Eid-ul-fitr was supposed to be a day of celebration, filled with exchanges of greetings, gifts and warm hugs. Instead, in an open field next to a power transmission station in Joula, Muzaffarnagar district, 240 families still residing in makeshift camps only have stories of despair to share. For this year’s festivities, their tents are knit together by little comfort, under canopies worn out by a harsh winter, a harsher summer and lashings of rain.
The Indian Express visited two relief camps — Joula and Malakpur — in Muzaffarnagar district, where last year’s riot-hit refugees offered bowls of kheer laced with their bitter tales.
Mohammed Taiab, a 35-year-old cloth merchant from Lisad village, shared the story of his last Eid, perhaps the last of his fond memories before riots broke out in the district last September. He would have begun the day with Salat-al-Eid that would’ve marked the end of 30 days of roza, followed by prayers at the local kabaristan where his ancestors are buried, exchange of gifts, a feast and visits to neighbours and family.
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On Tuesday, as he returned from the morning namaaz, the auspicious day had brought gifts only for the youngest of his three children. Five-year-old Wasim Khan was lucky to get a new T-shirt; both his elder sisters had to make do with crushed Rs 10 notes. “Eid is supposed to be celebrated. We could afford it when I had my land and job. This is my 11th month in the camp, the government has not recognised us and we have received no compensation,” says Taiab.
Even the kheer is just a keepsake. They’ve had to cut down on the ingredients. “It is these small joys that keep you going in life,” says Taiab.
Lisad was one of the worst-affected villages of last year’s communal clashes between Jats and Muslims in Muzaffarnagar district. Yet, the relief camp in Jhola has not been recognised by the state administration.
A few tents away from Taiab’s, Wasim Akram bedecks his daughter-in-law’s hands with glass bangles. Akram’s three sons work outside the district, but they are here to celebrate Eid. Only on Monday, Akram had led the argument to send back a month’s ration sent to them by the district administration in the wake of the festival. “Either they give us ration for 11 months or none. We don’t need this favour from the government.”
At another end of the camp, Fahimmudin is occupied with worry. His daughters were married off at the camp, but the families of the grooms are yet to accept them. The father has not been able to give the grooms Rs one lakh, which was promised as marriage
assistance for riot-hit victims. According to the refugees, 135 marriages have happened in the past 11 months.
Twenty kilometres away, the Malakpur relief camp wears a deserted look. At some point in the last year, Malakpur was the largest camp, housing 700 families. There are barely 100 families now — mostly landless labourers who do not wish to return to their Jat-dominated villages.
The morning’s namaaz was read inside a makeshift pandal, erected in the field. Mohammed Sahin, stretching on his charpoy, lamented about breaking tradition. Instead of his local cemetery and masjid, which he alleged was destroyed, he had to offer prayers at a kabaristan nearby, where he has no relations buried. “It is fate. But god is merciful. He will find a solution,” he says, as others line up to voice their complaints. The state government, it would seem, has no solutions.