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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

At Mustafabad relief camp, picking up pieces after Delhi violence

A week on, the relief camp has evolved from a chaotic space to a more organised one where medical services, a legal cell and a kitchen are in place. Donations in all forms are also trickling in.

Written by Aashi Sadana | New Delhi | Updated: March 13, 2020 11:20:43 pm
The Mustafabad relief camp in northeast Delhi. (Express Photo by Aashi Sadana)

A big crowd, dwarfed by the iron gates, can be seen from a distance as one makes their way through the cramped lanes opening into northeast Delhi’s Mustafabad Eidgah, serving as a relief camp for the city’s riot victims. The relief camp at the Muslim prayer ground was opened by the Delhi Waqf Board on March 2, as there were no takers for the night shelters offered by Delhi government to families displaced in the riots in which at least 53 people were killed and left more than 300 injured.

Several volunteers clad in yellow clothes were busy examining people wanting to go inside the camp. “It is difficult to distinguish between those taking shelter in the camp, their acquaintances, and people who are coming here merely to see what’s happening,” said one of the volunteers. A register of those having taken shelter in the camp has been created, another volunteer at the camp told indianexpress.com.


A week on, the relief camp has evolved from a chaotic space to a more organised one where medical services, a legal cell and a kitchen are in place. Donations in all forms are also trickling in.

Volunteers lead relief work

Atif, who stays in the neighbourhood and spends more than 12 hours volunteering at the camp, said: “I am doing such kind of work for the first time. In about a week’s time, additional and increased efficiency of several services have made people feel safe here.”

Volunteers have varied roles at the camp. Some guard the outskirts for security, while some others help people find their relatives, others arrange for food and coordinate between the people and the service providers. “My role changes a bit daily,” said a 63-year-old woman volunteer. “On my first day I was simply distributing food in the women’s quarters, but now I have to talk to them, understand their experiences, check for any illness or any issues that they are facing here,” she added.

At least 20 tents of various colours with segregated quarters for men and women occupy the largest space in the Eidgah. Inside one of the women’s quarters, as volunteers distribute biscuits for evening snacks, two sisters, Sitara, 14, and Saleema, 17, refuse to take them. “We cannot eat before sunset, we are observing roza, it is helping us stay calm in this situation,” they said.

Sitara and Saleema fled their home in Shiv Vihar two days after the riots began on February 24, when around “50 to 60 people with guns, iron rods and acid bottles started attacking our locality in Shiv Vihar,” the latter recalled. “We remained confined in our house, sitting in absolute silence for at least 26 hours. We could have been taken away and probably killed,” she added.

On the evening of February 26, a slight calm gave few families a window of opportunity to escape. “We were instructed not to carry anything or wear any footwear, as we didn’t know when the violence would resume,” Sitara said.

“Now we have food, we have beds, but we don’t have a home,” their mother, Khatija rued.

Delhi violence, Delhi riots, Delhi communal clashes, northeast Delhi violence, northeast Delhi clashes, Mustafabad camp, Mustafabad relief camp, Delhi news, city news, Indian Express People seeking medical services at the camp. (Express Photo by Aashi Sadana)

Medical stalls, legal cell

As soon as one enters the Eidgah, there is a stall calling for donations in cash and kind. “We are accepting everything from clothes to food grains to money,” one Kumar at the stall said. A tent parallel to this stall is the storehouse of all donations. Heaps of clothes apart from medicines, newfangled toys, a few radio stations are kept here. Around 10 volunteers were labelling and recording all the grants in their registers. A separate team was at work for the monetary donations.

Delhi violence, Delhi riots, Delhi communal clashes, northeast Delhi violence, northeast Delhi clashes, Mustafabad camp, Mustafabad relief camp, Delhi news, city news, Indian Express A tent in the women’s living quarters at the relief camp. (Express Photo by Aashi Sadana)

In the same row, there are two medical stalls that were the most crowded. Dr N A Nizami from the Doctors Unity Welfare Association, who was attending to people along with his 15-member team, said: “Apart from the several cold and flu cases, many patients complain of palpitations, which is largely owing to the exposure to the recent violence.”

The doctor says they are attending to several hundred people or more every day. “More than 3,000 patients visit us every day,” said a medical student-turned-volunteer Saam Jamal.

At another camp, the District Legal Services Authority is providing services for those who have lost their identification cards when their houses were burnt in the riots or while in transit. A resident of Chand Bagh said, “I had to wait more than three hours to authenticate my story to the camp authorities as all my identity cards were destroyed in the riots”.

A charity kitchen is situated in the women’s quarters. It is run by women volunteers as well as some people who have taken shelter in the camp. People from outside donate raw grains like rice and pulses as well as cooked food. “The cooked food usually comes after evening and we try to distribute it as fast as we can to avoid it from getting spoilt,” a volunteer, who delivers the donated food till the kitchen, explained. “With the raw food that we get, we usually wait to procure other complementary ingredients before cooking a meal,” he added. Tea, meanwhile, is continuously made and served round the clock.

There is also a stall dedicated to reading or the “Reading Mela” stall describes its motto as “Aao, Khelo, Seekhe, Padhein”(come, play, learn and study). “The main work of the volunteers here is to find children in the camp and give them books to read,” a volunteer said. “We are still working on having a congregation learning class in this tent” he added.

People woefully recall heart-wrenching gunshots and chants of hatred as they bide their time in the camp. “We never thought the violence could escalate to such an extent that we would feel unsafe in our own home,” a man said while refusing to give his name. “A place that is used to commemorate Eid and celebrate peace has now become a place of memories of violence and cruelty,” said Navik, another riot victim.  

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