Delhi violence: Student volunteers come to the rescue of distressed riot victims

Updated: Mar 08, 2020, 08:08 IST | Gaurav Sarkar, Amit Kumar | Mumbai

Even as Kejriwal government remains mum on relief work, volunteers from different universities and NGOs have joined hands to gather funds and help provide food, shelter and psycho-social support.

Volunteers from JNU, Jamia and Ambedkar universities have been visiting the riot-affected areas daily to distribute basic necessities
Volunteers from JNU, Jamia and Ambedkar universities have been visiting the riot-affected areas daily to distribute basic necessities

In the aftermath of the communal riots in North East Delhi that killed 43 and left hundreds of people homeless, various volunteer organisations and NGOs have come together to support residents of these neighbourhoods.

Asif Idrees, 23, a student currently pursuing his Masters in Spanish from JNU, has been part of the JNU Coordination Committee ever since the first night of violence that occurred on February 25. "We called for an immediate meeting on campus. There were 15 of us who attended it, and we decided to start a camp at Sabarmati Tea point inside the college campus," said Idrees.

Volunteers from JNU, Jamia and Ambedkar universities have been visiting the riot-affected areas daily to distribute basic necessities

According to Idrees, no help or relief has come from Arvind Kejriwal's government.

"We went and met deputy CM Manish Sisodia, but he said they couldn't do anything. We also tried to go and meet the CM the same night, but when we went to his house, we got detained by the police. Hence, we decided to form a relief camp that would work from ground upwards." The relief camp comprises a team that has been collecting data on the people who have been displaced and houses that have been burnt down. "We also have a relief delivery team that solely focuses on getting the material to the points where it is needed. The entire team consists of 70 people, of which 40 are from the college itself."

Volunteers from JNU, Jamia and Ambedkar universities have been visiting the riot-affected areas daily to distribute basic necessities

Till now, the coordination committee has distributed around 700 food packets, with basic raw food materials like rice, dal and flour. "We have also distributed around 20 cartons of biscuits in the past 12 twelve days, as well as new clothes and cartons of bedsheets, diapers, sanitary napkins and medicines," he said.

Most of the relief material that Idrees and team collected during the first few days was from students and their friends on campus, but given the reach and effectiveness of the social media team, they started getting funds from as far as Kerala.

Asif Idrees, JNU Coordination Committee
Asif Idrees, JNU Coordination Committee

But, they faced a lot of hurdles while delivering these relief materials. "The people's houses have been burnt and they don't have necessary items like gas stoves and cooking equipment, but the police is not allowing us to deliver them." He added, "We will be working for at least another a month. We have funds amounting to R8 lakh and a lot of food materials and supplies that we are yet to distribute."

The students at Ambedkar University in Delhi have also been providing relief material for nearly a week now. "We are also coordinating with other relief groups to avoid overlaps," said Pranav Yadav, a student at the university. "We talk to the families on a daily basis and ask them what they need and then bring it to them within a day or two."

Yadav said that they have mainly been focusing on the Mustaffabad area that was burnt during the riots. "There are problems with delivering the relief material. You can't just land up there with packets and cars full of material. You need to find locals in the area and take their help to reach families who are in need."

The Jamia Helpdesk is another volunteer organisation being spearheaded by students at Jamia Milia Islamia University. "We were initially supposed to be a rescue team, but then, we turned into a collection centre," said a student, who runs the helpdesk, and wishes to be anonymous. "The violence has subsided now, but in the initial days, we would send around 10 to 12 deliveries from Jamia itself. The relief material was enough for around 8,000 people and included food, clothes, vitamin tablets etc. Some children in Chand Bagh had to be taken to AIIMS for a check-up, so we got that done, too." There are four of them permanently working on this. "The rest of the volunteers keep changing and shuffling."

The student said that during the initial days of the violence, when mobs were still roaming the inner lanes of North East Delhi, they would send non-Muslim volunteers since it was "easier for them to go in." "We really wanted and needed some police protection while delivering the relief materials, but they (police) refused to help. The biggest problem is that between 5 pm and 11 pm, every day, no commercial vehicles are allowed to run across Delhi. This severely affected our relief work."

Asad Haider Zaidi, who is part of the volunteer group Delhi Relief Collective (DRC), which is an amalgamation of different groups like WhoisHussain, the Jamia Coordination Committee and Robin Hood Army, have also been collecting and distributing relief material. Zaidi recalled a horrifying experience, when they were carrying out relief work. "We were going inside the interior areas and heading towards the community kitchen, when we were accosted by around 25 people. We later found out that these were people who had looted the shops in the neighbourhood. They tried to snatch our phone, but we were helped by the local Muslim residents who showed us another route to escape."

Meanwhile, the Women's Press Club has met at least around 200 women and 300 children, who were affected in the riots. Vineeta Pandey, a member, said, "Initially, women were hesitant and afraid of speaking to us, but after lots of counselling, they started opening up. Most of them had not changed their clothes since over a week. They asked for sanitary pads and undergarments on an urgent basis. We also provided milk powder and medicine for children."

Two girl students—Eram and Shahida—were unable to appear for their board exams as rioters had destroyed their homes. "They asked for books and volunteers provided overnight. Later, they appeared for their science paper," Pandey said.

Childline, in association with UNICEF, is also providing psycho-social support to riot-affected children to help them come out of trauma. "We are working on both short-term and long-term plans. Our activity will run for three months for which training of 40-50 volunteers is going on," said Shaiju Verghese, head of Childline.

Rs 8 lakh
Funds collected by the JNU Coordination Committee

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