The camps were set up in the aftermath of September’s communal violence

Three months after the high-profile visits of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi to various relief camps, riot-affected Muslims belonging to at least half-a-dozen villages are still to return to their native villages.

Large scale violence that erupted in this sugarcane belt in August-September this year has a left deep scar on the psyche of these villagers who are ready to face harsh winters ahead rather than leave their camps and move back to their homes which lie burnt and vandalised.

Living in tents measuring 36 sq. feet with no proper facilities, riot-affected face uncertain future. Children, most suffering from cough and cold, are no longer going to schools, men folk have no job surety while women in camps are finding it difficult to gather whatever is left and start their family life afresh. Fear of recurrence of violence is the biggest reason that is stopping them from moving out and lead a normal life even as several await settlement of their relief claims as promised by the State government.

“We were forced to leave our ‘pucca’ houses and all our belongings behind to move in these hutments…Now we are living under the open sky and left to brave harsh winter. We cannot go back as we fear for our lives…We are living like refugees in our own land. Administration has also stopped supplying relief after distributing relief too only half the people. For us, health and education are all secondary issues; we are fighting for our lives though three months have passed since riots broke out,” rues septuagenarian Jarifan of twin village of Kutba-Kutbi now living in Bassi Kalan camp with 100-odd hutments running from inside a ‘madarsa’ where Dr. Singh and Sonia Gandhi visited.

Similar is the story of other camps operational in villages Loi, Malakpura and Jwala. But district administration claims that only Loi camp is still operational and majority of compensation cases have been settled in other places.

Braving harsh winter

Asked how they are gearing up to face the winters, Irfan, who used to work as a daily wager, says he cannot wait longer for government to help him. He plans to move to Delhi to do some odd jobs and send some money back home so that they can rent a room in the village. But he is worried about his younger brother Nadeem, who was studying is eight standard when he was forced to leave his village. “My father is too old to work, but at least I am assured that people of my community will help him...I wanted my brother to study and join some government job, but now that dream is also over. He will also have to work to help the family earn some money,” he adds.

Another controversy that has broken out is regarding the distribution of compensation as victims claim that the district administration has not done justice to many families. While riot-affected want each married couple to be considered as a separate family for compensation, district administration is going by the State government rules which say only the head of family living under one roof would be giving the relief. But people like Ali Hasan says he was living separately from his father so he should be granted Rs.5 lakh as given to other people. “I lost my shop, I am displaced, and now I am not even getting the money…My life is ruined,” he adds.

Claims refuted

But Muzaffarnagar District Magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma and Bassi Kalan ‘pradhan’(head) Mursalim have refuted these claims. They say that displaced people later disassociated themselves from their father to get extra compensation. “We have done survey to find out that their claims are false…They used to live in a joint family and hence only one member of the family was given the money. We have settled 90 per cent claims, but now more are coming forward demanding the money.” Kumar, the ‘pradhan’, who is helping people of Kutba-Kutbi, also acknowledges that most of the families have got the compensation and only 20-odd remains.