Day 5 at govt. relief camps: no one in sight

Officials suspect fear, distance and lack of information keeping riot victims away

March 03, 2020 01:36 am | Updated 01:36 am IST - New Delhi

NEW DELHI 02/03/2020:   Relief camp for violence effected people at Panchsheel garden (north east Delhi) after days of violence, in New Delhi on Monday. Photo Sandeep Saxena

NEW DELHI 02/03/2020: Relief camp for violence effected people at Panchsheel garden (north east Delhi) after days of violence, in New Delhi on Monday. Photo Sandeep Saxena

At a relief camp set up by the AAP government in Shahdara’s Panchsheel Garden, caretaker Amrit Gulati (65) has two other officials and two homeless persons for company. Not a single riot victim has come to take refuge here in the last five days.

The off-white tiles are clean, the mattresses piled up neatly in one corner and the water container untouched at the night shelter which can accommodate up to 40 people. An NGO representative who is supposed to take care of the food for riot victims also waits in anticipation.

‘Arrangements in place’

“It has been four days since we started preparations to house riot victims, but no one has come. We will take care of their food, water and medication. All the necessary arrangements are in place,” said Mr. Gulati, adding that the food arrangements are only for riot victims and not the homeless who visit regularly.

An official who did not wish to be identified said the reason, he suspects, people are not coming is because of lack of knowledge and distance. “Few people are aware of the locations of the relief camps. This shelter is also over 2 km away from the affected areas.”

Mr. Gulati said because of the riots, the number of homeless persons coming in at night has also reduced to about 10 because many of them are migrant labourers and have left for their villages. Even if the numbers increase, Mr. Gulati said they won’t refuse anyone. “We will make sure they are all accommodated. Perhaps, ask two homeless persons to share a bed,” he said.

Appealing to people to take refuge in the shelters, Mr. Gulati said, “No matter what religion they belong to, we will take care of them. Our other caretaker is Mohammed Zaheer and we live here as a family. For us, everyone is equal.”

He said he understands the helplessness of someone who is homeless or forced out of house because he himself came from Punjab as a homeless man in 2012. His wife passed away 20 years ago and his children – both daughters – got married. “I stayed here homeless for three years and in 2015, they gave me the job to take care of this shelter.”

A few kilometres away in Kabool Nagar, another government relief camp is empty. An official suspected the riot victims are not coming to the camp “because the area is dominated by Hindus”. The official felt victims are scared and prefer the company “of their own”. “On Tuesday, when the violence was raging, three shops owned by Muslims in the area were vandalised,” he said.

In fact, the relief camp right outside Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, where hundreds of victims are undergoing treatmentand families of deceased are waiting for the bodies to be handed over to them, has only been visited by three persons. The caretaker of the camp, Rajesh Kumar, said, “Two persons had come on February 27, one came on February 28 and all the three came again on February 29. No one else has taken shelter here so far.”

He said another person had come to the camp but left as he felt scared being away from his community members. “I go inside the hospital, to the mortuary and where the families of the injured sit and ask them to come, but they refuse. They prefer going to their relatives’ houses. They feel scared,” he said.

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