Updated: March 1, 2020 10:55:18 am
Time has stopped, literally, in scores of homes in Northeast Delhi that were set ablaze during this week’s riots — and on Saturday, as several families returned to localities such as Khajuri Khas and Bhajanpura to see their belongings reduced to ash, the mangled and melted wall clocks told a tale. The time on the shrivelled clocks is in many cases indecipherable. Some remain on the blackened walls, others have fallen in the heaps of burnt debris, shards of glass, and piles of rubble on the floor.
Among the homes that are almost completely gutted in Khajuri Khas is that of BSF Constable Mohammad Anees. He is due to be married in two months, but his bedroom and personal belongings are charred, and the sides of his television set have curled up in the heat from the raging flames.
The BSF’s Deputy Inspector General, Pushpinder Singh Rathore, visited Anees’s burnt home along with other BSF officials on Saturday. “Anees has been informed about the destruction of his home and he is on the way back from Odisha where he is posted,” DIG Rathore told The Sunday Express. “We came here as soon as we heard about the incident. All assistance will be given to him to rebuild his house.”
Others may not get such quick assistance. Wails of women come from an adjoining house, where 22-year-old Samreen Khan and her relatives have just returned to the home they fled four days previously. Samreen points to a burnt sofa on which the family has placed empty jewellery cases the contents of which they say were looted before the house was set on fire. Next to the cases is a half-melted clock that hung on a wall before the communal mayhem began.
Samreen points to another room that once had shelves lined neatly with books on pharmacy. Her father was a pharmacist, and she is herself studying for a diploma in pharmacy. “All our pharmacy books have been turned into ash. The two gold necklaces that my mother bought for my wedding are gone. The steel almirah was ransacked before our home was set ablaze,” she said.
Some areas like Jafrabad and Chand Bagh, which saw many incidents of firing and brickbatting, have started to return to life; not so, however, these neighbourhoods, where rows and rows of shops and houses were burnt down.
Cranes and other equipment are moving around removing charred vehicles. In one of the streets stands a pushcart, still fully loaded with singed, now rotting bananas. Next to it is Aman Motors, which was once a large motorcycle showroom. Some 100 completely burnt out motorcycles are loaded one by one on to a truck. “I have lost crores in the violence. I could save only about a 100 motorcycles. I will never be able to recover the losses,” the showroom’s distraught owner, Brijpal Singh, said.
Many similar details of the mayhem emerge from the destruction. That there was widespread looting of valuables from homes and establishments before they were set ablaze. That mini gas cylinders, possibly picked up from neighbourhood eateries, were mostly used to start fires. And that despite frantic calls to the Fire Department, no fire tenders arrived at the scene until there was nothing left to save from the fires.
The fires shook the foundations of the buildings — it is dangerous now to climb to the upper floors of many burnt-out homes in the narrow lanes, since their roofs are at the point of collapse.
There are many like Naresh Agarwal, owner of a sweet shop in Khajuri Khas, who raised the shutters of their burnt shops to inspect the damage. They downed them again — everything inside had been smashed, then burnt. And once again, a disfigured wall clock told a tale.
Agarwal speaks about a gas cylinder having been used, as does Mohammad Vakil, an autorickshaw driver, whose father works with the Food Corporation of India. Vakil’s three-storey house is completely gutted. Standing amidst the ash and debris, and a ceiling fan with its blades twisted by fire, he points to the place where the family’s furniture used to be arranged. “When I opened my house yesterday, there was a small gas cylinder on the floor. We never possessed this,” he says.
In Maujpur, some say they have been given forms to claim compensation from the state government. Among those who has been given a form is Bir Singh, who owns a medical store in Maujpur market. He says everything valuable, including his wallet, was stolen before his shop was burnt down. Also that, hours after his shop was set ablaze, someone returned his driving licence to him. He said, “This shows there was systematic looting too. People wearing helmets, and others who had their faces covered, were doing it.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.