January 10, 2014
By Democratic Students Union
A preliminary report on the solidarity visit to Muzaffarnagar ‘relief’ camps
Death of over 30 infants in the extreme cold of Muzzaffarnagar ‘relief camps’ and the overall inhuman conditions in which the evicted people are being forced to thrive there, once again has churned debates in the media lately. The forgotten people of Muzzaffarnagar just a few months back had faced one of the most ghastly communal onslaughts to have been orchestrated in the recent past, which by its sheer magnitude ranks only next to the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. More than 80 Muslims were killed (this is just the official figure and with many more missing, the locals contend that the real number is more than 130) and more than a lakh were displaced and force to survive in the relief camps. The killings in the villages, the massive displacement of the muslims, the gang-rapes of women, the death of the children in the relief camps, the continued intimidation by the perpetrators of this massacre and yet the desperate yet determined battle of the people for survival is yet another glaring testimony of the reality of this communal-fascist state. While the BJP is proudly and publicly felicitating the king pin of this massacre, the SP government which through its deliberate inactions allowed the killings to continue in the first place, has now gone into a complete denial mode with regard to the scale of the carnage. The local administration, too, has brazenly denied the deaths in the relief camps, with the UP Home Secretary even ridiculously observing that no one could die of cold. For Rahul Gandhi, all these people in the camps are ISI agents while for Mulayam Singh these are all Congress agents! The latest cruelty of the government has now come in the form of an order to bulldoze the camps. According to the administration, these people are illegal encroachers on government land and are clearing them of trees! „The government cared more about the trees, than humans, said Shahzad Saifi, one of the residents of Malakpur camp. He has lost his 5 month old son in the month of November due to pneumonia. In solidarity with the people living in these camps, a 12 member team comprising student activists from JNU, BHU and Allahabad University along with an independent journalist visited some camps in Shamli district on the 4th of January. These are located several kilometres from the villages where the killings had taken place. We were witness to the extremely wretched conditions in which these people are forced to live as well as the reign of terror unleashed by the government.. Their narratives laid bare to us once more, the extreme forms of oppression and systemic brutal marginalization of religious minorities, particularly Muslims, that belies every hoax claim of this self-proclaimed secular democracy.
As the team reached Muzaffarnagar early morning on the 4th January, the local edition of the previous day‟s Hindi news daily Amar Ujala „informed‟ us that many of those living in the relief camps were not affected by the riots at all, but rather had houses in the cities and were living in these camps only because of their „laalach‟ (greed) for the relief money. Seen in the context of forcible removal of the camps that the government was carrying out when we reached, the media report was clearly aimed at creating a justification for it. The ramshackle tents made of plastic in the cold weather (the temperatures drop at times to less than 2 degrees at night) point out to the absurdity of such media claims. In fact, in these so-called „relief camps‟ no meaningful relief from the government has reached all this while. It was largely various minority organisations who had organised most of the relief. Raessudin, the in-charge chosen by the people for the Malakpur camp where there were still 649 families living (initially there were more than 1300 families there) said that the government considered them no more than a headache which it was now trying to get rid of. Some local volunteers of minority organisations carrying out relief in the area told the team that the government had forcibly removed the camps in the previous days even from the madarasas (i.e. non-government land) in Kandla and Shamli. At the Malakpur camp, the residents told us that most of the men who had taken up jobs as daily wage labourers at nearby sites had stayed back in the camps that day and they had not even sent their children to school. It was after all the last day as per the government notice to them to vacate the camp, and people were remaining vigilant against any attempt of forcible removal. The administration along with the police had also landed up the just the previous night and threatened them to leave the camps. Even while we were there, some administrative officials once again landed up at the camp to which the people immediately protested. The perennial fear of removal from the camps has forced many to completely abandon their search for jobs, even as they face complete destitution. As a strategy to counter it, now only women sleep at night while the men keep a patrol. In other villages also, we witnessed volunteers fervently going around several camps telling the residents what to do if the police and state officials reach there to evict them.
Compensation as a ploy to forcefully remove the residents from the camps: The residents that we spoke to informed that most people living in the relief camps received no compensation at all from the government. Sanjeeda (from the Bajidpur village) pointed out that the government in many places such as Baghpat denies till date that anything has even happened far from talking about compensation. Even those who received the much touted 5 lakh compensation were only given this amount after they signed an affidavit which amongst other things specified that they would not return to their villages. This is clearly a ploy of the state government to change the existing social and demographic composition of the villages where the attacks were carried out. However, what we also found out was that the state government was now using the fact that it ‘compensated’ some families as a ground to evict the rest from the camps. Mustakim, from Lak village, pointed out that the state officials had reached his camp two days back and were asking him to evict the camp on the pretext that they had compensated his father. The state government has made a lot of claim regarding the so called large amount of compensation it was offering to those affected by the ‘riots.’ How this amount is nothing but meagre crumbs in reality was brought to us by Mustakim. The compensation was given only per household, so in a situation where a family had 10 members – say a couple who have two sons, who in turn are also married and have their own children – only the head of the family would receive the compensation. Mustakim’s situation was precisely so. While his father was compensated, he and his brother (both married and having their own children) were left to fend for themselves and were now being forcefully asked to leave. He narrated to us his encounter with the state officials two days back, “when the government officials asked me to leave saying that my father has been compensated, I asked them where to go with my children. They asked me to go and live in the nearby forest. I asked them where, should we go to another country?”
“We’ll rather live on roads than go back to the villages, our killers are roaming free there. They can kill us again” -said Sameena from the Bajidpur village. There was a near complete unanimity amongst everyone that they would not return to the villages as the government had not done anything to provide even an iota of security. One old woman at the Malakpur camp told the team that she feared the government would once again remain complicit if another attack takes place. This collusion of the government with the communal-fascists and in providing them impunity was evident to people. With all the main kingpins of the attack still roaming free in the villages and even felicitated publicly, despite FIRs filed against them, how could the Muslims be expected to go back? Irshad, another resident, captured the reality of the collusion very succinctly – “when the culprits are roaming free, how can they let the enquiry happen; they themselves are the administration, and they themselves are the culprits.” Many other villagers never filed an FIR against the perpetrators for that would have entailed returning to the villages. People narrated to the team several instances when some people had tried going back to the villages, but were forced to return to the camps after facing intimidation and threats. Mohd. Dilshad at the Noorpur Khurgam camp for example told us of two families who on the insistence of the pradhan of the Kurmal village had returned to their village, but were forced to return to the camps as the dominant Jats came with petrol to intimidate them. In another incident at Kakda and Kutba-Kutbi villages, some people from the Muslim community had gone back to only fetch their goods when their motorcycles were burnt down by the dominant sections of the village and the police.
The terror regarding what had transpired in September last was so great that they did not think returning back to the villages was a possibility even in the near future. Some people recounted the gory attacks on the children and the elderly in the villages and how they were slaughtered. Another specific feature of these attacks, as in many other places, was the targeted sexual assaults on women from the Muslim community. Though initially, people were hesitant to recount these instances but later many narrated some horrific incidents to the team. Several women had been gang-raped, some were stripped naked and made to dance on broken glass pieces. A villager narrated an instance of one woman who was abducted by the attackers and was never seen again. They do not even know whether she is alive or not. Another woman recounted a ghastly murder of her younger sister who was split apart from between her legs. The women who were subjected to ghastly sexual violence and bestial torture in their respective villages or had even witnessed it, felt a lot safer living in the camps. The only danger here was from the police, but with the people from the camps patrolling the roads at night they felt a relative sense of security. The few people who could make some arrangements with their relatives had left the camps, especially those who had lost their children, but no one went back to the villages. After all, with most of their property either gutted down or appropriated by the dominant Jats, they had nothing to go back to. Wasila from the Lak village who used to work as a daily wage labourer at a brick kiln told the team that the rioting mobs after stealing her jewellery, burnt down the 10 quintals of grain and other goods, to finally raze down the house. With the Muslims not been able to return to their villages, a new pattern of ghettoization is emerging – new in the sense of what was till recently only an urban phenomenon now shifting increasingly to the countryside.
The continuing violence on the Muslims in these regions is part of a broader context of a historical process of their over all marginalization. While there was a small section of artisans, weavers and small shop-keepers, most of those living in the camps are daily wage labourers. They either used to work in the brick kilns, at construction sites or largely in the sugarcane fields owned by the dominant sections of the Jats. Hardly any owned any land. On the other hand, the dominant section of the Jats who stood to gain the most by these attacks not only owned large amount of land but also coupled up as money-lenders charging exorbitant amounts of interest. Mohd. Dilshad, from the Kurmal village, for example, had borrowed Rs. 40,000 in 2003 from one of these zamindars cum moneylenders, and in return was liable to pay 1,80,000 by 2006. An inability to pay back the amount, would make them bonded labourers in the hands of the zamindars, which at times continued beyond a generation. These dominant sections also monopolized the legal as well as extra-legal structures of political and social authority – be it the post of the sarpanch, mukhia or pradhan in the panchayats or the khap panchayats and had a complete hold over the police and the local administration. Dilshad cited the daily feudal oppression the muslims faced and the perpetual fear of attack – “if we wear new clothes, they would abuse us and call us pigs, they would never talk to us without abusing…moreover they can get anyone arrested by the police anytime.” Saying that he would not return to his village, Dilshad, in fact, went on to term life in the camps as “heaven” – “despite all the difficulties there is at least no daily humiliation and fear of an attack.”
Having lost their loved ones, having lost their livelihoods and property and forced to live in deplorable conditions in these camps, they even regard this as a state of “freedom”.Because the value of human lives is rendered not just in livelihood but also in basic human dignity which was systemically denied to the Muslims of Muzzaffarnagar not only during these massacres, but in the decades preceding that as well. The property that they left behind, their houses, places of religious worships, etc – have all been usurped by the same dominant feudal section which orchestrated these attacks. As Shahzad Saifi pointed out the Muslims have been pushed back by at least 20 years. Another woman from Rathoda village, whose family used to own three houses, pointed out „what is the use of these houses if our lives are under attack… so we are better off here, even if we do not have any houses.‟ The continuing developments in Muzaffarnagar once again confirms how communal-fascism is part of the very social relations and the structures of oppression that this state, irrespective of which party is in power, rests on.
This is just a preliminary report based on some of our findings. A detailed report will be released in a week’s time. The team members comprised Aswathi, Bhawna, Rajat, Reyaz, Shamla, Ufaque, Umar- (DSU, JNU), Mishab, Abdur Raheem -(SIO), Neeraj (Inquilabi Chatra Morcha, Allahabad University), Shailesh (Bhagat Singh Chattra Morcha, BHU) and Chandrika (independent journalist)
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