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#India – The Neros Of Uttar Pradesh

The Muzaffarnagar riot victims have been left to fend for themselves while leaders of the ruling Samajwadi Party enjoy lavish celebrations and foreign jaunts.

2014-01-18 , Issue 3 Volume 11

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Photo: Vijay Pandey
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No exit Thousands of riot victims have no choice but to continue living in the makeshift camps, Photo: Vijay Pandey

 supremo  can certainly brave the chill of the January nights. On the night of 8 January, he was at the annual  in his native district of Etawah, along with his son,  Chief Minister . The father-son duo looked absolutely comfortable enjoying the “Bollywood Night” as actors Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit, among others, shook their legs to various dance numbers.

Around the same time when the Bollywood performers were regaling the Yadavs, along with their select list of guests that included the who’s who of  politics and bureaucracy, about 400 km away at Malakpur village in Shamli district, Akbari, a 60-year-old widow, struggled to keep herself warm by burning dried sugarcane leaves in front of an 8×6 feet tarpaulin tent. Akbari, along with her two teenage sons, had run away from her home in Lank village on 8 September last year to escape the riots — India’s deadliest in a decade that left 59 dead and rendered over 50,000 homeless.

The tent that serves as her shelter is in one corner of a camp where there are more than 200 such tents — temporary shelters for families that were displaced from their homes during the communal riots that ravaged Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts. Like several other such camps that came up during the riots, the Malakpur camp too was set up hastily on an open field near the narrow road leading to the village.

An almost unbearable chill had begun to set in earlier in the evening. At quarter past seven, the road from Kairana, a municipal town in Shamli district, to Malakpur village was already shrouded in thick fog, with visibility less than 30-40 metres. As the mercury dipped to freezing levels, the tarpaulin tents ceased to provide any protection against the chill. As it is dangerous to light a fire inside the tent to bring in some warmth, Akbari and others in the camp had no option but to go out into the open, gather dry leaves to burn and sit huddled around the fire.

Ever since she moved to this camp, she has been eagerly waiting to be rehabilitated by the government. While several of the riot victims who have been displaced from their villages have got a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each from the  government, Akbari’s application is still stuck in red tape. Anxious to get any kind of help, she mistakenly takes this correspondent to be a local government official and her eyes brighten when she is asked about her well-being. No wonder she becomes a little irritable on learning that she was not speaking to an official but a journalist. “Can you get me my compensation? Else, what is the use of recalling all the misery that I have gone through?” she asks.

However, she later opens up and narrates her plight. “I spent two days and two nights in the sugarcane fields before others from my community rescued me and brought me here. Later, my sons reached this camp looking for me and are staying with me now,” recalls the frail woman who was working as a daily wage labourer in a brick kiln near her village until the riots broke out.

The plight of Akbari and thousands of others like her, who are yet to find a roof on their heads after being rendered homeless in the riots, flies in the face of Mulayam’s recent remark that those living in the camps are not victims but political “conspirators”. Had the senior Yadav visited the relief camps in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli even once, it would perhaps have helped him realise how cruel and insensitive his words were. Possibly, he would have been able then to empathise with the riot victims staying in the relief camps in near-freezing temperature.

It is indeed astounding that the  supremo, who had emerged as a so-called messiah of the minority community in 1990 after having ordered the police to fire on the kar sevaks mobilised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for getting a Ram temple built in Ayodhya, has not bothered to visit the riot victims even once in the four months that have passed since the riots broke out in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. Instead of offering a healing touch to the riot victims, Mulayam has been accusing the leaders of the other parties visiting the relief camps of indulging in politics. He called Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi a “thief” who sneaks in at night to visit the relief camps. He was shameless enough to say that “no government in the history of has done so much for providing relief to the riot-affected people, yet the leaders of Opposition parties are doing politics over the riots”.

‘Money cannot compensate for the loss of my husband’

Washeema | 17
Gulistan | 28
Kutwa Village

Washeema_and_gulistanOn 25 August 2013, Washeema married Irshad and started a new life at her husband’s house in Kutwa village. Little did she know that two weeks later, the same village would be one of the worst-hit by the communal flare-up and she would lose her beloved husband in the violence.

On 8 September, she was away at her parents’ house in Baghpat district. As the violence spread, Irshad began evacuating his family members to safer places at nearby Budhana. During one of the sorties, he was on a bike with his sister-in-law Gulistan (below right) and four children. When they reached a bridge, a mob attacked them.

“I didn’t even realise when they shot Irshad. The bullet hit him in the head,” recalls Gulistan. “As soon as we fell down, they attacked him again, smashing his head with a blunt object. They attacked me, too. I don’t recall what happened after that. When I gained consciousness, I was at a hospital in Meerut. I was told that Irshad had died on the spot.”

Back home, Irshad’s father Shamshad met a similar fate. Even as Gulistan struggles to cope with the mental agony, Washeema’s fate hangs in the balance. Though the family has received compensation for the murders, they are not satisfied. “The killers of my husband have been arrested. No amount of money can compensate the loss of my husband,” says Washeema.

Both women are staying with their widowed mother-in- law and other relatives at a rented house in Shahpur.

 

Mulayam’s son Akhilesh too has been incredibly apathetic towards the plight of the riot victims. The only time he visited Muzaffarnagar since the riots broke out was on 15 September last year, and that too just for a few hours. On the other hand, he has visited his home town Saifai nearly 60 times since becoming the chief minister in March 2012.

Meanwhile, the district administrations of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli seem hell-bent on making the homeless riot victims move out of the relief camps. On 5 January, Shamli District Magistrate PK Singh appealed to the inmates of the camps “to shift to safer places to avoid the cold”. But he did not spell out where the riot victims could possibly find these “safer places”. They are scared of going back to the villages from where they had to flee during the riots to save their lives. Most of them have no houses to return to as those were burnt down when the rioters were running amok. Moreover, as most of the victims are poor — a majority of them were daily wage labourers in brick kilns or hawkers selling utensils and clothes in the villages before the riots broke out — they can’t afford to opt for rented accommodation in new localities.

Even though many victims have managed to get a cheque of Rs 5 lakh as part of the rehabilitation package, they cannot go back to their villages to rebuild their homes for want of security. Many of them are using the compensation money to buy land elsewhere. But as land prices are quite high, they have little money left to build houses on the land they have bought.

“Why is there this hurry to push the victims out of the camps when the cold is at its peak?” asks Anwar, a native of Malakpur village in Shamli district and one of the organisers of the relief camp there. A group of officials visiting the camp had tried to force the victims to leave, but they put their foot down and refused to do so. Anwar had stood firmly on the side of the victims at the time of this incident. Around 250 families have taken shelter in the Malakpur camp, including some from the neighbouring Meerut and Baghpat districts. There are another 10 smaller camps that dot the nearly 10 km stretch between Malakpur and Bipar villages in Shamli district.

It was in the Malakpur camp that 25 infants died because of inadequate protection against the winter chill. Two infants died at the Idgah camp in neighbouring Kanshla and 10 more at the camp in Loi village in Muzaffarnagar district. Following the furore over the deaths, the  government grudgingly admitted that 34 children had died in the camps.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) also sought clarifications from the state government on the deaths of children in the relief camps. In its letter to the state government, the NCPCR stated that the “death figures of children as reported in the media and the figures accepted by the local administration need further inquiry as death figures of 25 at Malakpur camp, two at Idgah Kanshla camp and 10 at Loi camp dying of respiratory sickness/pneumonia… needs further explanation and reconciling from the state government”.

‘Officials told us that we will get no compensation’

Shabra | 12|  Lisarh Village

ShabraShabra chops onions and potatoes as she prepares dinner for those with whom she and her brother are sharing a room at an abandoned electricity department building in Jaula village. She opens up after some initial hesitation. The brother-sister duo lost their father and stepmother at the hands of the rioting mob. Shabra says she saw her father Azimuddin and her stepmother Haliman (both 50) being dragged by a group of rioters and hacked to death.

“They were smoking a hookah outside our home,” she recalls. “At around 12.30 pm, we heard a group of village youth shouting anti-Muslim slogans and saw them brandishing sharp weapons. When I went outside to check, I saw my parents were being dragged away from the house. Then the mob hacked them. I don’t remember how but someone pulled me into the house and so I survived. Later, I ran towards the sugarcane fields and hid there for several hours. I had no clue whether my brother Shabir and biological mother, who too lived with us, managed to escape or not before the security forces took us to safety and brought us here.”

Shabir points out that they have got Rs 5 lakh for rehabilitation but no money has been paid as compensation for the murder of their parents.

“The officials tell us that since their bodies could not be found, we won’t get any compensation,” he says.

Luckily, their biological mother is by their side, but the family dreads going back to their village.

 

Even as the temperature dips to near-zero degree in the open fields along the sugarcane fields where most of the relief camps are located, senior state government officials too, it seems, are trying their best to follow in the footprints of their political masters in obfuscating the truth. For instance, AK Gupta, the principal secretary of the state’s home department, recently told the media that “no one died due to cold. Had that been the case, nobody could have survived in Siberia”.

In Muzaffarnagar district, the epicentre of the riots, the district administration has tried to shut down the relief camps at Bassi Kalan, Tawli, Shahpur, Loi and Jaula. Bizarrely, that was the administration’s response to the scathing public criticism of the pitiable living conditions in the camps. While some of those who moved out of the camps were able to take up rented accommodation in the villages, others had no option but to set up new makeshift camps elsewhere.

The administration has not only tried to force the victims to leave the relief camps, but has also filed FIRs against some people who had helped organise the camps. They are now accused of grabbing the government land on which the relief camps were set up.

Political analysts believe that following the series of blunders by the government both in tackling the communal violence and then in handling the rehabilitation process, the ruling  is now faced with the spectre of the Muslim voters shifting their loyalty away from the party. This has become a hotly debated issue in the political circles of  and it is impossible to miss the palpable frustration in the .

Ashok Mishra, former state secretary of the CPI, uses an interesting metaphor to describe the situation in which the  finds itself today. “Instead of killing the snake, if you only try to fill one snake pit, then the reptile will emerge from another pit and bite whosoever tries to protect the people from the snakes,” says Mishra. “The  seems to have lost the resolve and the strength to fight the snake of communalism. The perception that Mulayam’s party is the only protector of the Muslims in  is fast vanishing.”

This is a sentiment shared by many others, including Shahid Siddiqui, former Rajya Sabha MP and currently chief editor of Nai Duniya, an Urdu weekly published from New Delhi. Siddiqui had been expelled from the  in July 2012 after he published an interview with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. “Any kind of intoxication clouds the senses. Mulayam Singh is drunk on power and has got into a self-destructive mode,” he says. “The bizarre behaviour of the leaders is manifested in the Saifai festival where Mulayam Singh and CM  are busy enjoying dance performances by Bollywood stars while the riot victims are being pushed out of the relief camps and children are dying because of the biting cold.”

Even as thousands of riot victims are forced to face the winter chill amid the pitiable living conditions in the relief camps, another crass display of apathy by the state government came to the fore. At a time when it should have been using its resources for the relief and rehabilitation of the riot victims, it has sanctioned an expenditure of around Rs 1 crore for eight ministers and nine MLAs to undertake an 18-day trip to Turkey, Greece, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and UAE. Beginning on 8 January, the foreign jaunt has been christened as a “study tour” of the ministers and MLAs organised under the aegis of ’s Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Critics, however, point out that it is more of a paid leisure trip. The “study tour” is being led by senior minister Azam Khan, who is also the ruling party’s in-charge of Muzaffarnagar district.

‘We are scared of what awaits us if we go back to our village’

Saeeda | 40|  Sisauli village

saeedaAfter the Muzaffarnagar district administration shut down the relief camp at Bassi Kalan, Saeeda and her husband Yameen have been forced to live at another makeshift camp nearby.

The couple took shelter at the house of Gulab Thekedaar, an influential Muslim villager, for four days before escaping. Yameen was attacked while taking his family members to a safer place in Shikarpur. Initially, he managed to take his wife and children to a relative’s place. However, when he went back to bring his brother and other children, he was waylaid and attacked.

“We don’t want to go back to Sisauli,” says Saeeda, who used to sell utensils along with Yameen. Ever since the attack, Yameen has become too weak to go out for work.

Both Yameen and Saeeda are trying to cope with the horrific memories of the riots, but what adds salt to their wounds is that they don’t have enough money to buy a piece of land and start life afresh.

The couple says that the government has shrugged off its responsibility by just handing over Rs 50,000. They lost their house but no compensation has been paid for that.

“We have been refused the rehabilitation package. The officials are putting pressure on us to go back to our village. But we fear for our life there,” laments Saeeda.

Kanpur-based author and political analyst AK Verma believes that the narrow political ambitions of the  leaders will not go unnoticed. “The people are watching, and this is the cause of the frustration in the ,” he says. “The was a glaring case of bad governance and failure of law and order. The state government allowed it to happen so as to serve the narrow political ends of the , but the plan backfired. Even now, they are only resorting to knee-jerk reactions. See how they suddenly decided to close down the relief camps to escape the intense media and public scrutiny over the inhuman living conditions there.”

Clearly, the  government is yet to learn any lessons from its gross mishandling of the Muzaffarnagar communal riots and its aftermath. While it commits one blunder after another, its the hapless riot victims who are paying the price. It will be a miracle, however, if the  manages to emerge unscathed from the unholy mess it has helped to create by its acts of omission and commission.

‘Officials put pressure on us to leave the camp’

Alibaaz | 50 |  Lisarh Village

AlibaazAlibaaz and his wife Haseena are huddled inside a tent at Malakpur village in Shamli district as the temperature touches freezing point around midnight on 8 January. Alibaaz’s father Naseeruddin was reportedly killed during the riots in Lisarh village. However, they have got no compensation as his body could not be found.

They have been marked ineligible for the rehabilitation package of Rs 5 lakh as they were staying at Paonta Sahib in Himachal Pradesh for work. “Our house was burnt down. What if we were not living there? Does that make us ineligible for compensation?” asks Alibaaz.

The officials, they allege, have been selective while distributing compensation packages to riot victims. Alibaaz’s brother, who lived in the same village, has received compensation. “They say that because we belong to the same family, we are not entitled to anything more,” says Haseena.

At Lisarh, all the Muslim houses have been burnt down. “They want us to go back. But how can we?” she asks. “Officials come almost every day and put pressure on us to leave. Those who got compensation money have bought plots elsewhere, but we have to stay here in the freezing cold.”

In the night, they sit near the fire to escape the cold. They have taken up odd jobs at nearby markets and brick kilns to sustain themselves until the time they find a way to impress the officials so that they sanction some compensation for them.

With inputs from Virendra Nath Bhatt

[email protected]

Read more here — http://www.tehelka.com/the-neros-of-uttar-pradesh-2/

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