The displaced underclass

With real conditions being not created for peaceful co-habitation, it is easy to see why the displaced do not go back to their villages.

The biting cold of Western Uttar Pradesh, time for caviar and roasted turkey for the cosseted in Christmas and New Year celebrations, was not a matter of jubilation for those shunted out of their homes in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The UP principal secretary for home Anil Gupta had infamously said people do not die of cold even though a UP government report confirmed that 34 children died in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in the relief camps for communal riot victims. 

As per reports, there were around 5,000 people at the four camps in Shamli and Muzaffarnagar by late December following the communal violence in September, in which around 50,000 people had taken shelter in 41 camps in two districts. And now there are reports that camp after camp has been forced to disappear in Muzaffarnagar by the authorities and the internally displaced persons have been scattered away in small shanty settlements. The apparent haste might be driven by the logic that the longer the camps are allowed to remain pitched, the greater would be the  public scrutiny much to the discomfiture of the ruling SP government.

A fact-finding committee observes that in view of lack of proper audit by the administration, that the ‘official’ numbers of those dead and internally displaced people (IDPs) are a gross underestimation because people have sought shelter in many places – in camps, in private homes and small madrasas, in homes of relatives and friends.

 There is no fair audit of missing persons as well. Another startling observation is the unwillingness of people in general to accept the state government’s offer of a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the victims from a handpicked list of villages which saw worst violence, murders, rapes and violence because the compensation, it was learnt, could be availed of only by signing an affidavit under which they agree to relinquish their ‘movable and immovable’ properties in their villages and agree not to return to their erstwhile homes and also to leave the present camps at the same time.

Thus, the downside of inter-religious riots and consequent to them, the phenomenon of internal displacement leads to the ghettoisation of targeted communities, who seek security of life by living together, as is seen in resettlement colonies in Ahmedabad. Without real conditions being created for a peaceful co-habitation, it is not difficult to see why the displaced people are not volunteering to go back to their home and villages.

 Thus, people have been internally displaced and been made to live marginally, not only in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots, but following other riots as well, including the 1984 massacre of Sikhs, series of riots in Meerut, Jammu in 1989, at Ayodhya in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, Bombay riots in 1993 and post-Godhra riots of 2002 in Gujarat. 

Political mileage

Haunted by the horrors of death, sexual torture, physical deprivation, lack of food, proper shelter and sanitary living conditions, they are often pawns in the hands of the political dispensation each seeking to maximise its own political mileage.

It is a tragedy that incumbent governments are condemned to repeat. Akin to the fate of Muzaffarnagar riots victims are the instances of hundreds of thousands of Bodos and Muslims who were uprooted from their villages, their homes being torched and destroyed in July 2012. According to estimates nearly 4 lakh people from around 400 villages, have been forced to take shelter in 270 relief camps in Assam. 

The UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), to which India is not a signatory citing “Eurocentric’ bias, defines a refugee as someone who is forced to flee his or her country in fear of persecution of various sorts. It protects refugees from deportation and extradition for lack of a chance to present their case. If a border security of the country where the refugee seeks asylum wants to send that person back, applying immigration laws, that constitutes transmuting that person back to danger. 

Whenever there is a riot or a civic strife, the internally displaced people are the most affected. While refugees, entitled to a formalised, institutionalised system for protection command international attention, IDPs fall into a largely ignored category left to the mercies of the state administration where the government mechanism has been seen to be inadequate to address their humanitarian needs. There are glaring tales of their plight, notably in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast. Some 400,000 Kashmiri Pandits were expelled from their native Kashmir valley after a combination of violence and explicit threats, peaked during the two years from 1989 to 1991, by Islamic terrorists aided and inspired by Pakistan.

Worldwide about two-thirds of the world's forcibly uprooted people are displaced within their own country. According to the latest figures released by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), there were 28.8 million IDPs around the world in 2012. The global number of IDPs has steadily increased from a total of around 17 million in 1997. Like refugees, they were forcibly displaced by conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations. Though UNHCR helps IDPs as part of a wider intervention by the international community, it cannot have much teeth with a non-obliging and an insensitive state. The conflicts in Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were responsible for around half of the new displacements, with 2.4 million and one million respectively, while an estimated 500,000 people fled their homes in both Sudan and India.

Refugee camps for the displaced people dotting the Darfur region of Sudan, and for Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as for the Afghan refugees in Pakistan or those in India are an affront to humanity. It is a pity that a country, so puffed up about its international image, that cries blue murder following the strip-search of an Indian diplomat, does not feel ashamed of its internally displaced people. 

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