Three years on, the victims of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal riots, which caused nearly 100 deaths and the displacement of more than 50,000 people, are living in ghetto-like resettlement colonies in slum-like conditions with little support from the State administration, noted a new field report, titled ‘Living Apart: Communal Violence and Forced Displacement in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli,’ to be released in New Delhi on Thursday.
The report, authored by social activists Harsh Mander, Akram Akhtar, Zafar Eqbal and Rajanya Bose, has indicted the State administration for not only failing to rehabilitate riot victims displaced from their homes and villages, but also for actively encouraging Muslim refugees, who used to live in Hindu-majority villages, to resettle in Muslim-majority colonies.
The report is based on a survey conducted between March and July 2016 by the NGOs Aman Biradari and Afkar India in 65 resettlement colonies of riot victims in the two districts of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, housing a total of 29,328 persons.
‘Accused go scot-free’
Instead of helping the internally displaced persons to return to their villages by ensuring justice for the victims through speedy prosecution of the accused, the State has allowed perpetrators of murder, arson and rape to go scot-free, said the report, noting, “Most of the cases of murder in which the accused were listed as ‘unknown persons’ were closed without a charge-sheet or trial. There was enormous pressure on the victims to rescind on their statements.”
Initially, 6,400 persons were accused of crimes in 534 FIRs, said the report. But after six months, the number of accused came down to 3,254, and after a year, down to 800. This only served to fuel the fears of villagers who had fled their villages during the riots, and in view of the State’s failure to prosecute the accused, were reluctant to return. Instead, they ended up selling their homes and property, often at poor prices, noted the report.
The report pointed out that the State government’s announcement of relief package of Rs. 5 lakh for households that “undertook to live now only in villages with high Muslim populations” was in violation of the “norm of centuries – of mixed villages in which Hindu and Muslim residents lived in amity” and instead promoted “segregation of populations on religious lines, the ultimate success of the communal agenda.”
In many cases, the bulk of the relief money given to the victims was spent in buying plots of land in their newly-adopted villages, often at exorbitant prices. “Large Muslim land-owners in these villages saw in their desperation the chance for windfall profits,” said the report, adding, “They carved out and sold small house-plots at sometimes four times the price before the carnage.”
The report found the “hate refugees,” many of whom used to be agricultural workers, working in “exploitative brick kilns” in near-bondage conditions. The colonies they now lived in lacked basic amenities such as drinking water, sewerage, drainage, street lights, and public toilets.
According to the report, in Muzaffarnagar, 82% of the resettlement colonies did not have drinking water, 93% had no street lighting, 61% had no drainage and not a single colony had a public toilet. In Shamli, 97% colonies lacked drinking water, 76% lacked street lights, 70% had no drainage and 97% had no public toilets. Overall, less than 25% had ICDS centres, and in none of the colonies did people have ration cards. In both districts, nobody received old age, widow pension or disability pension, said the report, which was released in Lucknow today in Hindi.