There are no signs, so far, of delivery of justice to the riot-affected people in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Nine months after they were uprooted from their homes following communal violence, thousands of people from the Muslim community are still languishing in camps. The Akhilesh Yadav government has been completely apathetic towards them. Not only that, it has shown utter disregard for their safety and any prospect for the future. Last week, the local administration issued a diktat to over 250 families living on government land in the adjoining riot-hit Shamli district, asking them to return to their native villages. Mr. Yadav has failed to realise that the situation is very volatile in the entire area, and there have been instances where the riot-affected people have been roughed up when they as much as dared to pass through the villages they once inhabited. Most of them are scared and, in the absence of any security, determined not to return to their villages. In many cases their homes have been burnt and their property has been looted. The payment of compensation for such losses has been very haphazard. Conditions in the camps border on the pathetic. Able-bodied men have lost the will to work. Many among the camp-dwellers are skilled workers. But they are so worried about the safety of their families, many refuse to even venture out to find work. Women have been forced to work in brick kilns in the area. Children who should be in school suffer from various illnesses. At least 34 of them perished due to cold during the last winter. Many of them have also been forced to work to supplement family incomes.
As the media and civil rights groups shifted their focus to the hanging of two Dalit girls in Badaun, the riot-affected families do not know what lies ahead of them. In his vision for India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stated that his government will have a policy of zero tolerance towards extremism and riots. He also specified that his government was committed to making all minorities equal partners in India’s progress. But, just a week before that, one of his junior Ministers, who is also an accused in the riots, in a show of triumphalism was busy taking out a victory procession through Muzaffarnagar. This is where Mr. Modi needs to walk the talk and ensure that there is no impediment to the delivery of justice to the victims. The State government may be dragging its feet, but that should not deter Mr. Modi from taking demonstrative steps to normalise the situation in the area. The immediate priority of his government must be to help the victims get back on their feet and then return to their homes. This conviction needs to flow down from Mr. Modi’s office.