Shopkeepers at Gokulpuri tyre market, where 97 shops were set ablaze during the 2020 Delhi riots, are still struggling to rebuild their lives with little help from the government.
Shruti Sharma | TwoCircles.net
NEW DELHI — Three years have passed since riots broke out in northeast Delhi but for shopkeepers at Gokulpuri tyre market, the memories of the day are still fresh. So are the losses they suffered.
In the market selling second-hand tyre and car spare parts, 97 out of 224 shops were set ablaze on three occasions over February 24, 25 and 26, 2020. The majority of the shops that were set ablaze belonged to Muslims.
The riots, which began on February 23, 2020, and continued for several days, led to the death of over 50 people, most of whom were Muslims, and injured hundreds more. Largely concentrated in Muslim-majority areas of northeast Delhi, the riots occurred when massive protests were going on across the country including northeast Delhi against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December 2019.
Recalling the day, Mohammad Babur, a shopkeeper at Gokulpuri tyre market said the market was closed around 6 pm on February 24 after the police had urged shopkeepers to shut their shops and go home as riots had broken out in nearby areas of Delhi.
“We left the tyre market at 6:30 pm and I received news about the arson around 8 pm on the same day,” Babur said, adding, “I was at home watching the news about riots on the TV and received a message on WhatsApp from one of my customers. He sent me a video of my burning shop. I was in absolute shock on seeing my burning shop.”
After seeing the video, Babur rushed to the market. “I saw hundreds of people waving revolvers in the air and chanting Jay Shri Ram slogans. The rioters had set fire to the Gokulpuri tyre market after we had left,” he said.
Babur said that the rioters had set fire to the shops belonging to Muslims and goods worth lakhs were burnt to ashes.
Shopkeepers at the market said they were puzzled with why rioters would burn their shops as the area was peaceful.
“Our market is located at one of the safest places as there are two police stations, Gokulpuri and Dayalpur police station nearby, and yet such an incident occurred here. Vendors at the market made 200-250 calls to the police stations, but they did not respond to a single call,” Nauman Khan, President of the tyre market, told TwoCircles.net.
Shopkeepers expressed dissatisfaction with the police action during the riots alleging “the police didn’t do enough” to stop the rioters from burning their shops.
Economic crisis caused by riots
Shopkeepers said that the riots had left a devastating mark on their lives with most of them still paying off debts which they incurred while rebuilding their shops.
Pointing towards his small shop, Babur said, “Before the riots, I had a very big shop at the front of the market but it was completely burnt by the rioters. I suffered a huge loss and now I can only afford this small shop in the middle of the market.”
Mohammad Salim, 42, a resident of Daryaganj, an old Delhi locality located 10 kilometres away from the tyre market, also lost his shop during the riots.
With tears in his eyes and a shaking voice, he said, “My soul trembles when I remember that day. On the second day of the arson, I came from Daryaganj to the tyre market to take a look at my shop. The rioters came again and set fire to 4-5 shops in front of me. I ran away from the spot to save my life.”
“Nothing but ashes were left of my shop,” he said.
Salim said that some days before the riots, he had purchased goods on credit. “I am still repaying that credit,” he said.
Most of the shopkeepers at the market buy goods on credit and repay the creditors after the goods are sold. As their shops were burnt down by rioters in February 2021, most of them are still repaying the debts.
“Many labourers work in the market. When the market was closed due to the riots and the lockdown, they had nothing to eat. The shopkeepers from the market provided them with food and other stuff. Nobody else came to help them,” Nauman said.
Shopkeepers at the market expressed anguish that the government had not done enough to compensate them for their loss. Some of the shopkeepers received compensation from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) but they claim “it wasn’t enough to meet the expenses of the damages suffered.”
The compensation we received accounted for 25 to 30 percent of the damages we suffered, a shopkeeper said.
Some of the shopkeepers, however, claimed that they didn’t receive a single rupee from DDA.
Md Salim, 42, said that he received Rs 1,62,000 from the DDA as compensation. “But along with my shop, goods worth Rs 3,50,000 were burnt to ashes in the arson,” he said.
President Nauman Khan claimed that 40 to 50 percent of shopkeepers have still not received compensation from DDA. “Those who have received it have got very little. Our files are still pending at the Sub Divisional Magistrate office,” he said.
The Arvind Kejriwal government had also promised to pay Rs 5 lakh for substantial or complete damage to residential and uninsured commercial units. Shopkeepers, however, claimed that not a single person from the market had received any such amount from the government.
“After the riots, shops remained closed for three months and then followed the Covid-19 lockdown and the market was shut again. It became quite difficult for us to survive,” said Furkan, whose shop of 10 years was also set ablaze during the riots.
Furkan blamed the police for his loss. “If the police were on the alert on the first day, there was no way that the same incident would have happened on two more consecutive days,” he said.
Another shopkeeper Kallu Kabadi claimed that even though two of his shops were destroyed in arson the compensation he received was inadequate.
“My two shops were completely burnt down by the rioters. While I suffered a loss of 30-35 lakhs, the DDA gave me only Rs 138,000 as compensation,” he said.
Kallu said he had to take a loan from Muthoot Finance by mortgaging his wife’s jewellery to get his shop repaired and to buy new merchandise. “I am still paying the interest on the loan and I have not been able to get my wife’s jewellery back. There are many shopkeepers like me in this market who have restarted their businesses with great difficulty and are still in debt and facing financial difficulties,” he said.
Sohail Khan, 20, works at a shop in the market and is the sole breadwinner of his family of six. “After the riots, the shops remained closed for 3 to 4 months. It was very difficult to run the household. We had to rely on other people even for the food,” he told TwoCircles.net.
Following reconstruction work, the market was finally opened in July 2020. The cost of reconstruction of the 97 shops was borne by the Islamic scholar’s body Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JuH). As a mark of gratitude to the outfit for its help, the traders’ association renamed the market to ‘Jamiat Tyre Market.’
What led to riots
On being asked what caused the riots, a shopkeeper on the condition of anonymity blamed incendiary speeches made by leaders as a trigger for the riots. “Workers or students do not want riots, neither do Hindus or Muslims. Riots are instigated by political leaders who are well-off and do not suffer any losses from riots. On the contrary, they benefit from riots. The speech given by Kapil Mishra a day before the riots is known to the whole world. The riots started immediately after that speech,” he said.
Similar revelations were also made by the Delhi Minorities Commission report in July 2020. The 134-page report provided accounts of circumstances leading to violence, how Muslims were selectively targeted, and how investigations into the riots smacked off a cover-up by the authorities.
“Violence started in different pockets almost immediately after the short speech of Shri Kapil Mishra on 23 February 2020 at Maujpur in which he openly called for forcefully removing the protestors (anti-CAA) at Jafrabad in North East Delhi,” the report noted.
For the shopkeepers at Gokulpuri tyre market, the losses they suffered during the riots will take some time to recover—perhaps years or decades.
“Even though no one was killed or injured at this market, but the losses we suffered during the riots are immense and we are still struggling to rebuild our lives,” a shopkeeper said.
Shruti Sharma is a freelance journalist based out of New Delhi. She tweets @imsshruti77
[Edited by Irfan Mehraj. Tweets at @IrfanMeraj]