Delhi

Muslim women take refuge in Chaman Park warehouses

Women and children from Shiv Vihar at one of the shelters on Friday.

Women and children from Shiv Vihar at one of the shelters on Friday.   | Photo Credit: Sidharth Ravi

Hundreds of them who have their husbands and teenaged sons missing since Sunday recall how they survived violence

Hundreds of Muslim women, whose husbands and teenaged sons are allegedly missing since Sunday, have taken refuge at nearly half-a-dozen warehouses in Chaman Park to escape the horror that engulfed their houses in Shiv Vihar — an area that witnessed some of the worst incidents of violence and arson — as clashes wreaked havoc across north-east Delhi.

Those displaced, mostly women and young children, continued to arrive at the makeshift camps till as late as Friday morning, slipping across a large drain, in the dead of night, via multiple small bridges from Hindu-dominated areas, skirting around the charred remains of vehicles and push carts then and now manned by paramilitary personnel.

They not only kept asking about their husbands and sons, but also if the locality, which many of them have called home for three decades before being forced to relocate, “now only belonged only to the Hindus”. When, how, and if at all they would be returning to the ruins of their houses was something they chose to leave to fate.

Only one bridge remained open between the two sides by Friday and residents were not of the same opinion regarding who started the violence and who was responsible for stray incidents that continued unabated.

“My entire house was on fire, I was about to die,” claimed Bilkis Bano who has been at the camp since the last three days. “People came out of nowhere and started pelting stones and set everything on fire,” she narrated. With a mob allegedly attempting to break into her house and a fire raging, she and the other members of her family tried to hide in the corner of her house when, she recalled, “someone, I did not know, pulled us out and took us to a safe place”.

Arshi Ansari claimed that hundreds of people, mostly “outsiders”, some of whom were “dressed as policemen” took advantage of the fact that most male members of their families were had gone to a religious congregation or jamaat on Sunday.

‘Dressed as policemen’

“They barged into the area because they knew the men were away. One of the first things they did was damaging the CCTV cameras installed in the area. They were all outsiders... some of them were wearing police uniforms but did not look or behave like policemen. They ransacked and defiled the local mosque. They tried to provoke us for hours and threatened to forcibly get us converted,” she claimed.

Farzaa, another resident of the area, informed that four floors of her building were burnt down. “We could not take anything with us when we left the house. We had never imagined that something like that could happen. We just thought there would be some scuffle and things would settle down,” she said. At the gate of her building, which stands next to a household “bearing a saffron flag”, tens of bikes lay burnt to a crisp on a ramp and the entire construction had turned black from the fire. The buildings next to it were untouched.

Noor Jahan (47) lived in a house rented out by a Hindu landlord in Shiv Vihar, but decided to escape when the violence started. “I was not sure if our door would hold up,” she said. As violence in the area escalated, she said, her nine-year-old son asked her if they were safe. “I told him we had a strong gate and nothing would happen. But they broke that [gate] too and in ways I cannot even explain,” she said.

Gas cylinders were used to trigger explosions and smoke from fires engulfed the room she was seeking shelter in along with others. “I covered my child’s face with a wet cloth and we somehow survived,” Mr. Jahan said. Around 3 on Tuesday night when the violence had subsided, Ms. Jahan and her family escaped. “We just ran for our lives and managed to make our way to Chaman Park,” she said.

Debris of stones that were pelted, shattered glass, broken doors, charred remains of vehicles and gutted stores and houses line at least three streets surrounding the Madina mosque in Shiv Vihar, where a large number of people from the Muslim community resided until recently.

The mosque had been vandalised, with the grills to its doors and windows mangled, windows shattered, debris covering the lanes to its entrance and the insides gutted with the burnt carpet sticking to the floor. Miscreants had also hoisted the Tricolour atop the building, next to loudspeakers set up for calls to prayer.

‘Outsiders’

“It was all people from outside. We do not know where they came from,” said Rahul, another resident of the area. Others, such as Manoj Rohila, said that the violence erupted after Muslim mobs set on fire houses and shops, such as that of Bhetem Singh Bhagel who ran a Kirana store near the mosque. Mr. Bhagel’s store had been looted and burnt down as well, while his family which lived in a house inside, remained trapped, he said.

Farhad Ansari [name changed], a resident who was in the area when the violence broke out, said: “We tried to stop them as much as we could.”

Muslim residents here had reportedly put up makeshift barricades and even took to stone-pelting from the terraces of buildings in the area to protect themselves, the residents said.

“However, after a point, the Maulana at our mosque told us to take the women and children and leave the area to save ourselves,” Mr. Ansari added.

Some of the women at the refugee centre, however, contested the claim that people from outside incited and engaged in violence stating: “How did they identify which houses to burn down then?”

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 8:11:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/muslim-women-take-refuge-in-chaman-park-warehouses/article30946762.ece

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