Visit to Muzaffarnagar – Irfan Engineer

Irfan Engineer

We had written about Muzaffarnagar riots ealier. Briefly recalling the causes behind the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar were political as the Lok Sabha elections are due. BJP needs to win substantial seats in UP in order to have any chance of forming the next government in New Delhi. Amit Shah the trusted lieutenant of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and having considerable experience of over anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in the year 2002 was made in-charge of UP BJP. After being made in charge of UP, Amit Shah visited Ramjanmabhoomi temple and prayed for construction of temple on the site where Babri Masjid was demolished. VHP then organized 84 kosi parikrama of Ayodhya during which communal sentiments were likely to be aroused in order to polarize voters. It is by now well known that the Sangh Parivar remebers the issue of construction of Ram Mandir just before the elections. The parikrama was banned and did not receive any response from people either. In absence of polarization, the BJP would have found it difficult to improve its tally substantially in UP. Meanwhile, for over a year the BJP has been exploiting issues to stigmatize Muslims, “love jihad” being one of them. An eve teasing incident in Muzaffarnagar escalated into major riot with the Samajwadi Party Government in UP proving to be utter incompetent at best and colluding with the BJP at worst also with electoral calculations to win over a section of Jats or Muslims. The situation spiralled out of control after inciting speeches were made by BJP leaders and 4 MPs during Mahapanchayat on 8th September 2013 attended by thousands of Jats on the slogan of “Bahu Beti Bachao”. The Mahapanchayat was banned but still allowed to proceed and the police doing nothing even as inciting speeches were made at the venue. Riots began as the armed mobs were returning after attending the Mahapanchayat. According to the official figures, 53 people died and more than 50,000 people were displaced.

There were news paper reports that children and aged people were dying in the relief camps due to severe winter, poor stock of food grains, blankets, clothes and due to unhygienic conditions and lack of medical facilities. A Team of CSSS, Irfan Engineer, Sandhya Mhatre and Anchal Jain therefore visited the Loi Relief Camp on 25th December 2013 to find out the actual conditions in the camp. We were joined by Ms. Veena Gupta and others from Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti and Amrish Rai and others from Right to Education Forum.

Propaganda about Loi Relief Camp:
The UP State Government’s attitude towards the relief camps was one of neglecting them. A Fact Finding Team of Centre for Policy Analysis in its Report dated 17.9.13 had this to say about the relief camps for victims of Muzaffarnagar riots and its inmates: “They have been living under the open skies since then, dependent entirely on the goodwill of those around them for food, clothing and medical help. The local community has been looking after their needs to the extent possible, by arranging food, bedding, clothes. The state government had not stepped in according to the testimony of the victim survivors, though DM Sharma insists that the district administration had been organising supplies of essential commodities. It is difficult to avoid the inference that these interventions came rather late and were intended to embroider the scenario just ahead of a series of VVIP visits.” The state had tried its best to dismantle the Loi Relief Camp, which they finally did on 30th December 2013. Mulayam Singh claimed that Loi Camp was inhabited by agents of Congress and BJP and Rahul Gandhi advised the victims to return to their villages. It was also being said in some quarters that people are living in the camp only with the intention of getting compensation from the Government.

Our findings: Conditions in the camp.
We found the conditions of the Camp appalling. The camp consisted of several small triangular tents erected small bamboos low enough to prevent a person from standing erect and wide at the base only to accommodate some bare belongings of the family which they got as relief material for survival like some blankets and rations for few days. People told us that there were enough blankets when we visited them. There were about 660 families staying in the camp and about 3,500 people. The camp inhabitants were thankful to the people of Loi village, including the Hindu inhabitants for all the help and assistance and relief material provided to them. The inhabitants were from Phugana and Kharad villages and they had arrived in the camp escaping the violence in their respective villages. They already had good relations with the people of this village as it was about 2-3 kms from their village. The UP Government provided some rations only for a week. Thereafter the victims have been depending on help pouring in from the villagers and from the community based organizations. Some survivors of the riots were also going for odd labour jobs whenever available.

While we were there, there were other visitors from distant parts, including Delhi and other places. One of them was telling the victims that with proper coordination and assessment of needs, the community could take care of all needs. To which we responded that we should not be thinking of relief along communal lines as that widens the communal divide. But the reality that by an large relief came not from the state, and not much from secular organizations, but from within the community was staring us starkly.

Police personnel got the victims to the camp under their protection. It is strange that instead of providing protection to the victims inside their village, the police chose to accompany the villagers to relief camps. The MLA of their area from Samajwadi Party – Nawazish Alam had not bothered to visit them even once. Even Azam Khan, the most influential minister in Akhilesh Yadav Govt., had not visited the victims. The children were inadequately clothed, perhaps didn’t have enough to be washed regularly. The Children attended the village school which was only upto primary level. There was also a special school started by an NGO for the children in the camp.
16 people had died in the camp, including 11 children, due to pneumonia and lack of medical facilities, according to Abdul Jabbar, who was the main person of the Intizamia (management) Committee of the camp.

One can only say that it is utter nonsense to claim that the camp was inhabited by agents of Congress and BJP or that they were there only to get compensation. Would the agents of BJP and Congress stay in such appalling conditions? The survivors were accompanied by the police to the camp for their lives and security. When they arrived in the camp leaving all their belongings and even valuables back in village, there was no announcement of any compensation. How could they anticipate compensation? In any case the compensation is inadequate to most people. They wouldn’t be in camp risking the lives of their children for the sake of compensation.

Compensation and its complications:
Out of the 660 families in the camp, only about 100 families had received or were promised compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs. There was no logic and no explanation as to how this figure of Rs. 5 lakhs was arrived. As there is no law that lays down procedure to determine compensation for victims of targeted violence, it is left to the discretion of the government. The victims of floods in Uttarakhand have been given compensation of Rs. 7 lakhs whereas Gujarat Govt. announced compensation of Rs 1 lakh to the victims of pogrom in Gujarat. The Delhi High Court had scaled up the compensation considerably to victims of anti-Sikh riots in 1984 on the ground that it was the primary duty of the state to protect the citizens and in case of large scale break down of law and order, the state fails to protect the right to life of the citizens and the survivors are entitled to be compensated for violation of their right to life.

Those few survivors who were doing odd labour jobs before the riots found the compensation adequate while the rest found it pittance and grossly inadequate. There were other issues as well. One Medu had 6 sons, four of them married and living separately. They were considered one family and he was worried how they would manage in that pittance. However, Medu said that the families who had not been given even that would not sleep whole night.
There were others who were not in the village on 8th September when everybody had to flee and therefore not considered as survivors and not entitled to any compensation. However, due to lack of security, and with all Muslims of the village in Loi Camp, they could not remotely think of returning to their village. They were as much victims of riots as other villagers but legally not considered so.

One strange clause in the affidavit that the survivors had to sign in order to be entitled to compensation was that they would never return to their village! How was such a clause relevant for compensation? Under what jurisprudence such a clause in their affidavit could be binding on the survivor? How could they be compelled to surrender their land and other immovable property in their village in exchange for any lump sum amount arbitrarily decided by the state? Under what law the survivors would be punished if they did return to their village? Who was the new owner of their immovable property – the state or the village panchayat? What happens to liberties guaranteed under Article 19 to acquire properties and to settle down anywhere in India to Indian citizens? And to Article 21 guaranteeing right to life, which the Supreme Court guaranteed to be not animal life but life with dignity? Whatever the answers to these questions, such a step is unprecedented in the history of Independent India and in complete violation of International charters on reparations where the survivors have right to return to their properties.

To the survivors of Kharad village in Loi camp, no compensation was being offered. The survivors of Kharad village told us that they would be happy if they were allotted houses of the same size which they were forced to leave behind and wanted nothing more.

Even as some compensation was being offered for the loss to individual families, the survivors wanted compensation for their mosque which they had built with great efforts and investing lot of resources, importing tiles and stones from Rajasthan. They also wanted 24 bighas of their land earmarked for burial of their dead. They would not find solace without being compensated for mosque as well as burial ground.

Sexual assault:
Sandhya Mhatre, Veena Gupta and Anchal Jain talked to the women in the camp. The sanitary conditions were appalling in the women were worst sufferers. There was no semblance of privacy in the small tents that was their home for last over 3½ months. Women in the camp informed about sexual assaults on 3 women however, when they approached the rape survivors, they refused to talk about their travails. One survivor said that she was raped about 6-7 years ago and an FIR was filed about the incident. Taking advantage of the riots, the accused in that FIR threatened to kill her and slit her throat. She however, survived and showed us the slit mark on her neck.

It is ironic that the pretext that triggered off the riots was the “bahu-beti bachao mahapanchayat” to save the honour of daughters and daughter-in-laws but ended up in violating the honour of women belonging to the “enemy” community. Rape is increasingly being used as weapon during communal violence and this came to light particularly in Surat in 1992-93 riots. The Jats in this belt are known to kill their daughters if and when they assert their independence and rights given by the Constitution. There have been khap panchayats in these lands to decide that their bahu-betiyan should not be outside their homes without being accompanied by a male member of the family, should not carry mobile or should not wear jeans or other non-traditional dresses, not to go for higher education and of course should not chose their life partners. The same khap panchayat met in the name of saving the honour of bahu-betiyan and violating bahu-betiyan of “other” community.

Violence pre-planned:
The survivors felt that the riots were pre-planned. How else could one explain that lakhs of Jats assembled for the Mahapanchayat with lethal weapons and that riots started everywhere at about 10.00 a.m. They asserted that more than 100 persons died in the riots and the Government figures were grossly under estimated. In support they said that In Nisad village 13 people had died but the government did not acknowledge any death in that village. In Kawal, the venue of mahapanchayat and town where the whole conflict started with the incident of eve-teasing, there wasn’t much violence and could said to be peaceful after the incident of killing of Shahanwaz and then Sachin and Gaurav. Violence was in villages far away from Kawal and in those villages with BJP supporters. There was no spontaneous reaction to killing of Sachin and Gaurav and not even to the eve teasing. The Sangh Parivar seemed to have worked hard by mobilizing and organizing mahapanchayat more than a week after the incident and then circulating a fake video through MMS and other devices. The villages that were affected by the violence were those where the MMS or mobile communication could be reached.

Security arrangements for the survivors:
There was no security arrangement for the survivors to return to their village. In fact a young person from Phugana village stopped somebody from the camp on road and started threatening and abusing. The accused named by the survivors in their FIRs were still roaming freely and visited the administrative officers and bureaucrats and the Sub-Divisional Magistrate. With the accused roaming freely in company of bureaucrats, particularly Dr. Arvind, Vinod Manga and ex-Pradhan of Phugana village – Harpal Narsing and Chasambir. All belonged to the Lok Dal Party formerly and were now in the BJP. It was easy for the leader like Rahul Gandhi to say that the survivors must return to Phugana village. How was that possible without any semblance of security still? And with the accused named in the FIR roaming around freely, it would be only suicidal to return. Also demolition of their Mosque and Madrasa left a deep scar in the hearts and minds of the survivors who felt that there could be no returning back. We saw a young man crying like a child inconsolably inside the mosque and told us there was no returning back – he just had lost interest in staying in the village that had demolished the community’s mosque and where their holy books were defiled.
To be continued…. Visit to Phugana

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