This article originally appeared on VICE India.
Samreen Ansari was travelling on the Delhi Metro when women around her advised her to take off her hijab. “They said it wasn’t safe for me to wear a hijab and travel through the riot-hit areas,” the 22-year-old told VICE. This was the route she would take every day to work. “Ours was one of the last families to run away from Shiv Vihar (a locality in northeast Delhi). On February 26, we started witnessing violence from 3 p.m. After spending the night in darkness, we left around 3 a.m. on February 27. The Hindus in our neighbourhood helped us escape. But where was the police? Where are the politicians? Why don’t they just blow us all up, once and for all, if they have so many problems with us?”
Since February 23, New Delhi has been in the grip of communal violence, at the core of which lies the debate about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). As VICE navigated through the riot-torn areas in the city over the last few days, we found that Shiv Vihar is slowly emerging as the most impacted area. Several houses have been set on fire after being looted, people have been severely beaten up, and dead bodies are still being retrieved from the open sewer drain that flows nearby it. The intensity of the violence has prompted the internal displacement of Muslim families as evidenced by the reports of rescue and relief efforts coming in on a daily basis.
As people are forced to move out of their homes, its immediate impact is not only unprecedented emotional and physical trauma, but also the beginning of the years of added strife for families. Moreover, studies have also confirmed that while conflict has an impact on both men and women, it’s especially harder on women. So when women are faced with the brutality of communal conflict, they go through the immediate threat of violence as well as the probability of recurring trauma.
What makes things worse is that India is not prepared for such a situation. In the 1990s, the UN put together The Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement to help out Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) due to conflict and violence. One of the principles of this is that it ensures people, who have been forced to move out of their homes, are given protection, rehabilitation and, if possible, the opportunity to return. While this has been adopted by at least 17 countries across the world, India is not one of them. At the moment, a recent survey from 2018 puts the number of Internally Displaced Persons in the country at 4,79,000.
In order to assess the ground reality of being displaced after the riots in Delhi, VICE visited Mustafabad to speak with multiple women who lost their homes in Shiv Vihar, fled the area, and are now housed in various locations in this neighbourhood (which includes a massive relief camp set up by citizens). These are their stories of loss, anger and frustration.
"We left the house unlocked and ran. They looted our house. I am at my daughter’s house. We cannot go back home. Nothing is left back there."
"We ran away from our house in the dead of the night. When we got out, we were pelted with stones. They were abusing us. There were families huddled together. We ran barefoot. My brother-in-law died after he was severely injured by the rioting mob. We heard that people in Babu Nagar, a neighbourhood in Mustafabad were helping people like us, so we came here. We have heard about acid attacks and brutal murders."
"I don’t know what to do now, where to go, whom to talk to. We are here because these people in Babu Nagar are helping us. They set fire to our house. We should be taken back home. Although, whoever tries to go back is beaten up."
"They burnt our mosques. I came here with my family on February 25 at 6 a.m. We are wearing clothes that people have donated. I couldn’t even carry my children’s clothes."
"I am very worried. I am stuck here. We don’t have enough clothes for the winter. Poor people get hit the worst by such violence."
"I have three children. [When the violence started] I had put clothes in the wash. I made my children wear wet clothes and we ran. Now, my children are unwell. She (in the photo) is my oldest daughter and she is seven. We are still afraid. We don’t know who they were, the ones who caused the destruction."
"We were up the whole night of February 23. We left on February 24 after the stone-pelting incident. I brought my girls back from school with the help of my Hindu neighbours. My husband works in Pune. I lived alone with my daughters in Shiv Nagar on rent. What have we done? They destroyed everything. Even the owners of my rented house ran away. Our Hindu neighbours helped us escape. When we were leaving, we were surrounded by rioters. I told my oldest daughter not to run or look like she was afraid."
"I was cooking food on February 25 but the children didn’t want to eat. I kept the dough for the roti back in the refrigerator. At night, we heard a mob trying to break down our door, so we hid. The military waale (cops in camouflage uniforms) brought us out and got us here. I don’t know what happened to my house. They burned down our car. I don’t know anything more. They didn’t even spare my chickens and my pigeons."
"Our TV, refrigerator, jewellery, money—they took away everything. I left home after the evening call for prayer on February 25. I spent a night at Chaman Park (a neighbourhood in Mustafabad where locals have opened up their homes for everyone who is coming to them seeking refuge), left my children with my extended family, and came here (at the relief camp set up by the people of Mustafabad) today. This, after having lived in Shiv Vihar for the past 30 years."
"I am 14 years old. I couldn’t even rescue my goats."
"My mother and I left in a hurry once the violence broke out. We don’t know what happened to our house; what the rioters did to it."
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