Five months after it was nearly razed to the ground by rioters, the renovated Gokulpuri Tyre Market is struggling to get back on its feet. Small, mostly Muslim-owned shops at the market were vandalised, looted and set ablaze episodically for three consecutive days during the riots in February.
The owners said they were struggling to ensure that shops, which once boasted daily turnover of lakhs of rupees, could just open from one day to the next. Some shopkeepers had to sell jewellery set aside for their childrens marriage to afford renovations. Others had to sell their destroyed stock as scrap.
Most of the compensation claims filed with the government are yet to be honoured.
Huddled around a team of representatives from the district administration to find out the status of their compensation claim, shopkeepers alleged that only five individuals had been disbursed money in as many months.
District Magistrate (North East) Shashi Kaushal remained unavailable for comment on alleged delays in the disbursement of compensation and assessment of damage alleged by shopkeepers, despite repeated attempts by The Hindu.
Of the total 224 shops in the market, an estimated 97 were either reduced to ashes or partially burnt. The other workshops were vandalised and looted. What the fire could not consume, the looters did, said the shopkeepers.
I am on the street now after losing stock worth 30 lakh-35 lakh, said Mehmood Khan, affectionately called Kallu Kabari by the locals. All I have now is stock worth 5 lakh, purchased after selling family jewellery meant for my children, he said, adding that he barely escaped being lynched during the riots.
The market was relocated from Meena Bazar in Old Delhi in 2001. It deals in everything from tyres for vehicles of all makes and sizes, to accessories, tools, CNG kits and even merchandise for bikers. Most of the shops have a vehicle-repair corner as well.
A stones throw from the Gokulpuri metro station, the market was among the first locations targeted by mobs when communal violence broke out on the evening of February 23. The market was repeatedly attacked till tensions simmered on February 25 midnight.
Mr. Khan said rioters started vandalising and setting shops on fire around 7 p.m. on February 23. Fearing imminent attack, the shopkeepers had fled to safety around 5.30 p.m. He added that his shop was still standing when he came back to check on it around 10 a.m. the next day. But the good fortune was not to last.
Someone called and told me to get out quickly as the rioters were coming back. I saw 20-25 people with swords and bombs on two-wheelers shouting slogans. My shop was the first to be targeted that day. It was a heap of rubble the next time I visited, he said, as he displayed a set of pictures to prove his claim.
The lockdown to contain COVID-19 has also affected business as supply of fresh stock is hard to come by and customers are afraid to visit the market, despite renovation and change in name.
The market has been renamed Jamiat Tyre Market to acknowledge the efforts of humanitarian organisation Jamiat Ulma-i-Hind in rebuilding.
Maulana Hakimuddin Qasmi, secretary of Jamiat Ulma-i-Hind, said the organisation took over renovation efforts with the support of shopkeepers who decided to take matters into their own hands. Work started on February 26 and the market was reopened on July 24. What happened here was not the destruction of property of individuals but of the nations property. It is very important to rebuild homes, but if someone is left without employment such a home cannot survive, he said.
One of the affected shopkeepers was Naim Ahmed Khan, who over the past 18 years had built up his establishment into one of the most lucrative and fanciest shops in the market, dealing in everything from accessories for superbikes to CNG components.
The rioters looted my shop and then set it on fire on February 24. I had to sell two truckloads of scrap rummaged from ransacked remains in order to renovate and open the shop again. My sons are sitting idle as there are no customers. I never thought I would see a time in my life when even arranging daily bread would be a struggle. I filed for compensation with the Delhi government on March 3 but nothing has happened so far. The only addition to my life has been piles of paper work, he said.
I had built the shop through sheer hard work... Life as I knew it has gone down the drain along with the ashes of my stock, he rued, adding: Stock worth 40 lakh was either looted or destroyed. There has been no business since the market reopened. I used to sell parts valued between 20,000 and 25,000 all over north India. These days I sell accessories, some of which I rent for display, for as little as 150 to survive. Five months ago, I used to sell biker jackets that cost between 7,000 and 20,000.
Sameer Khan, another shopkeeper, said business was almost non-existent and customers were avoiding visits to the market. Even if customers come, there is lack of fresh stock since supply has been affected due to the lockdown. Whatever the shops had got destroyed. Innumerable families survive on business from this market. There are 5-6 people employed at each shop. Where will they go if things continue like this? he asked.
Markets president Mohammad Rashid, however, expressed hope. Not too long ago, we could not bring ourselves to even entertain the thought of our businesses becoming operational again; but it gradually happened. Slowly, but steadily, business is improving. Hopefully, customers too will return to the market in large numbers like before, he said.