The Uttar Pradesh Government has justifiably come under intense criticism for forcibly trying to close down the refugee camps created after the Muzaffarnagar riots. But the reluctance of refugees to return is mired in a more complex reality: yes, there is still fear of violence if they return, and many of the riots accused are roaming free. But there is also disturbing evidence of powerful vested interests who might be prolonging the refugee crisis as a proxy grab land, or to further their political careers. Witnesses are unsafe, as riot accused roam free… The reality of accused roaming free exposes the State Government’s claim that the villages of Muzaffarnagar are safe, and that the refugee camps should close. Unless arrests are made more decisively, the claim of safety will remain hollow…
Their refugee camp shut down, we meet we meet Imran and Ilyas, in a house in the town of Shahpur. They are from Kutba village, where eight people were killed, and are crucial witnesses to a weekend of horrific violence in early September last year. Imran says he saw a mob attack his mother and his uncle, killing both. Ilyas says he saw a man called Gullu shooting his mother. She died on the spot. But of the men they identified, only two have been arrested, Kanwar Pal and Joginder, and that too only when they were spotted outside Kutba. The witnesses say that the police does not have the courage to enter the village to make arrests.
The Special Investigation Cell (SIC) in charge of riot investigations set up by the UP Government has booked 233 men with murder, but only a third has been arrested. The SIC claims that the delays are because the task of arresting is left to the local police who are intimidated by the Jat villagers when they try and make arrests.
But at the Kutba police station, the police official in charge claims the accused have run away. But when we visited Kutba, we found Gullu, the man said to have shot Ilyas’ mother relaxing at his house. Gullu claimed he was not at the village when the riots took place, and that he does not possess a gun. He says he is wrongly being framed. In an even more chilling moment, the man who gives us a guided tour of devastated Muslim homes of Kutba, turns out to be another riot accused, Nitu.
Nitu says that he too, was not in the village when the rioting started, claiming that he had gone to attend the mahapanchayat on September 7, and stayed outside the village that night. Little wonder the special public prosecutor, Nasir Ali Zaidi, appointed by the Government, fears for the safety of the witnesses in the riot cases. Mr Zaidi told NDTV in riot cases, witnesses are routinely intimidated or killed, and that the State must provide security to the witnesses.
The reality of accused roaming free exposes the State Government’s claim that the villages of Muzaffarnagar are safe, and that the refugee camps should close. Unless arrests are made more decisively, the claim of safety will remain hollow.
– Sreenivasan Jain (with inputs from Tanima Biswas and Niha Masih)/NDTV