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Muzaffarnagar riots: Joint Citizens’ Initiative hears distressed relief camp victims

A report on the Joint Citizens’ Initiative hearing of the Muzaffarnagar riots victims close on the heels of the UP government’s efforts to close down the relief camps:
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Participating in an event organized by Joint Citizens’ Initiative (JCI), a collective of NGOs and individuals for relief, rehabilitation and justice in Muzaffarnagar, representatives of victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots, which rocked the state in August-end 2013, said the Uttar Pradesh’s government machinery has refused to acknowledge displacement of families from villages where violence broke out. The victims visited Lucknow to represent before to the JCI’s NGO jury for hearing on January 7. Accusing the state government of playing “partisan” in offering relief and rehabilitation to Muzaffarnagar survivors, they added, the survivors were being forced to sign affidavits saying “they would not return to their villages, not live on government land, and not live in a relief camp” in exchange for relief money.
One of the representatives, Shamshad, a resident of Kharad village in Muzaffarnagar, said, “Two people were murdered and some mosques destroyed in my village. A mahapanchayat was orchestrated there as well on September 7, but the police watched and did nothing. Fearing for their lives, several people left the village. However, the state government says it does not recognize such displacement. Even though we had been rendered homeless, the state will only compensate those who faced violence.” Hadessa, who hails from Phugana village, one of the worst affected during riots, added, “I have been living in Jaula camp with my three children. My arm was broken when I ran to save my life but I have still not received compensation. The treatment for my injury was done in Delhi with the support of JCI.”
Among those who heard the victims were Gagan Sethi, founder, Janvikas, Ahmedabad; Kavita Shrivastav, national secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association; Roop Rekha Verma, founder, Sajhi Doniya; Siddharth Varadarajan, senior journalist and former editor, the Hindu; Farah Naqvi, member, National Advisory Council; and Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed. Suggesting that the same communal forces that orchestrated the communal riots of Gujarat in 2002 were now getting active in UP, Sethi said, “The vice-captain of Gujarat is now the UP coach. It is no surprise, therefore, that the one-day match (riots) we expected has occurred.”
While Sethi said India needs a formal policy to protect and rehabilitate Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Shrivastav raised the issue of sexual violence against Muslim women and questioned the state’s role in this matter. “In the few cases where FIRs have been filed, accused have not been arrested. In many other cases, even FIRs have not been filed,” she said. According to government data, though 233 cases of murder have been registered at various police stations in the riot affected villages, only 81 arrests have been made so far. Krishnan added that there were 72 pregnant women at the Loi relief camp at the time the state government decided to bulldoze it. “Does the government know where they have gone or where they will deliver in this cold weather,” she asked.
Hameed said, it is the responsibility of the state government to provide support to those willing to return to their homes. She underlined, “There are long and short term measures the government must formulate. The conditions in the camp I visited are dismal. People are living in sub-human conditions and need to be integrated with dignity.” Earlier, a memorandum to the state government seeking a single window system so that survivors could go through administrative formalities regarding compensation, rehabilitation, availing banking facilities, getting back lost identity documents and related issues.
Titled “Immediate halt to the dismantling of Muzaffarnagar riot relief camps and the forcible eviction of the riot affected inhabitants from relief camps”, petition expressed distress over “absolutely insensitive and inhuman action on the part of the UP government and administration in forcibly removing and dismantling relief camps across Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, that house thousands of riot affected persons, who were left displaced in the aftermath of what is notoriously called the Muzaffarnagar riots that broke out in September 2013.”
Memorandum to the UP chief minister
It said, “The forcible eviction is taking place, against the wishes of those living in these camps and is being done in a pressing haste by the UP government and administration without making any concrete, sustainable and viable alternative arrangements for the riot affected persons. In many of the cases, the compensation due to the victims is yet to be paid by the Uttar Pradesh government. To substantiate the claims I am making in this petition, I am attaching herewith several reports by independent media agencies, which also contain the on-record testimonies of those victims living in the relief camps” (click HERE for report).
Providing a recorded testimony of several victims from the relief camps in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, who state that they have not yet received the due compensation from the government, nor are they willing to go back to their villages for various reasons, the petition said, “Most prominent amongst the reasons for not going back is the lack of action by the UP police on various complaints filed by the victims with respect to the horrific crimes perpetrated against them – ranging from murder, rape to destruction of property.”
It added, “The victims maintain that they are being threatened by the accused to withdraw their complaints before they can even step into their respective villages again. Use of humiliating and derogatory communal references like ‘Dadhi’ and ‘Katwa’ by members of the other communities in the villages has also affected the psyche of the victims and unless bridges of re-conciliation and love are built again it seems impossible that the victims would be willing to go back to their former villages. It is to be noted that the Uttar Pradesh government has done precious little when it comes to re-building the burnt bridges of trust between communities affected by the riots.”
Pointing out that the dismantling of the camps and the forcible eviction of the riot affected persons comes during the peak of winter when temperatures are falling to as low as 1.3 degree celsius in Shamli district, the further said, “It is only last week that the UP government, after remaining in denial for the longest period of time, reluctantly accepted that 34 children succumbed to the cold in the relief camps. Eviction of the riot-hit victims in this situation will definitely pose a very grave threat to their lives, especially given the fact that the government has been unable to provide them with adequate warm clothing and blankets.”
It added, “It is also to be noted that the Uttar Pradesh government has not given any written assurance to the inhabitants of the camps that they would be shifted to an alternate accommodation that will protect them from the near freezing temperatures.”
Giving instances, the petition said, “Cases of unauthorised occupation have been registered at the Shahpur police station against 30 families in Sanjhak village in the district by revenue officials. About 30 families displaced during the September riots had taken refuge in a graveyard on the outskirts of the village. The victims, most of them from Kinauna village, had erected tents to protect themselves from the vagaries of the weather. Media reports from Sanjhak village in Muzaffarnagar now give evidence of the fact that the displaced families had not received help in the form of food rations or other assistance from the government. They had to cope in makeshift shelters on a graveyard (click HERE for report).
Further, the petition said, “Recently the Loee camp in Muzaffarnagar district has been completely dismantled. Loee camp housed 450 families. Officials claim that only 167 families from the camp have got Rs.5 lakh in compensation for resettlement. Muneesh Chandra Sharma, SDM of Muzaffarnagar’s Budhana – under which Loee village falls has on-record admitted with respect to the evictions that have taken place from the Loee Relief Camp, ‘We don’t have any arrangements for those who have been evicted’.
It added, “Moreover ,on being questioned why the compensation has not been paid to other victims who were promised while being evicted, the DM Kaushal Raj Sharma admitted that another survey is being conducted to identify ‘real’ victims as there were malpractices in previous survey. Under such circumstances, one wonders on what basis and justification can the UP government even begin the process of eviction of victim” (click HERE for report).
“After cracking the whips on riot victims living in relief camps in Muzaffarnagar, the UP government has now intensified pressure on people staying in relief camps in neighbouring Shamli district. Heavy police team reached Bhora camp and used force to vacate the camp on 1st January. Also, atleast 100 families living in Mansoora village camp were booked on charges of encroachment on government land”, it said.
It added, “The UP government had earlier slapped similar charges in Malakpur camp too. On January 2, over a hundred families were evicted from the Kandhla Idgah relief camp in Shamli district. Reports of the forcible evictions can be found in all major media reports which are also being attached. Once again, the story remains the same as the Uttar Pradesh government has failed to make prior arrangements for all the inhabitants of the camps” (click HERE, HERE and HERE for report).
Concluding, the report said, “Dismantling of the camps and forcible evictions of its inhabitants, without proper identification and payment of compensation, in this bitter cold, would amount to the grossest form of human rights violations especially for the young children population housed in these camps that exceeds 35% of the population as per NGO estimates. It would be pertinent to state that Chief MinisterAkhilesh Yadav has claimed on record that there was no order to drive the refugee families out of the camps. Further he is on record to state as of December 29, 2013 that ‘no one would be forced to leave the camps.’ Thus, in deference of the orders of the Chief Minister, the UP government should halt all dismantling and evictions.”

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