Five years later, Muzaffarnagar riot survivors continue to languish in camps without support
By Kamal Bhargava and Saurabh Sharma
Muzaffarnagar: Torn tarpaulin roofs, crumbling plastic tents, open garbage and a strong odour emanating from a steady flow of wastewater mixed with faeces — these are some of the things one notices as they enter a shelter camp in the Dadri village of Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district.
“The ones who died in the 2013 riots will never come back and the lives of the survivors were pushed back by at least two decades,” bemoaned Yaseen Khan from his ‘home’ — an area of barely 100 sq ft. Khan, who lives with his mother, wife, and kids, lost two members of his family in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar and Shamli riots which claimed the lives of at least 60 people and displaced 40,000 others. In the aftermath of the bloodshed between Jats and Muslims, victims were rehabilitated by the state government in temporary shelter camps. As life returned to normalcy and most of the victims were taken care of, the said camps were shut down. While those who wished to go back were rehabilitated, many refused to return out of fear. They were subsequently rehabilitated on land provided by Nahid Hasan, a local district leader affiliated to the Samajwadi Party.
“We don’t want to go back because all our family members and relatives are now living in different places,” said another survivor, Hakimuddin. “There are around 30-40 families living in this camp and we manage to run it ourselves,” he added.
Survivors here have not forgiven those in power for ignoring their plight. Like many others in the camp, Khan now struggles as a daily wage labourer after losing his job and land in the clashes. “While the political parties orchestrating the violence secured their vote banks, our lives were destroyed. We were forced to leave our native villages,” he said adding that the hand to mouth existence makes it difficult for him to provide for his family. Such is their predicament that the food saved for their children to eat the next day is often stolen by the stray dogs roaming nearby.
While the survivors are still limping from one day to another, in March the Yogi Adityanath-led government dashed their hopes for a fair trial by announcing a plan to dismiss criminal cases against some of the accused.
For Naseema, a resident of Phuana, all is lost. “We were forced to remain behind closed doors for three days as there was no one to rescue us,” she said while recounting how she fled her village and never returned due to fear. “The-then Samajwadi Party government did not provide any compensation to us as promised. We don’t even have a house. Honestly, we have lost all hopes of getting justice in the near future,” she told 101reporters.
Though the SP government took steps to rehabilitate victims and compensate for their losses, there are victims who allege otherwise. “If we had received the compensation, we could have constructed our own house. Why would we stay here?” asked Bano who has been living in the camp for the past five years.
Many, including Bano, speculate that the compensation was paid on the basis of caste, among other things. Another survivor, Mustaqeem, echoed the same sentiment. “There is no doubt that the compensation was paid on caste basis. Though I have not received a single penny, the previous government gave compensation to some people I know,” he said.
Authorities, on the other hand, claimed that the compensation was given to the affected ones who met all the required parameters. They also cited instances where people, who did not fulfil the criteria, tried to wrongfully claim the recompense money.
“There are all kinds of people. Some people, who were neither attacked nor suffered any loss of life and property, have also claimed that they didn’t receive the compensation,” alleged Mohammed Waseem. Unlike some, he had received the compensation after his documents were thoroughly scrutinised.
The uncertainty over the recompense scheme is not the only problem on the minds of these survivors. “Yes, the compensation was paid by the UP government. But what about the future of the next generation which is at stake? The absence of schools and colleges have forced students to leave their education midway increasing the dropout rate over the past five years,” Khan said.
While there are government schools in close proximity to the camp, they often fail to act as viable options for higher studies. “Though schools and colleges are available, financial distress acts as an obstacle for these kids to achieve higher education,” said Aslam, another survivor who lives in the camp. He added that lack of help and assistance from government authorities have worsened the situation.
In the midst of such troubles, the riot victims received the news of the incumbent BJP government’s move to withdraw 131 riot cases against politicians (including many BJP leaders). Notably, 24 out of these 131 cases involve murder and attempt to murder charges. The reaction to the development has been predictable.
“It is BJP and its leaders who initiated this bloody violence. Instead of providing some respite, they are still involved in creating problems. The government’s decision of withdrawing cases is purely a political move,” Mustaqeem said.
“BJP leaders are front-runners in fomenting violence,” said Mehtab Alam, one of the victims. “The BJP government did not even bother to get a hand pump installed in the camps, let alone the payment of compensation.”
UP BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi assured that the government has decided to withdraw only politically motivated cases against the leaders. “The government has received more than 4,000 applications and we are considering only about 200 for withdrawal of cases,” he told 101reporters.
Since December 2017, various stakeholders from Muzaffarnagar and Shamli have also met SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav to work out a model for settlement of riot cases. Currently, a modus operandi is being worked out to resolve the disputes.
According to a local Muslim leader, “We have been fighting for justice for the past five years and the sad part is that, in our country, seeking justice is expensive — especially for those who struggle to make both ends meet. Reaching for a compromise is something which has to be thought about.”