Around 8.30 PM on February 24, Mohammad Salim, a trader at Gokulpuri's tyre market in north-east Delhi received a call that the shops were being set on fire by violent mobs. Despite being next to the Gokulpuri Police Station, the market selling second-hand tyre and car spare parts, was set ablaze on three occasions over Feb 24, 25 and 26. "They selectively targeted the market because businesses are owned by Muslims," says Salim, who owns Shop number 161.
Salim's was among 97 shops that had sustained existential damage due to arson, vandalism and looting during the communal riots in these localities of north-east Delhi. "Goods worth lakhs of rupees was looted before they set our shops on fire. On the evening of Feb 24, it took almost three hours to put out the flames," Salim recollects, adding that the next day, other shops in the market were attacked the same manner. "The fire engines were here all three days," he says.
Out of the damaged shops, 40 to 42 were gutted in what people here say was arson, though the police had suo motu termed the cause of fire as electric. Salim however says that the traders had themselves seen the mobs wielding weapons such as iron rods, sticks lobbing petrol bombs on the shops as police personnel stood as bystanders. "Everyone knows what had happened. What else can I say?" exclaims Salim.
All the 97 shops have been restored to their prime and the market was declared fully open on Friday, with the entire bill for the reconstruction effort footed by Islamic scholar's body Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JuH). As a mark of gratitude to the outfit for its help, the traders' association has renamed the market to 'Jamiat Tyre Market'.
"What we have done here ought to have been done by the government, complained Maulana Niaz Ahmad Farooqui and Maulana Hakeemuddin Qasmi, both secretaries at JUH. "The government should increase ex-gratia amount and compensation and should hasten to pay them to the victims of Delhi communal riots," demanded Qasmi.
The Arvind Kejriwal government had announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the kin of the deceased, Rs 5 lakh for permanent disability due to injury, Rs 20,000 for minor injuries and Rs 5 lakh for substantial or complete damage to residential and uninsured commercial units, among other aid measures.
However, implementation of the Delhi government's riot relief package remains patchy, with frequent complaints from Muslims that reluctance of police to lodge FIRs was hampering paper work while applying for financial aid at district magistrate level.
Faced with allegations of not helping the riot victims enough, the AAP government claimed in an affidavit in the Delhi High Court on July 21 that it had disbursed Rs 18.67 crore in claims to the victims as of then. Hindustan Times reported that the state government had sanctioned 1,526 claims out of the total 3,041 that it had received.
But traders in Gokulpuri feel that despite 'assurances' of help, the situation on the ground didn't live up to state authorities' claims.
"Only one or two traders in the market have been provided with the promised compensation from the government," reveals Haji Ramzuddin, the general secretary of the market association. He, however, expressed hope that authorities would expedite their claims so their businesses could meet the additional challenges due to the lockdown.
"Nearly 119 traders have lodged request for compensation with the sub-divisional magistrate," Saleem adds.
Local mosque re-opens for Friday prayers
Besides the market, Friday marked the first time since the Delhi riots that the adjoining Ibaadatkhana held weekly prayers. The JuHsays that it has paid for the refurbishment of four mosques, including three others in Shiv Vihar, another riot-hit locality.
"Building one house benefits only one family, but if we build a market, it may benefit thousands of families," remarked JuH general secretary Maulana Mahmood Madani, addressing the congregants through a video call.
Eleven mosques, five madrasas, a Muslim shrine and a graveyard were vandalised or set on fire during the rioting by Hindutva mobs over three days, accounts a recent report released by the Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC).