The Neros of Uttar Pradesh

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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.

Ever since she moved to this camp, she has been eagerly waiting to be rehabilitated by the government. While several of the riot victims who have been displaced from their villages have got a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each from the Uttar Pradesh government, Akbari’s application is still stuck in red tape. Anxious to get any kind of help, she mistakenly takes this correspondent to be a local government official and her eyes brighten when she is asked about her well-being. No wonder she becomes a little irritable on learning that she was not speaking to an official but a journalist. “Can you get me my compensation? Else, what is the use of recalling all the misery that I have gone through?” she asks.

However, she later opens up and narrates her plight. “I spent two days and two nights in the sugarcane fields before others from my community rescued me and brought me here. Later, my sons reached this camp looking for me and are staying with me now,” recalls the frail woman who was working as a daily wage labourer in a brick kiln near her village until the riots broke out.

The plight of Akbari and thousands of others like her, who are yet to find a roof on their heads after being rendered homeless in the riots, flies in the face of Mulayam’s recent remark that those living in the camps are not victims but political “conspirators”. Had the senior Yadav visited the relief camps in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli even once, it would perhaps have helped him realise how cruel and insensitive his words were. Possibly, he would have been able then to empathise with the riot victims staying in the relief camps in near-freezing temperature.

It is indeed astounding that the Samajwadi Party supremo, who had emerged as a so-called messiah of the minority community in 1990 after having ordered the police to fire on the kar sevaks mobilised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for getting a Ram temple built in Ayodhya, has not bothered to visit the riot victims even once in the four months that have passed since the riots broke out in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. Instead of offering a healing touch to the riot victims, Mulayam has been accusing the leaders of the other parties visiting the relief camps of indulging in politics. He called Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi a “thief” who sneaks in at night to visit the relief camps. He was shameless enough to say that “no government in the history of Uttar Pradesh has done so much for providing relief to the riot-affected people, yet the leaders of Opposition parties are doing politics over the riots”.

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‘Money cannot compensate for the loss of my husband’

Washeema | 17
Gulistan | 28
Kutwa Village

Washeema_and_gulistanOn 25 August 2013, Washeema married Irshad and started a new life at her husband’s house in Kutwa village. Little did she know that two weeks later, the same village would be one of the worst-hit by the communal flare-up and she would lose her beloved husband in the violence.

On 8 September, she was away at her parents’ house in Baghpat district. As the violence spread, Irshad began evacuating his family members to safer places at nearby Budhana. During one of the sorties, he was on a bike with his sister-in-law Gulistan (below right) and four children. When they reached a bridge, a mob attacked them.

“I didn’t even realise when they shot Irshad. The bullet hit him in the head,” recalls Gulistan. “As soon as we fell down, they attacked him again, smashing his head with a blunt object. They attacked me, too. I don’t recall what happened after that. When I gained consciousness, I was at a hospital in Meerut. I was told that Irshad had died on the spot.”

Back home, Irshad’s father Shamshad met a similar fate. Even as Gulistan struggles to cope with the mental agony, Washeema’s fate hangs in the balance. Though the family has received compensation for the murders, they are not satisfied. “The killers of my husband have been arrested. No amount of money can compensate the loss of my husband,” says Washeema.

Both women are staying with their widowed mother-in- law and other relatives at a rented house in Shahpur.

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