Life in a virtual hell

Life in a virtual hell

Life in a virtual hell

It was dead of the night when the family of 22-year-old Mohammad Zahid, a resident of Fugana village in the riot-torn Muzaffarnagar district had come under attack from a frenzied mob.

“Mere samne ek ko talwar se kat diya aur kaha ki ab le jao ise” (one person was hacked to death by a sword before me and they (killers) asked us to take away the body), Zahid said recalling the horror. “We ran to safety and saved ourselves…we kept calling the police but they did not arrive…we were escorted to the neighbouring village after the force arrived several hours later.”

 Zahid and thousands like him, who either fled Fugana or were escorted out, have since been living in a relief camp at Loi, barely two kilometres from their native village. They can see their land of birth but cannot not dare to go back. “Hum marna nahin chahte”(we don’t want to die), says Zulfikar, another victim from Fugana.

 A woman of Fugana was allegedly raped by four people of the village. The four also ransacked her house and assaulted other members of her family. “We have been uprooted from our lands…all the belongings in the house have been looted…now they are taking away the bricks and other construction material”, shocked inmates recall.
Similar tales were narrated by the inmates of Shahpur relief camp that currently houses about 40 families. All of them had fled from the nearby Kakda village after the clashes erupted.

While mindless violence had left them scarred for life, what has hurt them more was the apathetic attitude of the state government. “We had lodged FIRs… but no one was arrested…the killers are roaming free….they are terrorising us”, says Irfan.

Officials say only 327 people had been found to be involved in rioting and murder during the violence. Of them, 76 have been arrested.

Not that the life is any better at the camps. Over 350 tents at Loi that have around 3000 people, including children and women, were testimony to a life in a virtual hell. People have covered their tents with whatever they could lay their hands on. Even a banner with UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s photo was used to cover one of the tents inhabited by 15 to 20 people. There was water logging at the tents after rains that had lashed the area a few days ago.

 The inmates claim that over 50 people, including 32 children, have died of cold though the officials have confirmed only 16 deaths. A doctor has been stationed at the Loi camp after the deaths but he only remains there for a few hours.

 The victims are sore with the ruling Samajwadi Party’s local MLA Nawajish Alam. “He has not bothered to visit us and inquire about our condition”, complained Noor Mohemmad. Alam, however, rubbishes the allegations. “Our government has done whatever was possible for them…we want them to leave the camps as they have already been paid the compensation”, Alam told Deccan Herald. But some victims have a different story to narrate. They allege that the compensation had been paid to the head of the family. “What about those, who are separated from their families?”, they ask. “I have five children…the compensation was paid to my father. I did not get any penny”, said Mehboob, who lives in Shahpur camp.

 It has been around four months since the district was rocked by the worst-ever communal violence that had claimed 62 lives, yet thousands of displaced riot victims have still been living in sub-human conditions in hundreds of tents in the open at the relief camps spread across Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts notwithstanding the huge compensation and assurance of safety made by the state government to the frightened victims.

 The clashes had erupted after a member of one community was beaten to death by a mob during a “mahapanchayat” organised to protest the killing of two youths in Kaval area on August 27. The duo had reportedly killed a youth of the other community over an incident of eve teasing. Many feel that had the administration not let off the youths, violence would not have taken place. Clashes spread to rural areas despite the deployment of the army and paramilitary forces. Most of the casualties had occurred in the villages only and some like Kutba-Kutbi, Fugana witnessed large-scale violence.

 While the men, mostly labourers, have lost employment, the children are perhaps the biggest sufferers. They no longer go to school. “I don’t know what to do now”, says Asif, who was studying in sixth standard when he fled Kakda village with his family.  
 For an outsider, until he reaches the camps, it appears to be life as usual in Muzaffarnagar. Tractor-trolleys overloaded with sugar cane racing wildly toward the sugar mills and the smell of jaggery being made at home greet you as you enter the limits of the district cleverly camouflaging the tension that still lies beneath.

 “Jakhm bahut gaharen hain…bharne mein kaafi waqt lagega” (the wounds are very deep…it will take a long time to heal), says 70-year-old Haji Sabbir, who runs a dairy business in Muzaffarnagar town. Shabbir, who knows the town like the back of his hand, concedes that the riots have shaken the relations between the Jats and Muslims but blamed the politicians for the same.

BJP MLA Suresh Rana, who had been arrested for inciting communal passion, accuses the Samajwadi Party regime for the violence. “The SP, in collusion with the Congress, engineered the riots to gain political mileage”, he alleges. Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait says his organization will ensure safety of the Muslims if they return to their villages. He was critical of the handling of the situation by the SP government. “The government should have taken care of the other community, which was also affected by the violence.”

 The deep divide has affected both the towns and the villages. There are reports that Muslim families have been migrating from their native villages, which were not affected by the violence, to other areas. Politicians may have their own takes on the violence but the fact remains that it has, perhaps, irreparably damaged the social bonding between Jats and Muslims in the region.

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