Malik is a community leader and businessman who used to trade in ready-made garments. He dealt in jackets made from nylon polyester fabric imported from China. They were manufactured in Jafrabad and sold all over India. Now, the entire supply chain has been snapped.

The writer with garment trader Babbu Malik on extreme left.
The writer with garment trader Babbu Malik on extreme left.

Malik has dipped into his reserves and along with his friends, started distributing food packets for free. "It is the month of Ramazan when those who can, will give," said Malik. "Inshallah [God willing], no one will starve in the neighbourhood."

Similarly, Haji Waseem Ansari a garment manufacturer who had to shut his unit employing a few hundred workers, says he is getting frequent distress calls from those in need. He says it is God's will that he give whole-heartedly this Ramazan. Nadeem Siddiqui, who runs a small transport business, spends his days procuring edible goods from wholesale markets to distribute in Jafrabad.

Garment trader Babbu Malik (left) and transport business owner Nadeem Siddiqui (right). — Photo by writer
Garment trader Babbu Malik (left) and transport business owner Nadeem Siddiqui (right). — Photo by writer

Jafrabad has a thriving middle class, which makes such acts of charity possible. But in neighbourhoods like Mustafabad, there seem to be few signs of hope. Burqa-clad women walk up to visitors and ask whether they are social workers and can they help. Many are widows, while others emerge as men find it humiliating.

"From working with my hands, I now have to hold out my hands," said an out-of-work tailor.

There are complaints that amid the despondency, a "survival of the fittest" hierarchy is emerging, with local thugs dominating the food distribution chain. Ali Mirza, a builder, probably distributes food packets only because a man of his stature is expected to do so during the holy month. When a woman comes to his doorsteps to return the spoilt food she had been handed, Mirza asked his staff to send her away.

At food distribution outlets run by the state, the quality of the food is abysmal. "We are only alive because we are now eating what dogs eat, as we have no money to buy anything," said the caretaker of a mosque.

The Mustafabad lane leads to Shiv Vihar, the neighbourhood worst-hit by the riots. On February 26, I had met Salman Ansari, a welder who fled when his rented home and workshop were burnt down. The only help he has received has not been from the state, but from some activists who transferred money into his account. He came to meet me in Mustafabad with his infant daughter, coincidentally named Saba.

He led me through winding lanes to the room where he now lives with his wife and two daughters. It is his third home in two months. The first was in a relief camp that was abruptly shut down due to Covid-19; the second, a room where he could not afford the rent. He said he would never return to Shiv Vihar.

Graffiti from Citizenship Amendment Act protests on a wall in Mustafabad, opposite a mosque where two people were killed. — Photo by writer
Graffiti from Citizenship Amendment Act protests on a wall in Mustafabad, opposite a mosque where two people were killed. — Photo by writer

The absent state

Reyazuddin used to distribute toast made in a local bakery. After his home on Street Number 18 was burnt down in the riots, he got an interim relief amount of INR25,000. He was forced to leave the relief camp where he was staying with his family of six, including his aging mother after the lockdown. He had no choice but to return to his burnt home.

In early February, during the Delhi elections, Reyazuddin had been enthusiastically rooting for the Aam Aadmi Party MLA Haji Yunus. Now, he says, he realises that no one really cares.

The Delhi state government has been distributing cooked food on the premises of Manoj Public School, located opposite the destroyed Medina Masjid. But Reyazuddin's family has been fasting during Ramazan and the food is distributed at a time when they cannot eat it — at 11 am and 6 pm. However, he is grateful to volunteers of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, who distributed 10 kilograms of wheat, five kilograms of rice, oil, dal and dates to open the fast.

A burnt car in Mustafabad. — Photo by writer
A burnt car in Mustafabad. — Photo by writer

Shiv Vihar is filled with burnt homes, soot-covered streets and filthy open drains from which corpses were pulled out. Here and in Mustafabad, there is a daily struggle for survival.

Meanwhile, even amid lockdown, the government has arrested more than 20 people for participating in the Citizenship Amendment Act protests. Residents of Jafrabad say the state sees them as enemies. They say they are treated like terrorists, cut off, adrift, surviving one day at a time.


Header photo taken by the writer shows Salman Ansari and his family who had to move house three times since the Northeast Delhi riots.


This article originally appeared on Scroll.in and has been reproduced with permission.

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Saba Naqvi is a Delhi based author and journalist.


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (63) Closed

M. Saeed
May 14, 2020 03:06pm
Brutal-ism to the extreme with shameless world watching.
Recommend 0
Umar
May 14, 2020 03:16pm
Secular India!!!!
Recommend 0
Sheeraz
May 14, 2020 03:21pm
Hate propagates hate. Its a snowball that only gets bigger n bigger, if left unchecked. Looking back at the sectarian strife and how the majority population backed or at best overlooked it, only to finally realize how it eroded our humanity. I hope that moment come as early as possible for the Indian Majority populace. Chao
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Pakistani
May 14, 2020 03:26pm
I hope Pakistan gives citizenship to any persecuted Muslim in India.
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bhaRAT©
May 14, 2020 03:41pm
@Pakistani, So you admit India"persecutes"? A truth emerges from an Indian!
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Sivakumar
May 14, 2020 03:51pm
@Umar, Pakistan is a secular country?
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Guest
May 14, 2020 03:58pm
if there is hate there is help also...u will find kindness and donations aplenty .That is why it is still secular unlike some others
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Umesh
May 14, 2020 04:02pm
@bhaRAT©, If you say so.
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Thinking
May 14, 2020 04:07pm
food is distributed at a time when they cannot eat it — at 11 am and 6 pm So what is wrong in getting food distrbuted at 11am. They can still eat it after fasting is over. Something better than nothing. A lot of us still eat left over food from morning.
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Shaleen Mathur
May 14, 2020 04:10pm
Where is the article on lives of Pakistani Hindus and Sikhs???
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A shah
May 14, 2020 04:13pm
Their country their rules
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Sindhu
May 14, 2020 04:14pm
@bhaRAT©, why not Pakistan bring the ordinance like CAA and take all the discriminated muslims of any country.Lip service and blaming won't help make a room and include them.
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A shah
May 14, 2020 04:14pm
Pakistanis only talk, no action. Modi opened his arms to all Hindus, Christians, sikhs who wanted to come to india. Pakistan seems to have stabbed Muslims in the back
Recommend 0
Ajaz
May 14, 2020 04:22pm
Money is above brotherhood. Ask the Arab leaders. They are not even raising their voices.
Recommend 0
Zak
May 14, 2020 04:46pm
Indian union is not a nation but a union of different nations. Each nation would have character enough to desist communal violence.
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Zak
May 14, 2020 04:48pm
@Pakistani, 'I hope Pakistan gives citizenship to any persecuted Muslim in India.' Muslims belong to their respective nations, like Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Kerala, Assam, Rajastan etc. They will not leave their country for another.
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Rao
May 14, 2020 04:49pm
@Pakistani, YES., Pakistan should invite and give citizenship to those who are persecuted. This act of generosity is missing from many west countries. Pakistan should be an example by giving citizenship to all aspirants. Saba Naqvi and Rana Ayyub should take initiative to arrange transport to Pakistand for those who are seeking Pakistan citizenship.
Recommend 0
Zak
May 14, 2020 04:52pm
India has become a sick society run by fascist. Thee outcome of such governance under RSS is, the eventual demise of the Indian union,like the Soviet union.
Recommend 0
Vivek M
May 14, 2020 04:57pm
Are the Pakistani Muslims happy in their own country? With sugar, wheat, flour, money laundering, extremism, crisis?
Recommend 0
Rohit
May 14, 2020 05:00pm
Its time India should wail for Pakistani minorities living in miserable conditions.
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Kanchan
May 14, 2020 05:01pm
When you fail at home, then whimper for Muslims at India, that is the strategy.
Recommend 0
Ashish Mehra
May 14, 2020 05:02pm
Pakistan is perhaps the only country which is engaged overtime in evolving strategies of different type.
Recommend 0
Kulwant
May 14, 2020 05:06pm
Trying to wriggle out by raking up “suffering” of Kashmiris and Indian Muslims but not worried about debts, loans, edibles.
Recommend 0
Jignesh
May 14, 2020 05:08pm
What are contributions of Pakistan for their own Muslims? Hazaras, Baluchis, Pashtoons are victimized by security forces.
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Rahul-B
May 14, 2020 05:13pm
Two convenient tools in Pakistan’s armory that are used frequently as and when it fails to deliver on domestic front,interfere in India’s internal affairs,& alleged discrimination against Muslims in India .
Recommend 0
Piyush
May 14, 2020 05:19pm
@Umar, I have just 1 question if it will be published by Dawn. Can you tell me How many Indian Muslim left India and migrated to Pakistan and How many Pakistan Hindus migrated from Pakistan to India post 1947? If you get this answer you will came know why India is secular.
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Rahul-B
May 14, 2020 05:26pm
@Zak, Same sentences, repeating again and again, boring, find something new negative.
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sri1
May 14, 2020 05:53pm
Thankfully not every community does victimization narratives, and that is why those communities like the Kashmiri Pundits thrive even from adversity, as they rise from those dark days. While we can see the situation of the ones that do, with an entire nation coming to mind. Hopefully the aid and funds will come from others with loan-cancellation.
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Debkumar Barendrapunggab
May 14, 2020 06:39pm
@Sindhu, Great spoken
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Ajay
May 14, 2020 08:00pm
@Pakistani, when?
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Aman Khanna`
May 14, 2020 09:27pm
@Pakistani, Please take all Indian Muslims.
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SATT
May 14, 2020 09:47pm
Indian Muslims loves India.
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Junior
May 14, 2020 10:02pm
Every government scheme is for all people and does not differentiate religion. Everybody is suffering. Reasons like food is distributed at 11 am and 6 pm while they don’t eat during day due to roza are absurd as they can pick up food and eat when permitted. Government or volunteers are providing food to everybody who needs it at least in Delhi it is working well due to simple reason that there are more resources. People arrested on allegations (many Hindus too were arrested) that they participated in riots/killing and courts will decide the outcome. Yes, if they are real culprit then they should be treated as terrorists.
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PakiZa
May 14, 2020 10:11pm
@Zak, yes India is like a union Just like Pakistan. By the same token same thing would happen to you.
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PakiZa
May 14, 2020 10:16pm
@Zak, you can just cry and do nothing else.
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TheCage
May 14, 2020 10:25pm
@Thinking, Have you ever heard riots against Hindus or Sikhs in Pakistan and killing of hundreds or thousands by International Media— (not mentioning India or Pakistan, as one can say they are inclined towards their own side) —- Never after riots of independence..
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TheCage
May 14, 2020 10:45pm
@Ashish Mehra, Is it ? What a mind blowing knowledge to spread...!!
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dinomite
May 14, 2020 10:47pm
@bhaRAT©, - Yes if you believe it ( that India Persecutes) them give them citizenship ?
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DAN
May 14, 2020 11:28pm
@bhaRAT©, you are answering your own questions.
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DAN
May 14, 2020 11:30pm
@bhaRAT©, You forgot to read the " I Hope" in that comment. I hope you were smarter.
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Proud Pakistani
May 15, 2020 12:00am
@Sivakumar, Is India secular ? take a good look at yourselves before looking at your neighbor.
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ali
May 15, 2020 12:22am
All that the Muslims of India need is another JINNAH!
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Ahsan Gul
May 15, 2020 12:30am
Feel sad that Muslims are suffering. But we cannot do anything for them. Sorry
Recommend 0
Sameer
May 15, 2020 01:06am
@Sindhu, they know, none will come.
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ABD San Francisco
May 15, 2020 01:34am
@Zak, Then why did Muslim leave India in 1947?
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TruthMatters
May 15, 2020 04:15am
Overtly Racist and criminal Modi regime exposed. Mask is off. BJP is Nazi propaganda reimagined in the Hindu garb. No two ways about it. It’s a Hindu Reich Hell-bent on extermination of Muslims in a so-called ‘secular democracy’. India, a secular democracy? What a joke!
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TruthMatters
May 15, 2020 04:28am
@Shaleen Mathur, unlike TOI or The Hindu, Dawn is CAPABLE of honest reporting and exposing shortcomings of the current govt. Sikhs are very happy in Pakistan so are the Hindus. Any problems with the Treatment of Hindus are acknowledged by the Pakistan’s Govt and reported by Dawn instead of ‘daily denials’ by Modi and his bhakts regarding subjugation of Muslim minorities in every Indian state and the Muslim majority in IOK. Not to mention Indians like Yourself trolling a Pakistani newspaper, no less! How ironic?!
Recommend 0
Sami
May 15, 2020 04:41am
Very well written article by a brave lady.
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Sami
May 15, 2020 04:44am
@A shah, they are as indian as you are . They deserve same treatment as a normal indian. Why pakistan should take them? Dont run away from your responsibility!
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aftab khattak
May 15, 2020 06:55am
i request Pakistani govt authorities to do something for indain muslims,, they are beaten,burned,and buried in filth of the communal strife and these indain thugs must be laid to rest or they should be exposed to the UN,US,UK ,TURKJEY,SAUDI ARABIA,FRANCE,GERMANY and last but not the least the OIC.
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Abdulmalick Ismail
May 15, 2020 08:30am
@Shaleen Mathur, becuase there is nothing bad to write about sikhs and hindus in Pakistan. They enjoying the complete freedom as enshrined in Pakistan's constitution, can't say the same for indian muslims
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Abdulmalick Ismail
May 15, 2020 08:35am
@Sindhu, Muslims in india has the same rights as hindus, india is just as much for muslims as it is for hindus Muslims of india are indian citizens as hindus are
Recommend 0
Jonthan
May 15, 2020 10:17am
The ture picture of Modi inc, indeed
Recommend 0
Desikan R
May 15, 2020 11:35am
@Piyush, Well said !
Recommend 0
Ali Vazir
May 15, 2020 12:26pm
The first and foremost responsibility of the government is to protect the life, honor and property of its citizens. Haven't we failed in that?
Recommend 0
Imran khan
May 15, 2020 12:33pm
Shining India
Recommend 0
Iftikhar Husain
May 15, 2020 01:48pm
What a tragedy.
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Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad
May 15, 2020 02:50pm
Terrible and tragic sights and sounds of the biggest false, fraud, sham, shame and fake democracy of the world called Republic of India.
Recommend 0
Akhter
May 15, 2020 03:44pm
Very informative story, indeed; the author should also do a story focusing on how children suffered during these communal riots.
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KFA786
May 15, 2020 08:34pm
@Zak, you are correct!
Recommend 0
Dilip
May 16, 2020 12:27pm
@Pakistani, please hurry up
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Rangarajan Raghavachari
May 16, 2020 04:18pm
@M. Saeed, Relax ! It's payback time up to 2035 !
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Tanveer Farooqi
May 16, 2020 06:56pm
@Sivakumar, Pakistan is not a secular state but we treat our minorities very well. You never hear any violence against them.
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