The ‘Women Only’ section of the relief camp. Inside the camp, temporary tents made of vibrant cloths have been set up, with a clear demarcation between the men’s quarters and that of the women.
Hundreds of women have been living here since the fateful night of February 24. Women and their children have been allocated tents and beds made of foam to sleep at night.
Parveen, who resided in Shiv Vihar till the riots happened, is upset and angry. Her daughter, Sofia, is in the eight standard, and hasn’t been able to attend school for two weeks. She looked visibly distressed when asked about her ongoing exams. “I studied so hard, and now I’ve already missed two of my papers. I don’t even know where my friends are,” Sofia said. When asked about the living conditions in the camp, Parveen said, “I’ve always been so cautious about where my children go, who they meet and what they do. Now, look at them – living in the streets like homeless people. I don’t care about compensation, Allah won’t forgive them (rioters).” When asked about the living conditions in the camp, Parveen said, “I’ve always been so cautious about where my children go, who they meet and what they do. Now, look at them – living in the streets like homeless people. I don’t care about compensation, Allah won’t forgive them (rioters).”
Amina, who hails from Shiv Vihar, was home when rioters barged into her Gali. “I had three homes in the area, they burnt down all three. I had 13 buffaloes and used to supply milk to the whole neighbourhood. It’s all gone now. My daughter’s wedding was next month, I had saved up money and jewellery – but they looted everything. I have nothing left anymore,” Amina told News18. With an eerie vacancy and hopelessness in her eyes, she narrated how men chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ had surrounded her and her family with weapons when a Hindu family living close by had come to their aid. “Our neighbour helped us, but we had to leave the next day because we didn’t want their lives to be in danger because of us. I don’t know what happened to them after that,” she added. When asked about what she plans to do, Amina said, “Right now, I’m here. I am at least getting food to eat and a roof over my head. I don’t know what’s going to happen after that.”
Nusrat and her relative, Parveen were reluctant to leave their tents while the rest of the women went for lunch. “What’s the point?” she asked. For Nusrat, it’s getting increasingly difficult. “We had comfortable homes near Bhajanpura. Now I have to live here with my kids. What am I going to do?” she asked. The women, in unison, complain about the washrooms that has been set up outside the camp–they are too dirty to be used. “We try and avoid going during the day as much as possible. Look around, there are hundreds of women and only one tiny bathroom. You can only imagine how dirty it must be,” Parveen said.
Outside the gates of the camp, two vans have been converted into washrooms. One for men, and the other for women. The narrow road in front of Eidgah has been blocked by the two vans parked next to each other; in groups of four and five, men, women and children can be seen lining up to use the washrooms.
Ruksana was caught in the crosshairs when she stepped out to buy daal with her aged husband and 22-year-old son who is specially-abled. She was then helped by a cop, who guided her to safety on February 24. “I have sugar and thyroid. I cannot eat the food here because the doctor has asked me not to. I haven’t received any help from anyone here, not even medicines. I had to go and get it from outside. I need a proper bed to sleep in, otherwise, my arthritis starts acting up. No one is doing anything to help us. I am old now, is this a way to live?” Ruksana asked, with tears welling up in her eyes. Ruksana said that she managed to flee with her life, but nothing more. “My neighbour gave me this salwar kameez and sandals. The second-hand clothes you see here are all torn and don’t fit me. All I want is some clean clothes and my own home,” she added.
Amreen sits with her two children, Fazil (3) and Shabnam (8), who enjoy the first meal they’ve had in over twenty hours. “You might see clothes and mattresses being brought into the camp. But we haven’t got anything. No supplies have reached us. My kids haven’t had a morsel to eat since morning…how am I supposed to…” Amreen isn’t able to finish her sentence, breaking down in tears. She said she was at home preparing for her kids’ school the next day when the riots started. Her children, three-year-old Fazil and eight-year-old Shabnam sat with a volunteer who had come to participate in the Reading Mela that was organised within the camp by an NGO. “Our kids aren’t getting beds to sleep in and food to eat, what is the point of making them study?”
Bano and her daughter Firoza, a college student, said that the rioters did not just burn down homes, but their whole lives too. Firoza said that all her years of hard work came to nothing since all her documents have been destroyed in the fire. “What am I going to show if they ask for our documents for NRC and CAA now?” She said she is grateful that her family is alive and they have been fortunate enough to seek shelter at the camp, but it has been difficult to adjust to a “refugee’s life”.
This story first appeared on news18.com