The Neros of Uttar Pradesh

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Mulayam’s son Akhilesh too has been incredibly apathetic towards the plight of the riot victims. The only time he visited Muzaffarnagar since the riots broke out was on 15 September last year, and that too just for a few hours. On the other hand, he has visited his home town Saifai nearly 60 times since becoming the chief minister in March 2012.

Meanwhile, the district administrations of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli seem hell-bent on making the homeless riot victims move out of the relief camps. On 5 January, Shamli District Magistrate PK Singh appealed to the inmates of the camps “to shift to safer places to avoid the cold”. But he did not spell out where the riot victims could possibly find these “safer places”. They are scared of going back to the villages from where they had to flee during the riots to save their lives. Most of them have no houses to return to as those were burnt down when the rioters were running amok. Moreover, as most of the victims are poor — a majority of them were daily wage labourers in brick kilns or hawkers selling utensils and clothes in the villages before the riots broke out — they can’t afford to opt for rented accommodation in new localities.

Even though many victims have managed to get a cheque of Rs 5 lakh as part of the rehabilitation package, they cannot go back to their villages to rebuild their homes for want of security. Many of them are using the compensation money to buy land elsewhere. But as land prices are quite high, they have little money left to build houses on the land they have bought.

“Why is there this hurry to push the victims out of the camps when the cold is at its peak?” asks Anwar, a native of Malakpur village in Shamli district and one of the organisers of the relief camp there. A group of officials visiting the camp had tried to force the victims to leave, but they put their foot down and refused to do so. Anwar had stood firmly on the side of the victims at the time of this incident. Around 250 families have taken shelter in the Malakpur camp, including some from the neighbouring Meerut and Baghpat districts. There are another 10 smaller camps that dot the nearly 10 km stretch between Malakpur and Bipar villages in Shamli district.

It was in the Malakpur camp that 25 infants died because of inadequate protection against the winter chill. Two infants died at the Idgah camp in neighbouring Kanshla and 10 more at the camp in Loi village in Muzaffarnagar district. Following the furore over the deaths, the Uttar Pradesh government grudgingly admitted that 34 children had died in the camps.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) also sought clarifications from the state government on the deaths of children in the relief camps. In its letter to the state government, the NCPCR stated that the “death figures of children as reported in the media and the figures accepted by the local administration need further inquiry as death figures of 25 at Malakpur camp, two at Idgah Kanshla camp and 10 at Loi camp dying of respiratory sickness/pneumonia… needs further explanation and reconciling from the state government”.

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‘Officials told us that we will get no compensation’

Shabra | 12|  Lisarh Village

ShabraShabra chops onions and potatoes as she prepares dinner for those with whom she and her brother are sharing a room at an abandoned electricity department building in Jaula village. She opens up after some initial hesitation. The brother-sister duo lost their father and stepmother at the hands of the rioting mob. Shabra says she saw her father Azimuddin and her stepmother Haliman (both 50) being dragged by a group of rioters and hacked to death.

“They were smoking a hookah outside our home,” she recalls. “At around 12.30 pm, we heard a group of village youth shouting anti-Muslim slogans and saw them brandishing sharp weapons. When I went outside to check, I saw my parents were being dragged away from the house. Then the mob hacked them. I don’t remember how but someone pulled me into the house and so I survived. Later, I ran towards the sugarcane fields and hid there for several hours. I had no clue whether my brother Shabir and biological mother, who too lived with us, managed to escape or not before the security forces took us to safety and brought us here.”

Shabir points out that they have got Rs 5 lakh for rehabilitation but no money has been paid as compensation for the murder of their parents.

“The officials tell us that since their bodies could not be found, we won’t get any compensation,” he says.

Luckily, their biological mother is by their side, but the family dreads going back to their village.

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