Muzaffarnagar:The cold ground beneath their feet

The woes of the Muzaffarnagar riot victims are far from over, with the camps now turning into deaths traps for children who are succumbing to illnesses due to the inclement weather and the cold. A ground report by Hardnews

Souzeina S Mushtaq Muzaffarnagar 

While a truck unloads gunny bags of relief material outside, Irshad, 34, holds up a photo of his 10-year-old girl. That’s all he has left of Nayeema, his firstborn, who never recovered from the shock of the brutality that had descended all around her. 

Now he and his wife, Parveen, from Kakda village, along with their five other children, have taken shelter in a camp in Shahpur village. They say their daughter had gone into a shell and often used to be terrified at night. “Usko dahshat hua tha (She was terrified),” they say, referring to the killings. She couldn’t get proper medication and died a month-and-a-half after staying in the camp. They deny receiving any compensation from the government. Nayeema’s sisters miss her and cry often.

It has been three months since the communal violence hit Muzaffarnagar, killing more than 50 people. Since then, people have been braving the odds of life in the makeshift camps in Shamli and Muzaffarnagar districts. The tents are cold, damp, and desolate, even with the numbers. Dupattas and blankets have been stacked at the entrance to keep the cold at bay, but the ground beneath them gets covered in dew every night. The cold has claimed children and adults, and with hardly any provision for medicines or doctors, the death toll could keep climbing.

The refugee camps housing the displaced people in the Muzaffarnagar riots are buzzing with activity. At Basi Kala, in Muzaffarnagar’s Shahpur village, where around 250 families are taking shelter, women are busy with  chores. Men are eagerly awaiting the next round of the relief material. A newborn’s scream rents the air. Hasida runs to attend to the baby girl. Her granddaughter has developed some skin infection and “she is crying in pain,” she explains, “I cannot afford to take her to the hospital.”

Afsana from Lakh Bawdi village was in the eighth month of her pregnancy when they had to flee the village. A month later, she gave birth to a baby girl. Already a mother of four girls and a boy, she says it is difficult to make ends meet now that her barber husband is jobless. Her newborn girl has problems in the mouth, making feeding difficult, but there is no doctor in the camp.

“These doctors come once in a while. People are terribly sick here, from infants to adults, but they always give the same medicines. It doesn’t help. It only weakens us.”

Sabira, a mother of four, lost her nine-month-old son Sufyaan. “He had pneumonia but the doctors did not treat him properly. He was referred to the Budhana hospital but they had no medicine there,” she says. From there, he was referred to another hospital, and he died midway. “If we were in our home, and not in this forsaken land, he would have been saved.”

According to people, many children died on the way to the hospital. The hospital in Budhana is about 10 km from the camp, which is not a lot, but most people took the children to the hospital only in the end, as they had no money to pay for treatment.

Some who even begged for medicines did not receive help. Mano and Intezar from Dan Nangda village lost their month-old child to pneumonia. “The doctors in the camp asked us to take her to Muzaffarnagar. We had no money. We begged them for medicines. That did not help. She died the next day.”

There are numerous such stories. Shahnaz, from the camp in Loi village, who lost her 14-year-old son, Tasleem, to a deadly mix of typhoid, malaria and jaundice. Or Khurshida, from Fugana, who lost her  seven-year-old son, Anas, to fever and malaria. With no doctor available in the camps, they decided to take him to the hospital.
He died on the way. Irfana, also from Fugana, lost her two-day-old girl on November 23. She died because no doctor was available, and they could not take her to the hospital.

The medical negligence and lack of facilities is glaring and infuriating. This is the least the administration could have done, ensured that the sick are taken care of. Rukhsana, 30, lost her four-year-old son to fever. Doctors at camp gave him some medicines but to no avail.
He was then shifted to Meerut Hospital. “He was in a coma; he was bleeding profusely from his mouth. After keeping him in the ICU for two days, the doctors told us to shift him to Delhi. But we couldn’t, and he died in the morning.”

Every day, as people wake to another day of struggle, the wounds of the past refuse to heal. Hasida, from Kutba village and a mother of three, recalls the horror on the night of September 8. “Loot machi thi, loot. Mitti ke chulhe ko bhi nahi chhoda (There was loot everywhere. They did not even spare our mud stoves),she says. Many who came here had a narrow escape that night. They survived by throwing bricks at the attackers from the rooftops. And now, there are thousands of such families who have left their homes, property and land, vowing never to return.

They talk about the betrayal by the neighbours, how friends did not spare friends, and overnight the communal cauldron had spilled over. Shameema, an elderly woman from Kutba village, blames the village pradhan for not helping them. “We do not want to go back, and we will never go back,” she says. Others argue that it was a premeditated attack, targeting Muslims. “Sampradayik ladai thi (It was a communal fight),” says Idu Khan, local leader.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JANUARY 2014