12,681 displaced persons yet to return to their villages in Muzaffarnagar

Mohammed Shamim's face reflects that of a worried father. A few feet away from the stone slab he is seated upon, his sons are working hard to construct a two-room house for the nine-member family, which was displaced from their village Lisaad during the riots last year. Thirteen persons were killed in Lisaad. After vacating the Shahpur camp, Shamim took shelter in a relative's house close to the Idgah in Kandhla, a Kasba in Shamli.

While the family is now inching towards some form of a permanent shelter, facilitated by the compensation money provided by the Uttar Pradesh government, Shamim is troubled by the bleak future of his five sons and two daughters.

Interestingly, his eldest son Asif (25) got married on September 25 at Shahpur camp just weeks after the riots. The events during the riots were regarded as unsafe and as a threat to the honour of young girls.

Unmarried, young girls are considered an economic burden in western UP. "We could have waited but the girl's family could not, given the circumstances," says Shamim. Asif, an Arts student, was originally scheduled to marry April-May this year.

Despite the immediate economic strain- Rs. 1.5 lakh was spent on a low-ley ceremony- and uncertainty, Asif says his family has been "supportive." Having been forced to quit studies, he spends his time filling forms for jobs. He wants to work for the Delhi police.

While the marriages were hastened due to considerations of female honour, the new life has come with its own difficulties for the family. "My sons and daughters are grown up. How will all of us stay in this small house? They will soon need to be married. Where will their spouses stay?" asks Shamim.

Most of these marriages took place in Loni, Shahpur and Malakpur camps. In Shahpur alone, 782 couples were married. A fact-finding report by Aman Biradari even claims that across camps child marriages took place in large numbers. On October 25 last year, 50 girls, below the age of 18, were married in the presence of Maulana Mehmood Madni, the report says.

Like many of the riot-affected children and youth who have been displaced and excluded from school or college education, Nadeem Khan (19), who a student of the Gaytri Devi college in neighbouring Baghpat, is on the verge of quitting studies as he is unable to pay his fees.

He aspired to complete his MBA but is now content to get "any job" to make ends meet. Not only have the riots dented social harmony in a deeply polarized society, it has also affected the social life of students, especially of opposite gender. Many of the riot displaced children studied in mixed groups with Jat children as their closest friends. "I have lost out on many friends, especially girls who are now afraid to interact with us. There is discrimination. We are jeered at with 'Modi is coming' taunts," says Nadeem.

According to authorities, 12,681 displaced persons are yet to return to their native villages in Muzaffarnagar and similar figures are estimated in Shamli.

The administration has launched a drive to facilitate the displaced victims to get them enrolled in voter list and also help them secure admission for their children in schools and colleges. The State has also decided to establish an Industrial Training Institute in Loi. But Mohammed Rizwan, who was forced to quit studies in class 11, says "unless the perpetrators are punished any rehabilitation will be meaningless."

In its response to an affidavit to a petition concerning the riots, the State has said that it has arranged new schools and exam centres for displaced students. However, senior advocate Asad Hayat says the students have not been provided any sort of information on the issue.