Victims twice over

Print edition : July 16, 2021

Imanuddin of Shiv Vihar in north-east Delhi. He struggled to file a compensation claim but has not got any relief from the government.

It has been a long and futile wait for compensation and return to even a semblance of normalcy for many of the victims of the February 2020 riots in north-east Delhi as they are thwarted at every step by the agency of the state.

Imanuddin, 26, used to cycle 20 kilometres from his house in Shiv Vihar on the edge of north-east Delhi to a garment factory in Noida where he worked to earn a monthly income of Rs.13,000. His family included his Parkinson’s-afflicted father, mother, wife and four children. Life was tough, but he managed. But the February 23-24, 2020, violence in his locality changed everything for him.

Around the time the violence broke out, Imanuddin had received a sum of Rs.2,40,000 from his brother and brother-in-law in a property division agreement. “I was at home when the riots broke out. When the rioters attacked my house, I bolted the door from inside and escaped through the rooftop with my wife and children. I took all the money and the ownership documents of the house with me. There are only four Muslim homes in my lane. The attackers came from the cremation ground side, alongside the drain. I decided to move to a relative’s house. However, along the way, the rioters attacked us. They grabbed the money I was carrying. We somehow managed to save our lives. We stopped at another Muslim’s house in Shiv Vihar. They had a good Hindu neighbour. He took us to his house. Next morning, the police came and took us to Babu Nagar. My parents joined us there, but my father was traumatised. The rioters climbed on the roof of the house, entered it and threw out our belongings.”

Imanuddin tried to register a complaint with the police. He said: “I went to the Karawal Nagar police station to register my complaint. The policeman on duty did not register my complaint. Instead, he said, ‘Tumhe azaadi chahiye? Lo, mil gayi azadi [You want freedom? Here, you have freedom]. Then I went to Nand Nagari [police station], and complained there. They assured me that now I could go to the local police station again, and a complaint would be registered. I went back to the station. The policemen there continued to be evasive. No complaint was written despite my best efforts. I tried to register an online complaint. It did not work. After five months, a local lawyer in Shiv Vihar helped me register an online complaint. Then I met somebody from the Public Prosecutor’s team. He assured me of help and asked me to stay patient. To this day, I am waiting.”

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Amidst all this, Imanuddin struggled to file a compensation claim. It took him a couple of months before he could file a claim during the lockdown last year. “The Public Prosecutor’s team asked me if I would register a complaint against the local police. I said I would not as my father is bed-ridden. I have small children to take care of. To this date, I have not received any relief from the government. Nothing from the Delhi government. Nor even the money that was stolen from me. Just assurances.”

Mushahid’s account

Mushahid, 22, a resident of Khajuri Khas, another locality that was the target of violence last year, filed a complaint with the police in which he named the local legislator, Mohan Singh Bisht of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and allegedly paid the price for it. Mushahid used to ply an e-rickshaw for a living. On April 7, he took three passengers in his vehicle to a factory in Gokulpuri, where a number of tyre shops had been gutted in the February violence. On reaching the place, the passengers allegedly first offered him a soft drink and then threatened to kill him if he did not withdraw his complaint. They allegedly thrashed him and left him on the road in a semi-conscious state. The police took Mushahid to a medical facility in the area. When he regained consciousness, the police, he alleged, registered a complaint about the theft of his e-rickshaw but did not mention the assault and injury and the threat issued by the assailants to withdraw his complaint against Bisht. Incidentally, in his complaint in September last year, Mushahid had given an eyewitness account of Bisht lobbing a bomb into the premises of a local Muslim. He was willing to identify Bisht if needed. But Mushahid did not receive any financial assistance from the government.

Mohammed Zubair

The fate of Mohammed Zubair, the first victim of the pogrom, is no better. Zubair’s photo, which showed him sprawled on the ground even as rioters attacked from all sides in Bhajanpura, became a symbol of the targeted violence. On the fateful day, he was returning after attending a religious congregation in Qasabpura to his family in Chand Bagh opposite Bhajanpura when he was attacked by goons with hockey sticks, rods, tyres and canes. He bled from his head and hands, and his knees were broken. The attackers, presuming him to be dead, dumped him across the road, not far from a sufi dargah. Fortunately, some passers-by heard Zubair’s cry and rushed him to Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital. For more than a year, Zubair has been undergoing treatment by private medical practitioners, first in Azad Market where his sister stays, then in Chand Bagh itself. He has had to pay for most of his medical expenses. Some small help came from civil society activists. Although his was the most publicised attack in the targeted violence, this small businessman is yet to get compensation from the Delhi government. Zubair is now unemployed with his mobility restricted as his knees are weak and buckle.

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Basarat and Mohammed Rashid

The fate of Basarat, 52, is equally worse. He used to run a grocery shop from the ground floor of his house in Shiv Vihar’s Gali No. 13. The rioters destroyed the house and looted the shop. Basarat and family managed to escape a little before the rioters struck. A few days later, Basarat filled up the relief form and submitted it to the Sub Divisional Magistrate’s (SDM) office in Nand Nagri. “Many times, officers came from the SDM’s office. They investigated the premises thoroughly, took notes and promised relief. We got Rs.1,00,000. They promised us that more compensation would be provided after we submitted another form. I filled that form too, but I have not got any further aid. I am struggling to make ends meet. My shop is a poor replica of what it used to be. I have no money to buy stock. My earnings from the shop have come down to less than half of what they used to be. My daughter lost her eyesight during the riots. She suffered from trauma. She passed away subsequently. I got no relief for her death either,” says Basarat.

Mohammed Rashid, an autorickshaw driver of Ashok Nagar, got a paltry Rs.25,000 as relief towards his charred single-storey house. Rashid’s house shared its wall with Maula Baksh Masjid, where cylinders were set off. His house was looted and then set on fire. All his belongings, from his daughter’s school textbooks to refrigerator and motorcycle and the family’s savings and jewellery, were looted or set on fire. Two days after the attack on February 24 last year, Rashid shuttled between his charred house and the SDM’s office to file for compensation While his neighbours, whose houses were similarly ransacked and set ablaze, received Rs.2.5 lakh as compensation, Rashid got only a tenth of that. No explanation was offered when he asked the SDM’s office for details. No notes or relief declaration documents were shared with Rashid.

Losses underestimated

Rashid, Basarat, Imanuddin…. the list of victims receiving inadequate or no compensation in the Delhi pogrom is long. There have been frequent complaints about the SDMs not extending adequate help at the ground level. The victims alleged that the investigators underestimated their losses. Even completely burnt down houses were reported as merely damaged. Shops set ablaze or ransacked were noted as partially attacked and goods lost were reported as stolen.

Last year, the Delhi Minorities Commission issued a notice to the North-east District Magistrate against the Karawal Nagar SDM after receiving complaints of harassment. “I received a complaint from a lawyer who alleged her client was harassed by officers, and the SDM used abusive language when asked for relief money. I received complaints from other families, too, alleging they have not received money yet,” the then minorities panel chief Zafarul Islam had said.

Also read: ‘A planned attack’: Zafarul Islam

Incidentally, in the aftermath of the violence, the Arvind Kejriwal government assured prompt relief to the riot affected. The government announced a compensation of Rs.10 lakh in case of death, Rs.5 lakh for permanent incapacitation, Rs.2 lakh for serious injuries, Rs.20,000 for minor injuries and Rs.5,000 for loss of animal. For damaged houses, Rs.5 lakh was to be paid for each affected floor. However, there is a huge difference between the announcements and action. Government sources insist that loot cases, such as Imanuddin’s, have not been easy to handle as it is not possible to ascertain the actual loss.

In many cases, the compensation was sanctioned but the amount was not credited to the affected person’s account. The relief work was hampered by the loss of Aadhaar cards or bank documents or even the whole set of property ownership documents in cases where a house or shop was set on fire. In many cases, the forms filled by the victims could not be verified at the SDM’s office.

Faced with mounting complaints of non-receipt of relief package, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia issued directions in July last year for immediate disbursal of aid. It had a trickle effect. By February this year, the Delhi government had disbursed over Rs.26 crore to 2,221 victims. It includes Rs.4.25 crore given to the next of kin of 44 people killed in the violence, and Rs.1.75 crore to 233 injured persons. The figures were revealed a little after the Delhi High Court sought a response from the Centre and the Delhi government on a plea seeking enhancement of the compensation provided to the victims of violence. However, Imanuddin, Basarat and many others are yet to be compensated fully.

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