Even the blazing overhead sun fails to illuminate Dilavar Malek’s house. The 70- year-old ancient house is now just a burned down ruin.
Its walls heavily blackened with soot, part of them torn down, loosely hanging fans, traces of ash in every corner — this was the place, Malek (36) and his family called home until riots ravaged Akhabpura locality of Khambhat down in February and his house was gutted down by the rioters.
The communal clashes which erupted on February 23 continued for the next three days with sporadic incidents of arson and violence as over 60 houses were burned down and over 13 people injured. Akhbarpura which had seen repeated instances of violence was the seat of the February riots which had also spread over to other localities.
Having spent over a month to stabilize from the losses he incurred, the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 25 to contain the spread of COVID-19 further added to his miseries.
“I own a small paan shop. I haven’t been to the shop since February. Initially we were scared to move out of the relief camps. As the situations normalized, we came back to our houses on March 18. Within the next ten days lockdown was imposed. Everybody has suffered loses for a month, we have suffered it for two months,” Dilavar says.
With no money to rebuild his house and no men to work, he has built a small tin shade in the backyard, with one mattress and two foldable beds where his family — mother, wife, seven-year-old son and five-month-old daughter live.
They visit their neighbours’ house for using the toilets and bathing. Without cylinders at home, his family is now back to using firewood for cooking.
“My cylinders got damaged in the fire and the agency refused to replace it. Now I have to pay Rs 7,500 for new cylinders. I do not have the money to get new ones. So we are back to using firewood,” Dilavar said.
After the riots, hundreds of residents from the locality were shifted to a relief camp in Salwa mohalla where they stayed for over 15 days. Around March 15, they gradually began moving back to their respective houses. The residents are now dependent on their savings and donations from good samaritans.
“We had saved our lives and fled in one piece of cloth. That is all that remains with us. The entire house was charred down. But before we could rebuild our house, the lockdown happened and the situation is still the same for us. I got a trampoline to cover the terrace and stay under it. We are 12 members and live in a joint family,” says Inayat Malek who worked as a motor repairer.
Social activist Janisar Sheikh who had lost his father during the riots has been raising funds to help the residents.
“Most of the residents here are from the lower or middle income groups. Most families are dependent on daily wages. Lack of income has been a worry even before the lockdown due to the riots. So we have been seeking help from well-to-do members of our community to provide these families with basic ration kits at the most. We will also try and raise funds to help these people rebuild their houses after the situations noramlize,” Sheikh said.
Even the children have not been able to go to school since the first incident was reported. Many of them have not appeared for examinations and have lost their books, bags and uniforms in the arson.
“I have two children a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old son. Both of them have not been to school since February 23. We had planned to send them back after returning home. They must have gone to school for like a week before the schools were shut down due to the pandemic,” Irfan Malek, another resident said.
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