In 2013, Ashish Kumar was a 19-year-old from Trilokpuri excited about finishing school and voting for the first time. Like him, many others in the area voted for bijli, sadak and makaan. But this election day was different. The huge police deployment was a reminder of the riots that engulfed the streets last year. For Kumar, his amputated leg was a reminder of how like him, Trilokpuri was no longer the same.
Making his way through the streets of Block 18, on crutches, Kumar said, “For me, a political party does not matter. What matters is a good government which will help us overcome what we have lost. I vote because it is my duty. I want someone who will prevent such things from happening. We were a happy community but political interference has ruined us. I have lost my youth and will never get it back. Blaming someone will not help. For me, voting is my biggest weapon.”
For three days in October last year, Trilokpuri, the epicentre of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, was hit by Hindu-Muslim communal violence, leaving 17 civilians and 40 police personnel injured. Eight persons suffered bullet injuries. Kumar was one of them. After two surgeries, Kumar’s leg was amputated.
“I weep everytime I see him. After the riots, no party visited us. It was only before the elections that candidates came and expressed concern. But what did we get? Will my son get back his leg? I have three daughters who are yet to be married. He would have been earning today if he was able and fine,” said his mother, Shanti Devi. Her husband is a labourer.
In 2013, the East Delhi constituency, where 70 per cent is Dalit and the rest Muslim, saw a voter turnout of 69 per cent. This year, the turnout was 72 per cent.
The scars are still fresh. In Block 27, a predominantly Muslim area, ‘A2Z Emporium’, a garments store, is undergoing renovation. The shop was among the first to be gutted by a mob.
Its owner, Israr Khan, said he suffered a loss of Rs 1.3 crore and had to mortgage his village property and jewellery for reconstruction work. “I lost everything in the riots. I have six daughters and two sons to take care of. My eldest daughter was preparing for her IAS entrance test, but had to discontinue because we have no money. We voted in every election but what did we get in return?” he asked.
But that did not stop Khan from voting this time. “I have voted so that the next government does something for us. After the riots, no party visited us. They have come only now, asking for votes and assuring help. Where were they when we needed them?” he said, showing a folder with photographs of the alleged rioters and his shop, before and after the riots.
In Block 28, brothers Arjun, 16, and Ajit, 17, are playing cricket, oblivious to the crowd outside the polling station. They were returning from tuitions on the day when they were hit by bullets. Arjun was hit below his left eye, Ajit on his chest.
“I want my children to have a better future. We decided to settle in a city for our children, so that they can have a better standard of living. My husband is a driver. We have voted for a good government which can help us secure a better future for them,” said their mother, R Malar.
“I have lived here for 30 years and have not seen anything as ghastly as the riots last year. It was all due to political interference. There is one party that we think is neutral, and that’s AAP — Arvind Kejriwal does not advocate communalism. I want my children to have a better future. He speaks of education and women’s safety. I want that for my family,” said Makhan Lal, a resident of Block 19.
The riots left these residents scarred. Many of their lives changed overnight. For Trilokpuri, this election is not just about bijli, sadak and makaan — it is about change.