We are sitting on plastic chairs, surrounded by old men, orphaned sisters and the occasional infant. The rest of Block 27 is leaving for Old Delhi, Kanpur, Meerut, wherever else they can stay, until normalcy returns.The ease with which the elders of Trilokpuri turn philosophical is disconcerting: for the generation that has witnessed the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 here, “communal violence” is not about the neat divisions of Diwali and Eid, cows and pigs, bhajans and azaans and loudspeakers any longer. It is about how quickly the illusion of safety is dispelled, and how, once broken, it can take a lifetime to restore. “I don’t know why Allah let me survive the last time,” said Abrar Khan, 62, “but I think now it is finally time to meet my maker.”
This presentiment of death was delivered again on Sunday, this time with a level gaze and the unwavering voice of 23-year-old Tarana, one of the six unmarried sisters who looked after their father’s clothing store, A to Z Collections in Trilokpuri. On Saturday, the family returned from a wedding to find that their business and life’s savings had been torched ‒ the shop stood metres away from about 20 policemen who refused to call the fire department, saying they “hadn’t received any orders to act”.
“We have no option now but to kill ourselves,” said Tarana. “There are eight of us, our mother is ill and our father has gone mad with grief. We are safe, but for how long? What can a house full of women do, but wait?”
In the wake of recent riots, the neighbourhood of Trilokpuri, is being described in the national press as having always existed in a state of fragile truce ‒ a description fit for most of New Delhi’s neighbourhoods, where tensions could be communal, but could just as well be over parking space and still end with murder. Try as one might, it is always a difficult task to truly love one’s neighbour. Having lived next door to Trilokpuri for the past 28 years, in different parts of Mayur Vihar, I grew up hearing about not just Hindu-Muslim clashes on festivals, but inter-caste, inter-sub-caste, regional and sexual battle lines drawn across the neighbourhood.
The product of a large-scale slum-resettlement project during the Emergency, Trilokpuri’s 36 blocks are ghettos based on religion, region and language, inhabited mainly by daily-wage workers. Living among the present generation of workers are keymakers, cleaners, cooks, drivers and gardeners, but also garment manufacturers, fashion designers, media folk, jewellers and doctors who leave Trilokpuri for work every morning to melt into the rest of New Delhi.