MUMBAI, October 16 — After losing everything they had till couple of months ago including home, furniture, livestock, shops, bicycles, items collected for marriageable girls and other hard-earned belongings, hundreds of Muslims affected by the Muzaffarnagar riots who are now living in the relief camps are refusing to return back to their villages even though they are without bathrooms, drinking water, electricity, sanitation, medical assistance and other essential amenities, and depending on others even for their daily intake of food.
“We used to live normally with them with civil ties. But they are not our friends. How could they be, since they allowed the looting and burning of our houses when we were away? Even now, nobody has come to see us or asked us to come back. They are not our friends. ‘Hamein yaheen dafan kar do, lekin jaane ko na kaho‘ (Bury us here but don’t ask us to go back)”, Salma and Shabnam two sisters who are now living in relief camps with hundreds others pleaded with a fact finding team that visited them on October 9.
The 13-member fact finding team supported by Action Aid and led by Ram Puniyani of All India Secular Forum (AISF) and Zakia Soman of Sauhard Manch comprised of noted activists, journalists and lawyers.
Naseeba, a young mother with a new born baby at Malakpura camp shared with the fact finding team how she was struggling to survive at the camp with her children. She said, they passed two rainy days there along with thousands others and were dreading the cold nights. Despite these hardships she is not ready to go back to her village, Lisarh, because of the immense fear and lack of trust owing to the violence she witnessed there while fleeing.
Like women, the men folks are also scared and do not gather courage to return back to their homes. “Hum police force ko phone karte rahe lekin koi police nahi aai (we kept calling the police station but no police came to our rescue). Zeher khaa ke marjayenge lekin gao wapis nahi jayenge” (we will have poison and die but not return)”, Md Yaseen Saifi of Laakh village said while talking to the team.
The children too are so traumatised and their psyche has been so greatly affected by the violence that even they are refusing to go back. In reply to a qeustion posed by the fact finding team two kids, aged below 10 years, said, “You do not know. There has been a Hindu –Muslim fight in our village. There is no way we can go back now.”
This is despite the fact, as Naseeba – the young mother, recounted, they are facing unimaginable hardships in the make-shift camps they are forced to live in. “Malakpur was the starkest display of the damage and horror that has hit Muzaffarnagar since the riots. Rows and rows of plastic tents provide a flimsy shelter to the thousands who have been displaced. About 8,000 to 10,000 people are living in this particular relief camp in conditions which all indicate a humanitarian crisis”, the fact team observed in its report.
“Though food grains and raw materials are provided to each family, which cooks its own food the conditions in which these 10,000 people live are beyond humane. We saw a big hole dug right in the middle of the relief camp, which is literally under the sun, used as a toilet. Women would either go to the adjoining jungle or would have to manage to use a makeshift four walled tent as one”, the report said.
“For numbers as large as 10,000 we did not see one police van, no government health facility neither any supplies from the administration. For the first three weeks, we were told, they were sent 400 liters of milk every day. 400 liters for 10,000 and more! The unbearable heat, the stench of defecation all around, flies, pregnant women and infants as young as 7 days not well looked after, all marked the Malakpur relief camp. The adjoining jungle also posed threats to the safety of the inhabitants, who have even had to face snakes etc at night”, the report added.
Around 252 villages are affected by the riot, and hundreds of people from these villages are still living in different relief camps. Conditions in all camps are hardly any different from that seen in Malakpur camp.
“The camps are a ghastly sight when one sees new born children, lying close to their mothers in plastic tents under the sun, with flies all over them. There is dirt, filth, human excreta everywhere specially in the Malakpur camp where there is a huge population. They have constructed a few makeshift toilets and a few hand pumps. Lack of proper toilets pose a serious threat to the safety of women and young girls specially during the nights”, the report observed.
“Pregnant women and those having their menstrual cycle are very vulnerable to diseases. Women were angry for being subjected to this pitiable plight and being reduced to living in camps. Quite a few women said that though they were poor they were happy to be living in their homes and were extremely traumatized living like refugees in camps. But they were also categorical that they cannot return to their villages”, it added.
Ironically, the administration which is accused of failing in providing the safety and security to these victims during the riots, is failing once again in providing the needed relief to these victims – literally mocking the recommendations made for riot victim in the much publicised Prime Minister’s 15-point program.
“In both the camps visited by us, there was a general state of apathy from the administration. There is no allowance for the displaced being paid to the inmates; there is a shortage of food; there is no special supplies such as milk etc for children; there is no provision for pregnant women and mothers with babies; there are no doctors to be seen in the camps”, the report observed.
“The administration seemed to be taking shelter behind pretexts such as Shamli being a new district and therefore the chaos or raising matters of jurisdiction or simply there is no need for these people to be in camps; why don’t they go back to their villages?”, it said.
“None of the displaced survivors we spoke to had seen any interaction with the administration or received any help. Shockingly, we were told by the organizers in Malakpura that the ADM had visited the camp site some days prior to our visit and threatened the inmates to evict the land soonest as it belonged to the van vibhag. Failing this, they would be served legal notices, they were told”, the report said.
When the team took the matter with the ADM-F, he pleaded helplessness on grounds of jurisdiction. He also, narrated that there was a shortage of doctors and therefore the administration was helpless in treating the survivors.
Besides documenting the tales of horror affected people have shared with others, the fact finding team criticised the role of police and media during and after the riot.
“As in some other places, here too the vernacular media and one major national electronic news channel seem to have played a key role in inciting violence against the Muslims. There seems to be deliberate and mischievous spreading of hate through false and unfounded stories. Several Hindi newspapers and a certain national Hindi news channel distorted the news about the happenings on a daily basis. There was an attempt to create a picture of Muslims being the slaughterers of Hindus and various false stories to this effect were published”, the report observed.
About the role of police during the riots the fact finding team found the same old pattern – remaining mute spectator to the atrocities, and later refusing to register FIRs.
“All the survivors we spoke to in the relief camps narrated how in spite of repeated calls for help the police refused to intervene. Women from Lisarh village in both the camps narrated how as they were taking shelter from the mob into some homes the police stood by and refused to act. In one particular case, Khatun narrated how her brother-in-law was shot in the leg by the mob and was unable to flee. Yet, the police patrol standing nearby refused to help”, the report said.
“Not only that, we got several accounts of how either the policemen were taunting the Muslims and abusing them with gaalis (abuses) referring to them as suvvars (pigs). The survivors narrated how their complaints and FIRs were not being registered by the police. Some of the survivors were carrying lists of names of attackers but the police refused to include their names in the FIRs”, the report said.
Click here to read/download the full report: Muzaffarnagar: Post Riot Assessment – Report of Citizens’s Inquiry Team