While the Bangladeshi refugee camp opposite is equipped with air-conditioners, the Hindu camp is struggling for even water
An MLA has highlighted their plight accusing Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of religious bias
Amid a maze of flyovers in Delhi's Adarsh Nagar, on a sprawling ground near Delhi Jal Board, are a cluster of shanties housing refugees from Pakistan. About 600 Hindus, who fled religious persecution, have been living here for five years.
Hardly anyone pays them a visit.
But on Wednesday (27 June 2018), there was constant buzz in the otherwise quiet camp. As I entered the gate, a group of boisterous kids huddled around me, offering to show the fans that have stopped whirring, taps that have gone dry.
They have been watching journalists steadily streaming in since morning, capturing these images and hearing woes of the inhabitants who have been living without electricity for a month.
Though a surprise spell of shower brought the temperature down by several notches on Thursday (28 June 2018), Delhi has felt like a furnace for most of June. A power cut of even a couple of hours is enough to drive anyone up the wall.
But it’s evident that for these refugees, hardened by hardships, it would take much more than a month-long power cut to blow up.
Seated on cots placed on floors neatly coated with cow dung and mud paste, women are cooling themselves with hand fans; children are running around, undeterred by the burning sun. A man named Kodhandas (in English, Kodh means leprosy) tells me, “Bijli ke bina bhi chal raha hai. Aa jayegi to bahut acha hoga. (We are doing without electricity also, but it'll be good if we get it).”
For years, they have been surviving on little. Their children don't go to school, their women find no work, their men earn just enough to make ends meet. Almost all of them sell mobile covers for a living.
They wonder what the fuss now is all about. What has happened is something they had been fearing all along. The inhabitants were stealing power and it was only a matter of time before they would be caught. That moment came a month ago when officials from Tata Power came and disrupted the illegal supply and took away the cables.
"It was around 1pm. Some men wearing hats came and told us we can't continue to use this connection," says Lakshmi, one of the oldest inhabitants of the camps who arrived here in 2013. Like her, most of them have come from Sindh, Karachi, and Hyderabad.
"We can't watch television. Fans aren't working. It becomes totally dark in the evenings. Nights are unbearable. But the worst part is the municipal tap has run dry,” she says.
Their plight would have attracted little attention had it not been for social media. On 25 June, a social worker posted two images of the camp on Twitter tagging Delhi MLA Kapil Mishra, along with the prime minister and some union ministers, saying that kids in the camp are falling sick because of severe dehydration in the absence of electricity.
The tweet made a buzz but became a full-blown issue once Mishra responded to it. The rebel MLA from Aam Aadmi Party, who is constantly at loggerheads with party chief Arvind Kejriwal, directly accused the Delhi Chief Minister of disconnecting the power supply.
This, however, isn't the case. An official from Tata Power, who requested for anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said about the cut, "Jab power di hi nahi toh wapas lenge kaise (When we did not give them the supply in the first place, there is no question of taking it back)."
But Mishra squarely blames the Chief Minister saying he should take the initiative to provide the refugees legal power connections. "Tata says they will provide electricity if Delhi government allows it. It’s the government that has given these refugees the land, so it is up to them to see they get amenities such as water supply and electricity," he said.
Mishra says the Delhi government wouldn't be as indifferent if the affected refugees were Rohingyas.
The first-time MLA, who has a massive following on Twitter, has accused Kejriwal of sectarianism on several occasions. Recently, he questioned why Kejriwal junked Holi celebrations in protest against the ongoing sealing drive, but took no such decision on Eid even though the sealing drive continued.
When Mishra visited the camp on Wednesday, he returned with a similar binary. He posted a video juxtaposing the visuals with that of an adjoining camp housing Bangladeshi Muslim migrants.
His tweet read, "Open you eyes. 1st Part - Hindu Refugee Camp in Adarsh Nagar, Delhi with no electricity. 2nd Part - Bangladeshi Basti right across the road with ACs installed...fark khud dekhiye (see the difference yourself)."
The difference is, indeed, stark. This correspondent visited the Bangladeshi camp and found air-conditioners installed outside several cement-and-brick houses.
A social worker who operates in Adarsh Nagar, and did not wish to be named, said the adjoining Bangladeshi camp also uses illegal power supply but they remain untouched. "It's not a matter of what's legal and what's illegal. A number of illegalities happen under the nose of the government. They act on some but ignore others," he said.
It’s a popular belief that Muslim migrants are, generally, taken care of while Hindu refugees are ignored by political parties who see the former as vote banks.
Nehrulal, pradhan of the refugee camp, told Swarajya that he has been running from pillar to post for legal connections but met with no luck in all these years.
As this correspondent herself has observed on several occasions, illegal Bangladeshi migrants get such facilities, along with Aadhaar cards and voter cards, quite easily while Hindu refugees, who take the visa route to enter India, struggle. Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslims are helped by several non-government organisations but this privilege is seldom extended to Hindu refugees. The former flourish much faster. This, despite their high involvement in crime.
The discrimination is not lost on the residents either who told Swarajya that the "bangali" camp has always been better off than theirs. "They have everything," said 17-year-old Ramesh. but added, "We can't complain. It's enough that India has accepted us."
Even the human rights activists do not seem as concerned about Hindu refugees as the Rohingyas. A plea is being heard in the Supreme Court on the living conditions of Rohingyas in several places including Delhi and nearby Mewat. The apex court recently directed the sub-divisional magistrate of such areas to be made nodal officers to see that Rohingyas get all sorts of facilities.
What about Hindu refugees? Well, they await the promised citizenship and accompanying conveniences such as ration card and gas connection. Residents of Adarsh Nagar said most of them don't even have Aadhaar cards.
While the Indian government struggles to deport illegal Bangladeshi migrants, it recently deported 500 Hindus in Rajasthan back to Pakistan. All of them were reportedly forced to convert to Islam.
As this correspondent earlier reported from Jammu, Hindu refugees from West Pakistan have never been made state subjects but this status is being accorded to several Rohingyas.
Few people in power take up the cause of Hindu refugees.
This is perhaps why Mishra has found support. "At least on humanitarian grounds the refugees should be provided with electricity in this heat," he told Swarajya.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal hasn’t responded to Mishra’s allegations. Swarajya’s texts and calls to AAP spokesperson went unanswered.
As I was about to leave the camp, Nehrulal called some children and pointed at mosquito bites all over their bodies. "This is what our children are going through," he pleaded.
"You see this land? It used to be a cremation ground for children when we arrived. We have given our blood, sweat and tears to make it fit to live. We don't get to talk to media much. Please take this one request to the government.”