Even as the temperature dips to near-zero degree in the open fields along the sugarcane fields where most of the relief camps are located, senior state government officials too, it seems, are trying their best to follow in the footprints of their political masters in obfuscating the truth. For instance, AK Gupta, the principal secretary of the state’s home department, recently told the media that “no one died due to cold. Had that been the case, nobody could have survived in Siberia”.
In Muzaffarnagar district, the epicentre of the riots, the district administration has tried to shut down the relief camps at Bassi Kalan, Tawli, Shahpur, Loi and Jaula. Bizarrely, that was the administration’s response to the scathing public criticism of the pitiable living conditions in the camps. While some of those who moved out of the camps were able to take up rented accommodation in the villages, others had no option but to set up new makeshift camps elsewhere.
The administration has not only tried to force the victims to leave the relief camps, but has also filed FIRs against some people who had helped organise the camps. They are now accused of grabbing the government land on which the relief camps were set up.
Political analysts believe that following the series of blunders by the Uttar Pradesh government both in tackling the communal violence and then in handling the rehabilitation process, the ruling Samajwadi Party is now faced with the spectre of the Muslim voters shifting their loyalty away from the party. This has become a hotly debated issue in the political circles of Uttar Pradesh and it is impossible to miss the palpable frustration in the Samajwadi Party.
Ashok Mishra, former state secretary of the CPI, uses an interesting metaphor to describe the situation in which the Samajwadi Party finds itself today. “Instead of killing the snake, if you only try to fill one snake pit, then the reptile will emerge from another pit and bite whosoever tries to protect the people from the snakes,” says Mishra. “The Samajwadi Party seems to have lost the resolve and the strength to fight the snake of communalism. The perception that Mulayam’s party is the only protector of the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh is fast vanishing.”
This is a sentiment shared by many others, including Shahid Siddiqui, former Rajya Sabha MP and currently chief editor of Nai Duniya, an Urdu weekly published from New Delhi. Siddiqui had been expelled from the Samajwadi Party in July 2012 after he published an interview with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. “Any kind of intoxication clouds the senses. Mulayam Singh is drunk on power and has got into a self-destructive mode,” he says. “The bizarre behaviour of the Samajwadi Party leaders is manifested in the Saifai festival where Mulayam Singh and CM Akhilesh Yadav are busy enjoying dance performances by Bollywood stars while the riot victims are being pushed out of the relief camps and children are dying because of the biting cold.”
Even as thousands of riot victims are forced to face the winter chill amid the pitiable living conditions in the relief camps, another crass display of apathy by the state government came to the fore. At a time when it should have been using its resources for the relief and rehabilitation of the riot victims, it has sanctioned an expenditure of around Rs 1 crore for eight ministers and nine MLAs to undertake an 18-day trip to Turkey, Greece, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and UAE. Beginning on 8 January, the foreign jaunt has been christened as a “study tour” of the ministers and MLAs organised under the aegis of Uttar Pradesh’s Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Critics, however, point out that it is more of a paid leisure trip. The “study tour” is being led by senior minister Azam Khan, who is also the ruling party’s in-charge of Muzaffarnagar district.
‘We are scared of what awaits us if we go back to our village’
Saeeda | 40| Sisauli village
After the Muzaffarnagar district administration shut down the relief camp at Bassi Kalan, Saeeda and her husband Yameen have been forced to live at another makeshift camp nearby.
The couple took shelter at the house of Gulab Thekedaar, an influential Muslim villager, for four days before escaping. Yameen was attacked while taking his family members to a safer place in Shikarpur. Initially, he managed to take his wife and children to a relative’s place. However, when he went back to bring his brother and other children, he was waylaid and attacked.
“We don’t want to go back to Sisauli,” says Saeeda, who used to sell utensils along with Yameen. Ever since the attack, Yameen has become too weak to go out for work.
Both Yameen and Saeeda are trying to cope with the horrific memories of the riots, but what adds salt to their wounds is that they don’t have enough money to buy a piece of land and start life afresh.
The couple says that the government has shrugged off its responsibility by just handing over Rs 50,000. They lost their house but no compensation has been paid for that.
“We have been refused the rehabilitation package. The officials are putting pressure on us to go back to our village. But we fear for our life there,” laments Saeeda.