By Abhishek Jha:
Over 29,000 survivors of the riots of September 2013 that tore through the districts of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in Uttar Pradesh are now living in 65 relief colonies in the two districts without access to basic amenities or state support, a new report has claimed. Released on September 9 in New Delhi, the book-length report, ‘Living Apart: Communal Violence and Forced Displacement in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli’, details the condition in all these 65 colonies. Authored by Harsh Mander, Akram Akhtar Chaudhury, Zafar Eqbal, and Rajanya Bose, the report has been produced after a survey conducted by NGOs Aman Biradari and Afkar India.
The report claims that around 75,000 people fled either due to direct attack or out of fear to Muslim majority areas after the riots, of which, it estimates, around 50,000 still remain permanently expelled from their villages. After releasing the report, Mander held three sections culpable- the communal forces, the state government, and the society itself which is “communalisable”.
The survey in Muzaffarnagar district was conducted in 28 colonies. These colonies comprised around 2,352 households with a population of 12,485 people. While 18 of these colonies are comprised of residents directly affected, 10 had residents who were either directly affected or were displaced due to the riots. Three of these colonies are on land owned earlier by private Hindu individuals and one colony each has been built on government land, rented land, and gram panchayat land.
Basic civic amenities, the report show, are also absent from these colonies segregated on religious lines. 82 percent colonies do not have access to clean drinking water, no colony has a public toilet, and only 32 percent colonies have more than 50 percent households having personal toilets. Similarly, 93 percent colonies do not have street lighting, 54 percent do not have personal electricity, and 61 percent do not have drainage. 36 percent colonies do not have an approach road and 50 percent do not have internal roads. 68 percent colonies do not have access to ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) and 57 percent to maternity benefits.
Education of students is also affected as schools and colleges are far off. Voter ID cards, ration cards, and NREGA job cards are also largely absent from the colonies. Social security benefits like widow, old-age, disability, or Samajwadi pension are yet to reach these colonies.
The situation in the adjoining district of Shamli isn’t any different. Of the 37 colonies, comprising 3299 households with a population of 16,483 people, 22 are colonies of those directly affected by the violence. Everybody has been able to build a house in only three of these colonies.97 percent colonies in the district do not have clean drinking water, 51 percent don’t have personal toilets, and only 3 percent have public toilets. 76 percent do not have street lighting, 81 percent don’t have personal electricity, and 70 percent don’t have drainage. 73 percent don’t have an approach road and 68 percent don’t have internal roads. 86 percent colonies in the district do not have access to ICDS and 92 percent don’t have access to maternity benefits. Education and social security benefits are also similarly affected.
Writer and activist Farah Naqvi, in a panel discussion after the book-release, explained that the absence of state-support has allowed “religious-clergy-based industry” to develop in the aftermath of the riots. Journalist Neha Dixit, who reported extensively on the riots, also said that since some of the relief camps were located in mosques, the rape survivors were told by the people in the mosque that they would be evicted from the camp if they talked about the rape publicly.
Explaining the role of media in the riots, she said that an international news organisation that had commissioned the story on the gangrape of women inside the compound of the Pradhan’s house in Lakh Bawdi village of Shamli district kept sitting on the story from September to November. The story was finally published within a span of three days at another publication after she withdrew it from the organisation that had commissioned the story. “When we talk about the same media covering the Nirbhaya case, the 16th December case, what happens is you get some 8 panelists on prime time. It makes for good TV because these women can articulate themselves in English in a proper manner. It actually gels with your idea of having a target audience, which is the urban rich,” she said asking whether this is the “corporate-political nexus that we should be afraid of”.
Lawyer Vrinda Grover also highlighted the state’s apathy and complicity in rehabilitation of survivors by narrating the case-history of the trials in the rape cases for which she is an advocate. Akram Akhtar Chaudhary, one of the authors of the report, said that while on the district level they have not faced many difficulties, there has been no change of heart on the lower level, where the administration remains biased against Muslims.
At the report’s release in New Delhi, two riot survivors, Rizwan and Firdaus, also narrated how the riots have affected their lives. Both survivors had trouble attending school. While Firdaus has been able to return back to her family- home, Rizwan said his family had to settle in a colony despite the rates of land being hiked. Rizwan said that the government does not improve the state of education in U.P. because it is aware that people will start demanding their rights if they get educated.“It is now the duty of the Hindus to see that Muslims feel that they are part of the nation,” senior journalist and activist Harsh Mander said before the releasing the report. He also urged the audience to speak up for a democratic country. “In this country many Muzaffarnagars can happen if you don’t speak up,” he said.