Close to 3,000 victims of communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh flock at the outskirts of Delhi and recount tales of horror, police apathy, violence as they struggle to survive in a madrassa compound in Loni town of Ghaziabad for lack of government support.
A tall hoarding, erected on the divider of the road, at a T point, was wide enough to split the sky into two parts. A man wearing a white taqiyah (cap worn by Muslims) and kurta-salwar stood under that. The hoarding had a life size picture of Narendra Modi, with one hand up in the air making a point as he stares into space on one side and Vivekananda in saffron clothes on the other. It quoted nationalist poet Maithli Sharan Gupt’s famous couplet, “Jo bhara nahin hai bhavo se, jis mein behti rasdhaar nahin, woh hriday nahin hai patthar hai, jismein desh ka pyaar nahin.” (One who has no emotions/One who has no flush of flavours/Has a stone for a heart/ That who does not love his/her country) This hoarding was celebrating the announcement of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate on behalf of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal in Loni, a small town in Ghaziabad, 20 km from New Delhi. The man was constantly repeating to the person on the other side of the phone, “Come under Narendra Modi. Come where he is.” This hoarding has not just become a landmark in Loni but also in the sequence of events since the communal riots first broke in Kawal village of Muzaffarnagar on August 27 following the killing of three people from two communities.
Situated a 100 km away from Muzaffarnagar, Loni is one of five Assembly elements of Ghaziabad. Out of the 3.7 lakh Muslim voters in Ghaziabad, 60 percent live in Loni.
A ten minute shared auto ride from the above T-point leads to Mohalla Toli. This stretch has several newly erected flex boards from Shiv Sena which read, “Hindu ho to tilak lagao.” (If you are a Hindu, put a vermillon mark on your forehead.) In the last ten days, close to four thousand people from the riot affected rural areas of Baghpat, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar have taken refuge in this area. While several thousand people are living with relatives in the vicinity and the other two and a half thousand are camping at the Madrassa-e-Zeenat-e-Islam.
As one walks through the narrow lanes that lead to the madrassa, locals react on seeing a camera, “What will you do with this? How will it help us? Why don’t you tell us?” The façade of the madrassa with its semi-plastered walls is falling. On the other side of the gate, there is not an iota of hint of what awaits inside. Brisk business continues at the soda shop and the grocery store outside.
On the other side of the gate, a brazen cocktail of anger and helplessness brews. A small room on the right is the nucleus of this make-shift relief camp. The supervisor of the madrassa, Haji Babu, sits cross legged on the floor with tears at the brink of his eyes as he interacts. When we ask him, what is happening, he opens his mouth but can’t say a word. He says, “Please go and meet them yourself.” As people keep pouring in from riot affected areas Muzaffarnagar, they first meet him in this small room, they are fed in front of him, name and other details are noted down and then sent to the madrassa building. The women and the children are sent off to the five rooms on the first floor of the under construction building. The men overflow into the compound, under loosely tied tent roofs, for the lack of rooms.
Some volunteers accompany us and keep a strict watch that no one from outside follows us.
“The fire had already reached the lane behind our house. I had to run with my two daughters,” recounts twenty-something Khushi as she breastfeeds her daughter. Her younger daughter was just two days old when she had to run away. The police tried to arrest her husband, a daily wage labourer, for ‘causing riots’. He was let off and joined her two days later. “I have not been able to get in touch with my parents-in-laws for the last six days.” Other women in the room nod in agreement and empathy as she speaks. Another one points out at a woman in the next room.
Farzana also ran away with her three days old daughter from Dhanwasa village of Baghpat. She fled with her sister-in-law and mother-in-law. Nine bullets were fired on her house. Her house was burnt along with her ten buffaloes. The entire family of 40 members was displaced. Reshma, her mother-in-law says, “After my entire family fled, I sat on a bike and went back to my house. All the money was stolen and the house was on fire. A girl whose breasts were chopped off was lying half burnt in my house. I came back.
Farzana and Khushi do not want to return back to their village ever. The nurse stationed in this madrassa Suman Arora says, “The women who ran away after delivering babies are now suffering from elongated uterus because of stress. Because of lack of amenities here like drinking water, there is a risk of epidemic like typhoid. We are also ill-equipped to prevent dengue in the current situation where these refugees are living.”
Twenty two years old Jasmeen cries inconsolably as she narrates what happened. It has been eight days and her parents are still missing. “I ran to the Pradhan, the village head for help. He and his supporters kept telling me, ‘Go back to Pakistan’. What do I have to do with Pakistan? I live here, eat here, pray here in Hindustan,” Jasmeen was set to get married next month. “The mob took away all the jewellery in front of my eyes. All the money too. Then, they yelled, ‘take away all the girls. They must know what it means to be dishonored.’ They also threw acid on my neighbour’s daughter’s neck. She fell on the ground right in front of me. I don’t know what happened to her after that.” That’s when Jasmeen ran away barefooted with her three younger siblings. She had to cross the jungle to board a truck carrying 50 more people to reach Loni. She has been trying her parents’ number but to no avail.
Women after women repeat the same story. However, mainstream media seems to have completely buried the information. While the country claimed ‘victory’ when the four accused were sentenced to death penalty last Friday in the December 16 gang rape case and the mainstream media switched to covering the announcement of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate in the later half, the complete dismissiveness towards the accounts of the Muzaffarnagar riot affected women is telling.
As one walks past, young kids peel several kg of potatoes for the next meal, some of them wash utensils for the same. Meena, a local resident from Toli Mohalla, Loni recounts as she distributes Parle G biscuits and pouches of drinking water, “These women had no clothes to wear for the first 4-5 days. They hadn’t bathed all this while. The kids who accompanied them were naked. The local residents took out a procession to collect old clothes, soap, money, food grains to help them.”
While the official figures suggest that only 48 people have died in the riots, the inhabitants of this camp verify a different number. Abid, in his late twenties from Lankh village recalls, “The Pradhan in the village, Ballu, bluffed us. He kept assuring us that they will protect us but instead sent us in a different direction. It is there, the mob was waiting for us. They maimed over 80 people in my village. This includes my grandfather, my uncle and my mother.”
Similarly, Irfan from Bhaju village is completely shattered. His two and a half year old son looks away in fear as he tells us, “My wife and two children have been missing for the last one week. I don’t know how to look for them.” Irfan is a rickshaw puller. Most of the riot victims in this camp are from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
From Muzaffarnagar, violence also percolated to nearby districts like Shamli and Baghpat. Also, the police’s apathy is evident in the testimonials of several riot victims who were turned away. Forty-something Saleem from Dharona village in Baghpat lived on the outskirts of his village near the jungles with 6-7 famlies of his community. His house was surrounded by a mob of three hundred people. “When I called the police, the police scolded him for lying. The SHO later said that there are no police constables in the police station to send,” he tells. Several riot victims we spoke to repeated that police accused them of lying when they were seeking help instead of providing immediate help.
That night Saleem was spared. He met the Pradhan of the village in the morning. The Pradhan didn’t intervene instead told Saleem that he is sleeping for two hours and that Saleem should come after that. It was in these two hours there was an exchange of gun shots between the two communities in the village. “They attacked us with country made pistols, batons and other weapons. The people from the other community even started scaring our sons and daughters the night before saying that eat all that you have to tonight. You will be off tomorrow,” recalls Saleem. It is then he fled with other families.
Government officials including the district magistrate has visited the madrassa twice. However, no relief has come in till now. The local MLA, Zakir Ali, from BSP has offered some help. His younger brother, Mohd Ali, with three walky-talky sets on his table speaks, “Since this is an absolute administration failure, we do not even expect the government to help. The victims were coming and piling on the relatives who were themselves daily wage labourers. That’s why we thought it is better to get them at one place. Which is when we thought of the madrassa as a make shift camp.”
The organisers at the madrassas believe that 500 people are coming in every single day. Ghauri Mohammed Shakeen, incharge of the madrassa says, “we can provide them food and shelter but they are in dire need of rehabilitation and livelihood.”
The birthday of BJP PM Candidate Narendra Modi will not remain untainted by the miseries of the newly borns in this camp who await acknowledgement.