MUZAFFARNAGAR AFTER RIOTS: Inheriting Loss
First the carnage, then a cavalier attitude of a government in denial, and now the full force of a cold, bleak winter is wreaking havoc on the lives of the riot-displaced in Muzaffarnagar
Shone Satheesh Babu Muzaffarnagar
The aftermath of the deadly riots in Muzaffarnagar continues to take a toll on the survivors. The government has been caught napping after nearly 50 children were reported to have died of the cold and illness contracted in the camps set up to house the 50,000 or so displaced people.
Betraying a shocking level of insensitivity, or perhaps in an attempt to deny culpability, the Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav went so far as to say the people staying in the camps were conspirators of the BJP and Congress. This probably explains why the death rates in the camps are climbing steeply; the government is neck-deep in apathy and denial. Exposed to the elements, the riot victims are facing the worst winter of their lives.
Most of those who’ve taken shelter here have had to flee their homes in the middle of the night to escape their attackers’ fury. They didn’t have the time or the wherewithal to bring their belongings; most of them arrived with only the clothes they were wearing. Children and women suffer the worst in any communal outbreak, and here too they have become the first casualties.
The horrific stories of women being raped, maimed and tortured by gangs of men has parallels only with the darkest periods of communal history of any time. The grim and dusty sugarcane fields have witnessed the most gruesome acts of violence against women. Many of them were forced into these fields, raped, sodomised and murdered. They have gone through so much trauma and fear that none of the women wants to even report the matter to the police. They are moving on with their lives, silently, but are shattered inside. Many shudder at the mere mention of the night of September 8.
But now, losing their children to the cold has dealt the heaviest blow. At the same time, it has been benumbing. The only worry on the parents’ mind now is the safety of the remaining siblings. Now, of course, it’s raining relief material in the camps but for some families, it’s too little and too late. They have blankets and warm clothes, but no food to eat. Finding daily wage labour in a small town remains difficult; most families are forced to live off community kitchens and the kindness of strangers. Only a few of them have received some kind of compensation from the government, to buy some land, move on and eke out a living. But there’s continuous sparring over the distribution of compensation. There is anger against the government for abandoning them after they lost everything. They are sick of political figures coming for token visits, tired of endlessly telling their stories and seeing no improvement to their plight.
But the tired, exhausted faces seem to be all asking one thing – what was our fault? How could a stray incident of eve-teasing, or an accident as some are claiming, lead to killings of this mass scale?
The camp sites are a sickening problem themselves. Hundreds of thousands of tents propped up in a small ground, with no facilities for hygiene and sanitation, are a breeding ground for disease. Most children who died had contracted a deadly mix of malaria, typhoid, and jaundice. The last two are water-borne diseases, and the lack of drinking water facilities remains one of the biggest issues for the people here. An infectious rot fills the air; the place is ripe for an epidemic to break out. Those who still survive have lost a big chunk of their lives. The children, who used to go to schools back in their homes, now spend their days fetching water and firewood from afar. Their future looks bleak, as they may have to leave school permanently to start earning a living. This is how a riot destroys lives, and rips apart communities. The scars are for life; those who perished in the violence might just have escaped the worst.