Riot victims are too scared to return: NCM chief

Hundreds of perpetrators of arson in UP still not arrested

Slow legal action against arsonists and rapists is one of the major reasons forcing victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots to stay back in relief camps as they fear they will be targeted again, National Commission for Minorities (NCM) chief Wajahat Habibullah said.

He said the government was “slow” in giving better facilities to the victims at the camps and steps were taken to improve the living conditions only after the media highlighted deaths due to cold.

“Unless the culprits are brought to book, how can they go back? There are over 3,000 cases, and just over 200 people have been arrested. The process is very slow,” Habibullah said.UP Police have filed 566 cases of murder, rioting and arson related to the riots, considered to be the worst riot in many years, while over 6,000 people have been named as accused. But so far only 294 people have been arrested as per figures by a special investigation team looking into the riots.

Political leaders have been charged for inciting violence, including Bahujan Samaj Party MP from Muzaffarnagar Qadir Rana, his brother and BSP MLA Noor Saleem Rana, another BSP MLA Jameel Ahmad, former Congress minister and MLA Saeed-uz-Zaman and his son Salman Saeed and Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana.

“Our commission found six rape cases but not even one arrest had been made. How can they go back when they know the murderers of their families are roaming free? Confidence has to be restored in them,” Habibullah, who also served as Chief Information Commissioner, said.

He stepped down from that post to become the RTI watchdog in Jammu and Kashmir. He took up his present appointment in July 2010. Habibullah said nearly 50,000 people fled from the farm-rich region in western UP after the riots.

Beginning August 27 last year, clashes between the Hindu and Muslim communities of the Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpat, Meerut and Saharanpur districts of UP, claimed over 40 lives and injured 93, while dislocating thousands.

Thousands are still staying in the 28-odd relief camps set up by the administrations and in Islamic seminaries, schools and public buildings. About the living conditions in the camps, Habibullah said there is improvement.

“The government is taking steps, but they are very slow. There were some deaths due to cold, but it stopped after the issue was raised by media,” he said.

At least 40 children are said to have died of cold in the relief camps. Habibullah said local leaders and villagers need to instill confidence among those living in camps so that they go back home. Most of the victims have gone back. They were the ones who were persuaded by their local administration, sarpanchs (village heads) to come back,” said Habibullah.

“But those who are still in the relief camps have seen their loved ones being killed and their property being destroyed in front of their eyes. They have reasons to be apprehensive,” he said.

Habibullah said that the “local leaders and villagers will have to go to them and assure them that they will be safe in their homes”.

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