By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:
It is often seen, in instances of caste-based or communal violence, that the instigators like to offer an ‘action-reaction’ theory. Not only does this idea of ‘pratikriya‘ or ‘natural reaction’ try to justify the violence, it renders the manifold objectives and results of the riots obsolete. But as the governments’ own inquiry commission reports have previously shown, these incidents are far from spontaneous.
The violence that happened two years ago in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, resulting in the death of around 50 people and the displacement of over 50,000, finds an echo in what has been happening since in western U.P. and in the nearby district of Faridabad in Haryana. While the cause of the violence remains steeped in the traditional upper-caste concept of the ‘honour’ of women and the motif of the cow as ‘mother’, its effects have almost a modern design. There seems to be a consensus among journalists and academics that the new model of communal violence “targets the sources of livelihood of Muslims rather than targeting their lives.” While we wait for the Sahai commission report on the Muzaffarnagar riots to be released for an analysis that can help in preventing such violence in the future, Youth Ki Awaaz decided to look into how the victims live two years after the riots.
The villages that were most affected by the violence were Lisarh, Fugana, Kutba-Kutbi, Bahawadi, and Budhana, forcing Muslims from even neighbouring villages to flee to refugee camps set up in and around idgahs, madarsas, or open land, by Muslim community members and leaders. However, as people continued to die of cold and disease in the ensuing winter, drawing attention to state negligence, they were forcefully evicted from the relief camps last year. With the compensation of 5 lakhs per family provided by the state government to the people of the nine villages it identified as riot-affected, they built houses in the vicinity of Muslim dominated areas. Two years on, as I walk into one of those areas, I observe that while most victims have a roof over their head, they continue to live like refugees. Most of them are labourers, cloth vendors, and masons who were either employed by the people in their villages or worked with money borrowed from lenders back home. Uprooted and displaced now, they have little acquaintance with the employers and do not find work on a regular basis. With the compensation amount of 5 lakhs and their savings spent on buying land and building new houses, even four square meals are a luxury now in these brick and mortar colonies.
As I walk into one such colony in Kandhla on a November Sunday morning I meet Gulzar, who directs me to his house before leaving for some work he has in town. At his new home, Ayyub, Gulzar’s father, lives with his family of 10 in two small rooms. Ayyub’s elder son Gulab lives in a separate house. Ayyub alone had two houses in Kutba, where he lived before the riots broke out. He and his sons sold clothes, earning about 20,000 to 30,000 rupees a month. Although the place where Ayyub now lives is called Jannat (meaning heaven) Colony, it still resembles an unused field. At the time of my visit, Kandhla was bustling like any other town and a crowd could be seen where votes of the recently concluded panchayat elections were being counted but Jannat was silent like a graveyard.
One of Ayyub’s neighbours is a family from Bahawadi. Their family was also involved in a small cloth selling business. The elderly woman sitting listlessly outside her house tells me that the 6-7 children in the family all used to go to school. But now they don’t. A shy girl in her early teens, who was listening to our conversation, declares: “Salim’s children still go to school,” referring to a relative who still manages to send his children to school. She does not know why she does not go to school anymore.
Ayyub is helpful and he shares information with me without hesitation. However, the scars of past violence and the threats now made by the accused in the riots make others around hesitant. A shop-owner in Kandhla from whom I sought direction to the colony needed to ask me who I needed to meet there. In the colony, some people needed to consult their elders before talking. Amidst news of ‘spontaneous mobs’ of ‘unknown outsiders’ lynching people, their caution does not surprise me.
In the same fields, a couple of hundred meters away from Jannat colony is Iliyas Nagar, where some houses have been built by the Jamiat-Ulema-I-Hind, an Islamic organization based in Delhi, on the land bought by riot victims. The people living there allege that the contractors were told to build two rooms, a toilet, a kitchen, and a verandah. But there are no toilets or kitchens as of now.
Shakir, who was a tailor in Goyla village, lives in one of these houses and is also dependent on any labour work that might be offered to him. The younger children are unable to go to school because it is far away and he has little money to send them anyway. The administration at Chandan Lal Inter College nearby refused to admit his elder daughter because they were late for admissions.
“Us samay paise bhi milte the. 6 mahine se khali pade hain (We used to receive some money then. I have been lying idle for 6 months).“ says Mir Hasan, who used to drive a milk-carrier vehicle for Jats in Sainpur. Hasan’s choice of words is an instance of the dependency of Muslims on their Jat employers in the villages that were earlier their home. Instead of using the usual ‘paise aate the’ or ‘kamate the’ (meaning he earned the money), he inadvertently uses ‘milte the’ (meaning he used to receive).
Salim alleges that he could not get the full compensation because the Jats in his village did not let the survey be conducted properly. But he has a B.A. degree and is preparing for the Chakbandi Lekhpal exam conducted by the UPSSSC (Uttar Pradesh Subordinate Services Selection Commission), which is scheduled for the 8th of this month, and is hopeful of landing a government job. He was also supposed to accompany his sister Fatima to her college, but she has abandoned the idea because it’s too far from where they live now.
Some other residents of Iliyas Nagar worked at brick-kilns, mostly near Ghaziabad. So they continue to get work there. However, it is the off-season now and they too are helpless like the rest. Another family, which thinks that this news might get their dues paid, insists that I write about their contractor who paid them about one-third of the due amount as advance, but refused to pay the rest after they had completed their work. It’s usually women, who remain busy with their household for the most part, who throw a sarcastic “Bhaiyya, kuch aane wala hai kya (Are we going to get something)” over the group of men that has gathered.
In another part of Kandhla, there is another group of victims living near a government hospital. The road that runs up to the hospital ends just before the area where the victims live. Here too the situation isn’t any different, except that some families here have filed a couple of rape cases in which the trial is ongoing. “Yahaan jungle hai charo oar. Light wale connection ke 10,000 mangte hain (There’s jungle all around. We are asked for 10000 rupees for an electricity connection),” a family member says, who is also afraid because they don’t have a protecting boundary wall around the area. If they meet any of the accused when they go out, they are threatened with, “Hum tumhe dekh lenge (We’ll see you).” They also ask me how I came to know about them. They are afraid that because they are not educated enough, people might take advantage. There have been reports of even the police colluding with the accused and almost deliberately delaying statutory procedures. What also makes the families in this area suspicious is that despite visits by people who ask them questions, nothing has changed for them. This is an uncomfortable moment. As I explain myself, they feel uncomfortable too. But all of us are aware of the risks involved and with little left to lose, (“not even a plate was left,” I am told) they would not want to put themselves in danger, especially when most of the accused are out on bail.
This family seems slightly better off than the rest, but they are still unable to continue the education of their children in the manner they wanted to. Two girls had to be transferred to a madrasa from a private school because of the irregular income of their family.
Another victim I meet has also filed a case and had paid Rs 20,000 to the lawyers. The lack of work adds to his pecuniary woes. His compensation too hasn’t arrived, although he says he has met with the administration in Budhana several times.
The women were perhaps the worst victims of the riots. Nasir insists that I visit the plot that she bought with the compensation amount. She hasn’t been able to build a home and keeps asking whether any work or money will be offered in the future. “The fever doesn’t leave him. How is he supposed to work,” she says, despondent at the lack of clean water and toilets that keeps her husband sick. Kayuum from Fugana is a neighbour. His children go to a government school, but their household too is just a few pots and pans. It’s Sunday and school is off. So Kayuum and his son are digging a latrine on their own.
This same story continues in Imdad Nagar in Jaula, where there is another set of homes built by the Jamiat-Ulema-I-Hind. A number of them, who have come from Fugana and Loi, allege that the pradhan of their village withheld the compensation announced by the government and released them only when they agreed to give him one lakh from the five as a bribe.
A family which had built a jhuggi because they could not get a home decided to buy a buffalo, which offered some steady income. That buffalo too was stolen some days ago. “We all went to the police but they did nothing,” says Mustakim, a neighbour.
For those of us who have been following this story of state apathy towards orchestrated violence, a pattern seems to emerge, which one needs to revisit and remember. Economic repercussions for the affected are woven in all these stories. In Atali, where I’d paid a visit post the riots, the upward mobile who demanded the constitutional rights of their community were targeted, forcing all Muslims out of the village. The dependent Muslims of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli barely survive after being thrown out. This enforced eviction too has its consequences on the electorate and voting patterns. Resisting communal polarisation had its own kind of consequences for the people of Israil camp in Rangpuri area of Delhi.
Despite the lack of water or any proper drainage, the houses in Imdad Nagar – which happens to be near the bus stop – are plastered with posters of the candidates of the panchayat polls. The young who cast their votes are following the counting of votes amidst jokes on the rising prices of dal. An elderly man is, however, concerned. The compensation for five families from Lisarh is stuck and the DM from Shamli has said that he will look into it only after the elections.
The old man also hopes that at least half of the graveyard land of their village is transferred here. Disease is rife and they have problems burying their dead.