Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav can certainly brave the chill of the January nights. On the night of 8 January, he was at the annual Saifai Mahotsav in his native district of Etawah, along with his son, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. 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 Uttar Pradesh 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.
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