“Kabristan bbhejenge ya Pakistan bhejenge (We will send you either to Pakistan or to the burial ground),” these words echo still in the mind of Rizwan— a resident of Shamli district in Uttar Pradesh and a victim of the communal violence that rocked the state in 2013, considered to be the ‘worst’ in the state’s recent history—as he tries to recall the chronicles of that unfortunate day.
“The tension had been simmering since an incident on August 27when two Hindu boys were beaten allegedly by Muslims,” he says. But he didn’t know then that his life was going to change forever after September 8. “As I ran for my life, I saw these people (Jaats, Kumhars) grabbing the elderly members of the family. They first put bullets in them and then butchered the bodies,” Rizwan struggles to speak as tears well up in his eyes.
That night, in his village Lisadh, approximately 150 houses were burnt down which immediately led to massive displacement of Muslim families. With memories of the violence fresh in their minds, these families are still living in ‘temporary’ camps, even after three years of the violence.
“It’s the government apathy and the narrative of impunity which needs to be told again and again,” says social worker- writer Harsh Mander who has worked extensively in these colonies, while launching his book Living Apart: Communal violence and forced displacement in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. The book comes as a status report of these colonies after an in-depth survey by his team that includes- Akram Akhtar Chaudhary, Zafar Eqbal and Rajanya Bose.
A very large chunk of affected people who live in these colonies are those whose houses were not attacked by their neighbours during the violence but they fled nevertheless because they could no longer trust their neighbours in localities where Muslims were in minority. The fact that the state government does not regard them to be ‘affected’ by the communal carnage, adds to their quandary and therefore, they don’t qualify for any pension at all.
“Out of 13 people killed in my village, only two bodies were found. And as it goes no compensation for families where victim’s body is not found,” laments Rizwan.
The book highlights the plight of these colonies where people are living in deplorable conditions due to lack of any other alternative. Three years on, not much has changed for these people. Soiled plastic sheets stretched over bamboo sticks, affording each family a few square feet of shelter surrounded by black cesspools and mosquitoesmake life in these rural colonies unimaginable.
“We are living in a jungle. Recently two people died of snake bite. What do we expect from the government now?” he asks.
Another girl Firdaus from Balwa recounts the terror. She was in High School when the riots took place and was never able to resume education after that. The book says that the children living in these colonies don’t want to go to schools as most of the schools are at least a kilometer away. “Of 28 colonies in Muzaffarnagar only 12 have proper houses. Contrary to the state government’s claim, basic amenities are yet to reach them. According to our survey of these colonies, only 18% have drinking water, 7% have street lights and a meager 32% have lavatories,” informs Iqbal.
In an unfortunate event that claimed 62 lives, around 6,400 persons were accused of crimes in the 534 FIRs that were filed. The Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigating these crimes reported to the Supreme Court six months later that the number of accused was down to 3,254 after police concluded many were innocent. Even of these, a year later, only 800 or less than a fifth of the originally accused were arrested and most of those arrested were quickly released on bail.
While most of the people affected are still living in what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, few have managed to get back on their feet. Firdaus’ family is one of the few who returned to their homes but now they feel alienated in their own village. And the trauma of that night just refuses to dissipate.
“This time, the same boy who had beaten up my mother was saying- 5 taariq ko yuddh chhidne waala hai (there’s going to be a war on 5th). I said – Bhai mujhe bataa ke chhediyo yudhh, is baari main bhi ladungi (Brother, inform me too so that I too can fight the war,” she says.