Deep inside the bylanes of Budella in Vikaspuri, John Sultan (24) and his friend Mohd Ismail (20) suddenly switch from Rohingyalish to Hindi in the middle of their conversation. “We don’t want our new neighbours to wonder what language we are talking in or ask us where we are from… we might have to leave this area too otherwise,” said Sultan, a Rohingya Christian, who came to Delhi in 2013 from Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
A week ago, 34 Rohingya Christian families allegedly vacated a private plot they had rented in Mundka’s Bakkarwala JJ colony after they were “threatened by residents”. Sultan and Ismail were among those who left “out of fear”.
The families alleged that this happened after police asked them to fill out nationality verification forms last month. “Landlords and neighbours see us as a threat. They fear the police will trouble them if they let us live here,” Sultan said.
He also claimed that landlords and property dealers in the area did not rent homes to them due to their nationality. “They asked us for identification cards, we gave our refugee cards instead. They didn’t accept it. Afraid of what others would say, they said they can’t let us take a house,” Ismail said.
For a week now, the men have been sleeping on the road while a two-bedroom house in Budella has been rented for the women and children. “They broke our jhuggi, taunted us that we are Rohingya Muslims and should live somewhere else. We converted to Christianity in 2004. The residents beat us up… we were afraid, so we left,” said Rashidullah (22), a rickshaw-puller.
While one landlord in the area refused to comment, Ashish (40), who rented a plot in Mundka to the 34 families last year, told The Sunday Express: “I had no problems, but my neighbours put immense pressure on me… They fear them because they are outsiders and have Muslim names. I succumbed under pressure and asked them to leave.”
Inside the dingy house in Budella, women and children sit huddled together, waiting for the men to bring food from outside. Pointing to her two-year-old son, Zohra Begum (25) said: “He has only eaten biscuits today. A lot of our ration got destroyed that day. We have our utensils but nothing to cook.”
The “smartest” of all children in the room, 14-year-old Anwar hasn’t gone to school in a week now. “When we first set up the jhuggis, no one said anything… Ever since the government said it would deport us, we are being treated like this,” he said.
The men also said they lost their jobs. Sultan, who worked in a cardboard factory for four years, was let off last month. “My boss saw on the news that we might be asked to leave… he didn’t want to risk it since the only ID I have is the refugee card,” he said.