Caught in the Cross­fire

It is a dou­ble tragedy for Muzaf­far­na­gar’s riot vic­tims as they have be­come pawns ina bit­ter war be­tween BJP, Congress and the rul­ing Sa­ma­jwadi Party

India Today - - INSIDE - By San­deep Un­nithan in Muzaf­far­na­gar

For Muzaf­far­na­gar’s riot vic­tims, it’s a dou­ble tragedy as they have be­come pawns in a bit­ter war be­tween Congress, BJP and the rul­ing Sa­ma­jwadi Party.

The men who torched and looted Rozud­din’s home came scream­ing slo­gans: “Pak­istan ya Kabris­tan”. The ma­son from Kharad fled into a nearby for­est with his ex­tended fam­ily of par­ents, two brothers, their wives and chil­dren.

Now, Rozud­din, 45, who has taken shel­ter in a madrasa in Shamli, seethes at claims of cross-bor­der con­spir­a­cies and the new po­lit­i­cal game over riot vic­tims in Muzaf­far­na­gar.

“Neta ra­jneetik roti sekh ra­hein hain (Lead­ers are mak­ing po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal out of our plight),” he says, dis­miss­ing Rahul Gandhi’s claim at his Oc­to­ber 25 rally in In­dore that Pak­istan’s ISI had con­tacted riot-af­fected peo­ple in Muzaf­far­na­gar. His state­ment in­vited an in­stant re­tort from BJP’S Naren­dra Modi, who asked the Congress vice-pres­i­dent to name such per­sons or apol­o­gise for de­fam­ing the com­mu­nity.

Sixty-two peo­ple died in Uttar Pradesh’s worst spell of com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in two decades when ri­ots broke out be­tween Hindu Jats and Mus­lims in five dis­tricts in Septem­ber. Three per­sons were killed in a fresh spurt of vi­o­lence in Muzaf­far­na­gar on Oc­to­ber 30, three weeks af­ter the Army quelled the ri­ots. In­tel­li­gence Bureau of­fi­cials say Rahul’s claim of be­ing told by sleuths that ISI is reach­ing out to riot vic­tims is “ab­so­lutely un­true”. “To say riot-hit peo­ple are in touch with ISI is like rub­bing salt into their wounds,” says a se­nior of­fi­cial.

More than 50,000 Mus­lims in Muzaf­far­na­gar, Shamli, Sa­ha­ran­pur, Baghpat and Meerut dis­tricts fled

MO­HAMMED ME­HERBAN, 26 Labourer from Lakh vil­lage, Shamli I DON’T UN­DER­STAND WHY LEAD­ERS SAY WHAT THEY DO. ALL I KNOW IS 14 PEO­PLE WERE KILLED IN MY VIL­LAGE AND I CAN­NOT GO BACK.”

ROZUD­DIN, 45 Ma­son from Kharad vil­lage, Shamli NETA RA JNEETIK ROTI SEKH RA­HEIN HAIN (LEAD­ERS ARE MAK­ING PO­LIT­I­CAL CAP­I­TAL OUT OF OUR PLIGHT).”

af­ter fel­low vil­lagers turned on them. The ones who couldn’t keep up were killed. “I wish the politi­cians would leave us alone,” says Rae­sud­din, 40, of Lisad vil­lage, who saw his sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian fa­ther Kar­mud­din be­ing hacked to death. “He was one of five peo­ple killed that morn­ing,” says the farm labourer who is now shel­tered in a madrasa in Kandhla.

Many peo­ple have since trick­led back but Rozud­din, Rae­sud­din and oth­ers from the six worst- af­fected vil­lages— the gov­ern­ment calls them ‘cat­e­gory 4’ vil­lages—con­tinue to live in schools, madrasas and in plas­tic-roofed tents on Eidgah grounds across three dis­tricts. On Oc­to­ber 17, the UP gov­ern­ment told the Supreme Court that 17,000 peo­ple were in such camps, about 8,000 of them in 41 camps in Muzaf­far­na­gar.

Dis­trict au­thor­i­ties say the camps are emp­ty­ing out. “Most vil­lagers have started re­turn­ing to their homes af­ter Eid,” Kaushal Raj Sharma, dis­trict mag­is­trate, Muzaf­far­na­gar, told

IN­DIA TO­DAY. On Oc­to­ber 27, the state gov­ern­ment an­nounced com­pen­sa­tion of Rs 5 lakh each to 1,800 fam­i­lies di­rectly af­fected by the ri­ots. “We will en­sure that they are re­set­tled be­fore the on­set of win­ter,” Sharma said.

Haji Za­hoor Hasan, Sa­ma­jwadi Party’s gen­eral sec­re­tary in Shamli, con­firms that “vil­lagers are leav­ing camps”. “But they are not go­ing back to their vil­lages. They are rent­ing houses or mov­ing in with rel­a­tives.” Many, how­ever, are stay­ing. “Mel

phat gaya hain (Unity has been bro­ken),” says Ma­har Din, 63, for­merly the watch­man of Munbhar, ex­plain­ing why he prefers the safety of a madrasa in Muzaf­far­na­gar to the vil­lage of his fore­fa­thers. “I used to guard the Jat vil­lagers’ homes for 35 years, you know,” he says, “and then, that morn­ing, they looted and ran­sacked my house, forc­ing us to flee.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion, wor­ried at the elec­toral im­pact of such a dis­place­ment, has stepped up pres­sure on the refugees to go back. Dis­trict mag­is­trates of Muzaf­far­na­gar, Shamli and Baghpat have vis­ited camps with po­lice of­fi­cials to coax them with prom­ises of set­ting up po­lice posts in ev­ery af­fected vil­lage. One so­cial worker in Shamli turns on the speaker of his phone as he con­verses with a se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer. “We want all peo­ple in your camps to go back,” the of­fi­cer says earnestly, “but I won’t ask vil­lagers of Lakh, Lisad, Kutba, Kutbi, Jauli, Phogana and Bavdi to re­turn.” Th­ese are the vil­lages that saw the worst ri­ots. Parts of Phogana have turned into a ghost vil­lage. Stray dogs dart in and out of their new abodes: Over 100 brick houses, their wooden doors bro­ken. The nar­row lanes are lit­tered with footwear and empty, bro­ken suit­cases. Soot licks the red walls and fans hang limply from ceil­ings like wilted flow­ers.

“To tell you the truth, the vil­lage is not quite the same with­out them,” says Himanshu, 12. “It’s too quiet, all the friends I played cricket with are gone.” The ri­ot­ers who torched th­ese houses, forc­ing an es­ti­mated 5,000 vil­lagers to flee, were not deterred by the po­lice sta­tion just 10 feet away. The sta­tion in-charge, who did noth­ing to pre­vent the orgy of loot and ar­son, was trans­ferred shortly af­ter the ri­ots, but peo­ple say their faith in the po­lice has been shaken.

The gov­ern­ment has re­sponded by set­ting up a Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Cell ( SIC). The cell, com­pris­ing po­lice­men from dis­tricts such as Bareilly and Agra, will probe all riot-re­lated cases.

SIC teams of five have fanned out in the camps, record­ing cases against ri­ot­ers and videograph­ing eye­wit­nesses. The po­lice have so far reg­is­tered 128

FIRS in five dis­tricts, booked 1,068 ac­cused ri­ot­ers and ar­rested 243. The po­lice have promised jus­tice to the vic­tims but they are be­ing slowed down by Jat vil­lagers. Refugees in the camps say the po­lice are only mak­ing ex­cuses for their tardy progress. “The po­lice promised ac­tion on my FIR in three days,” says Rozud­din. “It’s been over 30 days but the men who burned

MA­HAR DIN, 63 Watch­man of Munbhar vil­lage, Muzaf­far­na­gar I USED TO GUARD THE JAT VIL­LAGERS’ HOMES FOR 35 YEARS. THEN, THAT MORN­ING, THEY LOOTED AND RAN­SACKED MY HOME.”

our homes con­tinue to roam free.”

The FIRS are another rea­son why peo­ple like Rozud­din and Ma­har Din can’t go back. The refugees say they are be­ing pres­surised, through phone calls and emis­saries of Jat vil­lagers, to with­draw the FIRS. Some had to go with po­lice es­cort to sal­vage what was left of their prop­erty. “The deal is clear,” says Mo­hammed Me­herban, a daily wa­ger, “you can re­turn only if you take the cases back.”

There are eco­nomic rea­sons at play as well. A su­gar­cane crop is now be­ing har­vested in UP’s su­gar bowl, where Jats are landown­ers and Mus­lims labour­ers. Some peo­ple like Jameel claim Jats have laid down con­di­tions for their re­turn: They can’t grow a beard, call for prayers, ob­serve fasts or al­low vis­its by preach­ers of the rad­i­cal Tab­lighi Ja­maat.

It is, mean­while, a squalid ex­is­tence for the refugees in camps and madrasas. At Madrasa Imdadiya Rashidiya in Shamli, 674 vil­lagers share two toi­lets and one bath­room. At Madrasa Is­lamiya in Kandhla, 2,390 vil­lagers use a dozen toi­lets. And flies cover the 32 in­fants born here in past month. Most aid trick­les in from mi­nor­ity-run or­gan­i­sa­tions. A week af­ter Bakri Eid, an or­gan­i­sa­tion from Ker­ala dis­trib­uted 450 relief kits—two blan­kets, a bucket, milk pow­der, glasses, plates—among refugees at Kandhla. There is a dis­tinct nip in the evening air as the refugees queue up. Soon, they know, they may have to make a choice: Be­tween a harsh win­ter and a chilly re­cep­tion in their old vil­lages.

M ZHAZO/ www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

ROZUD­DIN’S FAM­ILY AT MADRASA IMDADIYA RASHIDIYA IN SHAMLI

M ZHAZO/ www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

MO­HAMMED ME­HERBAN’S FAM­ILY AT MADRASA IMDADIYA RASHIDIYA IN SHAMLI

M ZHAZO/ www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

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