A Ramadan away from home for Rohingya
A New York Times report last year said India hosts more than 10,000 Rohingya refugees.
There are at least 13 widows in the camp near Delhi, women who lost their husbands in the riots. They keep to themselves, take care of children, and retreat behind closed doors when strangers enter the camp.
Raheem, 65, is one of the leaders of this group of Rohingya refugees. He says he has given up on Indian politicians’ promises of help, and worries that the refugees could be evicted anytime.
At the other end of the camp, Mohammad Tahir and his family of six sit outside their tarpaulin shelter, the last in a row of ramshackle shanties. The weather is sultry outside, but it’s worse inside.
“We are not used to this heat,” says Tahir, his sweat-drenched vest clinging to his chest in various shades of yellow. “The weather in Myanmar was cooler and more pleasant than Delhi, and the fasts were easier to observe.”
Tahir has fond memories of celebrating Eid at his village in Myanmar. Life had been peaceful, until the day landlords forced the villagers into bonded labour. Anyone who asked for money was either beaten or killed. Tahir escaped and made his way to India, eventually reaching the camp near Delhi in 2012. His parents still live in Myanmar.
“They say they will die there, but will not leave their motherland,” says Tahir. “I have children and did not want them to die, so we walked through dense forests at night to reach India.”
Tahir’s children play next to black garbage bags in the camp’s vicinity, oblivious to their father’s remarks and the dangers of disease.
Niharika Awasthi, a student at the Jamia Millia Islamia university nearby, has been raising money for the Rohingya refugees. She is especially worried about the women in the camp, who often give birth in their huts and don’t have access to doctors.
“They remain indoors and behind veils,” says Awasthi, who was drawn to their plight during a photography project.
Many refugees in the camp say they are grateful for the money, food and clothing they have received from their Indian neighbours.
“Both Hindus and Muslims have helped. We are overwhelmed by the affection and help we got in a foreign land,” says Tahir.
The 40-something Tahir, who earns a meagre living as a labourer, says the hope of a better future for his children gives him the strength to carry on. He has put aside money to buy them new clothes for the festival of Eid.
“As adults, we can train ourselves to curb our desires, but the children can’t,” he says. “They don’t understand.”
As he prepares for the two-hour Taraweehprayers, Tahir says his faith has become stronger. There is only one thing that he wants.
“I pray that in some years we can return to our villages. Elders say bad times are followed by good ones,” says Tahir. “There is nothing like home.”
(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Zeyad on Twitter at @zeyadkhan and Tony at@TonyTharakan | Photos by Himani Singh | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)