The conditions in the relief camps have been dismal. There were reportedly at least 50 more deaths in the hospitals and relief camps thereafter, including young children and the elderly. In a few places where the victim-survivors had pitched tents on Government lands, the Government forced them to vacate the same in December 2013. However thousands of victim-survivors of the violence continue to live in make-shift tents in open land with only a plastic sheet above their heads, in extreme winter and occasional rain…
A visit to the camps in Muzaffarnagar was made on 19 and 20 January 2014. The objective of the trip was to obtain a first hand account of the present status of the victim-survivors of the communal violence, more particularly women and girls, the challenges they face and the extent to which the State Government and the district administration have fulfilled their responsibilities to facilitate reparative justice for the victim-survivors. The visit was also intended to report back to a larger group of concerned women’s rights activists in Mumbai. The visit was facilitated by Joint Citizens’ Initiative (JCI). Given the paucity of time, we visited three camps in Muzaffarnagar district and conversed with victim-survivors, members of local organisations working with the victim-survivors as well as officials of the district administration.
Despite isolated incidents reported in the last week of August 2013, targetted attacks on Muslims by the Jat community in Muzaffarnagar and the adjacent Shamli districts commenced on or around 7 September 2013. This was in persuance of a mahapanchayat called by the Jat community, for the ‘protection’ of daughters and daughters-in-law (‘bahu-beti bachao’). This meeting was planned, supported and facilitated by Hindu right wing groups, in order to facilitate their divisive political agenda. There was fresh violence reported even in November 2013. Although 13 members of the Jat community were reportedly killed during the violence, the Muslim community was disproportionately affected by the violence in terms of loss of lives, injuries, destruction and damage of homes, land, property, livestock and livelihood. Reports indicate that the killings were brutal, and many girls and women belonging to the Muslim community were raped, gang-raped and subjected to varied and brutal forms of sexual assault, and many were also reported missing.
According to official statistics submitted by the State Government to the Supreme Court in September 2013, at least 44 persons were killed, 97 persons injured and 41,829 people displaced across Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts. According to a report, atleast 600 FIRs have been registered, but more than 80 per cent of the perpetrators named in the FIRs are yet to be arrested. Political leaders — MPs and MLAs who gave hate speeches on visual media and elsewhere — have either not been arrested or released on bail soon after their arrest.
A total of 58 relief camps – 41 in Muzaffarnagar and 17 in Shamli districts had been set up. Most of the camps have been established and run by local Muslim groups, stretching their available resources. The conditions in the relief camps have been dismal. There were reportedly at least 50 more deaths in the hospitals and relief camps thereafter, including young children and the elderly. In a few places where the victim-survivors had pitched tents on Government lands, the Government forced them to vacate the same in December 2013. However thousands of victim-survivors of the violence continue to live in make-shift tents in open land with only a plastic sheet above their heads, in extreme winter and occasional rain, as they have no alternative place to reside in. They fear for their lives if they return to their villages.
The compensation scheme announced by the Government is as follows: For loss of life, Rs. 10 lakhs from the State Government and Rs. 2 lakhs from the central Government + a Government job to a family member; for loss of house / land in village, Rs. 5 lakhs per family; for injuries sustained, Rs. 50,000. The affidavits that the victim-survivors were made to sign at the time of receiving Rs. 5 lakhs compensation from the Government, had the following conditions:
- “That myself and members of my family have come leaving our village and home being terrorized due to violent incidents in ……… village and we will not now return to our original village and home under any circumstances”.
- “That the lumpsum financial help being given for my family by the Government will only be used by me to rehabilitate my family. By this money I will live with my family voluntarily arranging for residence at appropriate place elsewhere”.
- “That in the condition of receiving lumpsum financial help amount, myself or members of my family will not demand compensation relating to any damage to any immovable property in my village or elsewhere”.
Such affidavits have resulted in the ghettoization of Muslims in specific towns and localities. When this issue was highlighted by the media and civil society, the State Government denied that they have stopped victim-survivors from returning to their villages. However the above-stated objectionable clauses continue to exist in the affidavits that victim-survivors sign at the time of receiving compensation.
At least 4 writ petitions are pending in the Supreme Court – one filed by Mohammad Haroon and eight other residents of Muzaffarnagar, and another filed by the Supreme Court Bar Association have sought a CBI investigation into the communal violence and for relief and rehabilitation. A petition filed by Citizens for Justice and Peace praying for the appointment of a High Powered Committee of Court Commissioners to survey the four worst affected districts (Shamli, Baghpat, Meerut and Muzaffarnagar), assess details of the dead and missing, the scale of damages and monitor the transparency and quality of the probe/investigation and report back to the Supreme Court. In another writ petition, 7 victim-survivors of gang rape approached the Supreme Court for setting up an independent investigating team, expressing their loss of confidence in the UP Government for arrest, investigation and prosecution of accused persons..
OBSERVATIONS MADE AT THE RELIEF CAMPS
We visited three relief camps in Muzaffarnagar district – Loi, Juwala and Bassi Kalan camps and interacted with victim-survivors – women, men, youth, adolescent girls and children.
1. Status of Camps: The inmates of Loi camp were evicted from the land where they had pitched their tents, by the UP Government, and bulldozers had been deployed in the relief camp to demolish the same on 27 December 2013. The claim of the Government was that the victim-survivors had received Rs. 5 lakhs compensation per family, and should vacate the camps, purchase land and build their houses. However, the reality was different. Many victim-survivors had not received compensation, and those who did were unable to immediately purchase land and build their houses. Hence all of them were in need of shelter. They now reside in an open land on the opposite side of the road, from where they had been evicted. About 20000 persons reside in this makeshift, open land in plastic tents in extremely cold weather conditions.
In and near Juwala camp, over 400 families, consisting of over 20,000 persons live. Out of this, about 900 persons had moved into the village next to the camp, and lived there. Presently the camp houses about 215 families. This camp has victim-survivors from 30-40 villages in both Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, including the villages of Hasanpur, Kutba and Kutbi. The situation in Juwala camp was far worse than in Loi camp. While Loi camp has often captured media attention, Juwala camp, which is situated merely a few kilometres away, has been largely ignored, both by the Government and the media.
The tents at this camp are smaller, the lighting is poor, there are no health facilities provided by the Government, no supply of groceries or food items by the Government, no security personnel posted at the camps, and extremely poor sanitation. We were told that the camp in charge of Loi camp (Mr Jabbar) was directly in contact with the district administration, and hence the facilities at the camp were relatively better. The day prior to our visit to the camp, it had rained, worsening the situation. The inmates of this camp had reportedly spent a sleepless night due to water seepage in their tents.
It is an understatement to say that the victim-survivors live in sub-human conditions.
The relief camp at Bassi Kalan had been forcibly vacated by the State Government in end of December 2013. As the victim-survivors have nowhere to go, they have settled down in two adjacent colonies. About 150 families who received compensation from the Government have pitched tent on land they have purchased, close to Palda village. However the land is uneven and not firm, and would require levelling and firming up before construction of houses can begin. Those victim-survivors who have received no compensation pitched tents on open land and reside there. There are 55 such families living in a juggi. The victim-survivors hail from many villages including Kutba, Kutbi and Kedwa.
2. Physical security: There were no security personnel posted outside or around Juwala and Bassi Kalan camps. Juwala camp was very poorly lit, and on our second visit to the camp, there had been a major electrical fault in the area, reducing the camp to pitch darkness. This impacts the safety and security, particularly of women and girls residing in these camps. In Loi camp, women and children described the snakes they had twice seen in the area, which compounded their sense of insecurity and fear. Residents of various relief camps had shared spotting snakes in the locality of the camps a few months earlier, and the same had been referred to in previous reports of civil society groups. The fact that this issue has continued to persist indicates that the state Government has done nothing about it, and is ignoring the security of the victim-survivors.
The inmates of Juwala and Bassi Kalan camps also told us that the police had raided the camp several times and searched all the tents, and questioned the inmates, in order to ascertain if any of them had been approached by the Lashkar-e-Toiba or any other terrorist outfit. Howewver the police found nothing and arrested no one. These actions started taking place after Rahul Gandhi’s claim that the victim-survivors of the violence were being approached by terrorist outfits owing allegiance to Pakistan.
3. Education: Joint Citizens’ Initiative has raised funds and appointed 2-3 teachers from among the inmates, for teaching children in all the three camps, for a salary of Rs. 3000/- each per month. These teachers now teach close to 265 children living in Loi camp and 120 children from Bassi Kalan camp, under the age of 15 years, from 9 am to 2 pm everyday. In Juwala camp, although there are about 350 children, most have reportedly discontinued their studies. Although there is a Government school adjacent to the camp, a combination of fear, insecurity and lack of motivation has prevented the children from being sent to the Government school. Members of the Joint Citizens Initiative have tried to commence classes for the children at the camp, but say that many children lack motivation and are disinterested in studies. Some girls that we met at Juwala camp, under the age of 15 years, said that they were not studying in the camp as they “didn’t feel like”. Clearly they require special motivation to continue their studies, in the wake of the violence they have witnessed and the trauma they have suffered. In Juwala camp, children aged 5-10 years sit in an open space braving the cold winter, wind and rain, to study. In Bassi Kalan camp, some children have started going to a Government school nearby; others go to madrassas.
Efforts are being made to provide coaching classes to children who were studying in 10th and 12th standards, in order to help them appear for the Board exams. In Juwala camp, there are atleast 70 children who were studying in 9th – 12th standard, whose studies have now been discontinued. In Bassi Kalan camp, atleast 7 girls studying in 12th and 10th standards are preparing to give their Board exams in Shahpur.
4. Food and Nutrition: In Loi camp, the women said that they were receiving monthly rations from the Government, consisting of 5 kg rice, 5 kg dal, 10 kg wheat flour and 1 kg sugar from the Government. No firewood, salt, turmeric powder or oil was being provided, which caused hardship to the women as their families had no source of income now. In Bassi Kalan camp, the victim-survivors told us that no rations are being provided by the Government since the last 3-4 months; there has been no supply of clothes to the inmates. There is immense difficulty in accessing clean water. The inmates say that no relief materials and essential supplies are now being distributed to them by NGOs either, though medical facilities are provided from time to time by the NGOs working in the camps. In Juwala camp, the women have a hard time cooking in the winter without firewood. They gather dry leaves from the sugarcane fields nearby and used them as fuel. Due to the rain the day before our visit, the dry leaves had become soaked with water, resulting in further difficulty.
5. Health and Sanitation: At Loi camp, Faisal – a young man, resident of the camp who also doubles up as a teacher – said that about 22 children and 2 elderly men have died in the camp due to the cold and a lack of medical services. The Government reportedly paid a compensation of Rs. 20,000 for the death of the child in the case of 16 deaths. He said that after this high number of deaths, and based on people’s demands, the camp now has a Government appointed lady doctor on 24 hour duty. She provides basic medicines at no cost, and refers patients for medical tests to Budhana town. Neither Juwala camp nor Bassi Kalan camp have a Government-appointed doctor, although one child had died in Juwala camp due to the weather condition and a lack of medical facilities.. There is only a private doctor who visits these two camps once in 7-8 days.
Victim-survivors who resided in the Loi camp included 74 pregnant women who had fled for their lives. While many have delivered their babies subsequently, atleast 48 pregnant women continue to reside in the camp. The pregnant women were reportedly given 2 tins of Protinex and those with new borns were distributed 1 tin of milk powder each by the state Government – grossly inadequate. In Bassi Kalan camp, there were 10-12 pregnant women, who have since had deliveries.
In Juwala camp, the women told us that the only makeshift toilet that had been constructed for them has sunk in due to the rain. They were forced to use the adjacent fields for nature’s calls, but feared for their safety when they went into the fields. The women also showed us how they converted the space between two tents into a makeshift bathroom, tied pieces of cloth on either side to provide a semblance of privacy, and bathed in that space.
6. Mental Health: In all the three camps we visited, the victim-survivors of violence continued to talk about the brutal killings of their family members, relatives and friends, and the extreme violence that they had witnessed. It was clear that they are yet to overcome the trauma of witnessing the same. These incidents have already been referred to in previous reports of civil society. We spoke to an adolescent girl who was a victim-survivor of gang rape. She was withdrawn, non-communicative and appeared in need of trauma counselling. At Bassi Kalan camp, we spoke to a 16 year old girl, whose father had been brutally killed and his body dismembered. Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke of how her father was attacked and how the perpetrators continue to be moving around freely.
7. Relationship between Jat and Muslim women: Many women recalled with fondness the close bond that Jat and Muslim women shared in the villages, and said that they would celebrate and share births, deaths and festivals together. One victim-survivor said that if one were to visit the village prior to the violence, it would be hard to differentiate between the Jat and Muslim women. Many victim-survivors recalled that Jat women had tried to save them during the violence and provided them temporary shelter. The Jat women had tried to negotiate for the Muslim women’s safety with their husbands. However the Jat women had been threatened by their husbands that they too would be attacked and killed along with the Muslim women if they tried to protect them any longer.
Muslim women recall that their Jat neighbours had safeguarded their cattle for some days, and later sold them and sent them the money. Young girls too recalled with fondness, their close friends and classmates from among the Jat community. They said that though they missed their friends, there was no possibility of returning to the village due to fear of violence. The women said that after the violence, when they returned to their villages to reclaim their movable properties, the attitude of the Jat women had changed; they were reportedly rude, hostile and drove the women away from their property.
8. Return to Village: Most victim-survivors were emphatic that they did not want to return to the villages as they were fearful of the Jats and their personal security. They are unsure of the fate of the land they owned in their village, and of the village masjid and kabrastan. Many spoke of owning large 5-6 roomed houses in their villages, as they lived in a joint family and had invested their life savings in maintaining and expanding their houses. Some who returned to their village subsequent to the violence, when a Government survey was being conducted, found that their houses had been looted of valuables including furniture, clothes, books, cash, cattle, utensils, even door and window frames and the houses broken / burnt down. They said that in the last 10-15 years, the Muslim community in the area had slowly climbed up the social ladder. However, the violence has pushed the community back in its social status. As Rafikanbi, a 60 year old woman from Kutba village asked us, “How will I go back to my village when I know that 8 persons have been killed there?” It is clear that the State Government has undertaken no confidence-building measures, and measures to ensure peace and communal harmony in the villages.
9. Land, Livelihood and Issues of Survival: A few men have found daily wage work, as masons, painters and rickshaw drivers. They told us that on days they earn, their families eat two square meals a day; on other days, they starve. However a large majority of men continue to be unemployed. Many men across the three camps we visited, said that they could not pursue their livelihood till their families were settled down with a proper housing after receiving compensation, as the men travel from place to place selling clothes and other things and are required to be away from home for many days. For example, in Juwala camp, we spoke to Sajid, a man aged about 25 years, had worked as a cloth merchant, moving from State to State. He told us that he is unable to return to work and leave his family consisting of his wife and a small child, till the issue of shelter is settled, as he feels insecure about leaving them alone in the camp. Some women expressed a willingness to work to support their families, but were clueless as to the livelihood options before them. Some women said that they knew tailoring and would be able to work as tailors if they were provided sewing machines.
10. Mass Marriages: About 550 mass marriages have taken place in the relief camps, faciliated by Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind (JUEH), according to its local leader Maulana Nazhar Mohammed. He said the girls who were married were “not very young.” About 175-180 of these marriages reportedly took place in Juwala camp alone, and another 17-18 marriages in Bassi Kalan camp. The first 55 marriages were reportedly conducted by Maulana Arshad Madani in Shahpur camp, with the active support of the UP Government. The couples were given cash of Rs. 1 lac (Rs. 1,00,000) per couple (in addition to Rs. 10,000 by JUEH) as well as five pieces of gold jewellery and many household articles including blankets, furniture and vessels. For the latter batches of mass marriage, the couple reportedly received Rs. 5001. Most of the girls have been married to young men from villages within 50-60 kms from the vicinity of the camp, where there had been no violence.
At one of the camps, we conversed with a group of adolescent girls between the ages of 11-18 years, some of whom had been married after the communal violence. A girl, aged 16 years, has studied upto 8th standard, and is married to a boy of 17 years, who sells clothes. Another girl, aged 17 years, has studied upto 12th standard, is married to a boy of similar age who repairs motorcycles for a living. Both the girls said that they had been married against their wishes and wanted to continue their studies. Those who were married expressed anger and helplessness at the fact that their childhood has been robbed. They said that their parents were forced to get their daughters married for their own security. They also said that marriage of young daughters was posed as a pre-condition for the parents to continue residing in the relief camps. The young girls also expressed anger at the Jat community and the violence they had caused which resulted in the present situation.
We enquired from the adult women in the camp as to why they did not prevent the marriage of their young daughters after the violence. They said that community members kept pressurising them, complaining that the girls were standing here and there. The women said that they were worried that their daughters would be molested or sexually assaulted. They got their daughters married in order to save their honour (“izzat bachaane ke liye”). Many women also complained that they had been promised cash of Rs. 1,10,000 for the marriage of the daughter but were not paid any money. It is clear that in a community that had been violently stripped of all its property and had become destitutes, Rs. 1,00,000 is a huge amount and would have been a strong incentive for many families to get their daughters under the age of 18 years married, with little consideration for the wishes or interests of the girls.
11. Compensation: The JEUH is reported to have had a meeting with the UP govt soon after the violence, where two conditions were posed by the JEUH to the Government – a) that the offences should be properly investigated and perpetrators convicted and awarded stringent punishment; and b) those who are unable to return to the villages should get just compensation. JEUH says that it had suggested Rs. 8 lakhs (Rs. 8,00,000) as compensation per family but the Government agreed to pay Rs. 5 lakhs (Rs. 5,00,000) for loss of land in the village. Till date, atleast 1800 persons seem to have been paid the Rs. 5 lakhs compensation for loss of houses / lands. However thousands more are waiting to be compensated and face uncertainty.
Non-Inclusion of Villages in the Government List: We were told that in Shamli district, the victim-survivors from 3 worst-affected villages – Lisadh, Laakh and Bawdi – initially estimated at 680 persons, but later increased to 712 persons – received a compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs per family. In Kharad and Hadoli villages of Muzaffarnagar district, there were two murders that took place during the violence; however these were not included in the Government list for compensation. The victim-survivors from these villages were promised Rs. 3 lakhs compensation for loss of property (as the loss was relatively lesser); however they are yet to receive any compensation. Many of the villages from which the victim-survivors fled out of fear was not included in the Government list for compensation, as there had been no loss of lives or damage to property in those villages. The victim-survivors were subsequently forced to return to their villages despite fear and insecurity. Reportedly, some such families whose names did not appear in the compensation list had approached the Pradhan (leader / chief) of the village, who was mostly a Jat, who agreed to ensure payment of compensation on the condition that the criminal complaint lodged against the perpetrators be withdrawn. (To be continued)
(Hasina Khan is an independent consultant and a member of Forum Against Oppression of Women. Saumya Uma is an independent human rights and law researcher, and trustee of Women’s Research and Action Group. Both are women’s rights activists based in Mumbai. The visit to Muzaffarnagar was made possible due to the logistical support provided by the Joint Citizens Initiative (JCI), and insights provided by its volunteers. )