In the final leg of the campaign before western UP goes to polls, victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots of September 2013 are aligning themselves openly with political parties and candidates.
The father of a Jat youth whose killing allegedly triggered the violence is campaigning for the BJP candidate. And the father of the first Muslim victim of the riots is telling community members that they must elect a Muslim because no one else can be trusted.
At an election meeting for Bhartendra Singh, BJP candidate for the Bijnor Lok Sabha seat, Ravindra Singh asks people to vote “kamal” (lotus) to ensure they do not suffer the same fate as him.
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Ravindra is the father of Gaurav, one of the two Jat men whose deaths — along with that of a Muslim youth called Shahnawaz — in Kawal-Malikpura were the first in the violence that claimed nearly 60 lives.
Bhartendra Singh is an accused in the riots.
“I am asking you, all of you who do not want to vote for kamal, tell me, and I will then tell you what I suffered, how my son was snatched away from me for trying to fight for his sister’s honour,” Ravindra Singh said at Badla in the Hastinapur assembly segment on Tuesday. “The government did nothing for us… I am asking you to vote for the BJP so that you do not suffer my fate.”
Ravindra says he has been visiting villages for all of the past week, sometimes with Bhartendra, sometimes by himself. He speaks of the “false” rape cases filed against Jat men by Muslim women from Fugana.
“Men as old as 75 have been accused of rape. When our women went to protest at Fugana police station, they were lathicharged. Only the BJP stood by us,” Ravindra said.
Bhartendra began all his speeches by recalling the deaths of Gaurav and the other Jat youth, Sachin.
“All those who come to you today for votes, where were they when this poor man (Ravindra) suffered? Can you imagine the plight of a man who has had to light the funeral pyre of his son, and has then had false cases of murder slapped on him? The state government distributed Rs 100 crore in compensation; why were they so biased against us?” Bhartendra said in Parikshitgarh in Hastinapur.
At the home of Mohammad Salim, the 70-year-old father of Shahnawaz from Kawal village, the election campaign has kept wounds open and tempers high.
Salim says he and a few of Shahnawaz’s seven brothers have been going to Muslim homes in the area to “ensure that Muslims vote only for Muslim candidates”.
Shahnawaz was allegedly killed by Gaurav and Sachin, provoking the Muslim mob that lynched the two Jat youths.
“I am not campaigning for anyone, I am here to only ensure that the Muslim vote is not divided… After what I have suffered, I know first-hand that we cannot trust a non-Muslim MP, so all Muslims must vote, and they must vote for Muslim candidates,” Salim said.
The Bijnor seat is being contested by BJP, Congress-RLD, SP and BSP, but only the SP has fielded a Muslim candidate, Shahnawaz Rana. Asked if his argument did not amount to supporting Rana, Salim said, “Yes it does. The SP has helped us, everyone has seen that. The BSP has done nothing, and has fielded a Hindu Gurjjar. How can we trust them?
“Muslims here have seen what I have suffered, and it is my duty to advise them before these big elections. I am meeting Muslims and telling them we should vote as one for a Muslim, or those who stand by Muslims, and that is only the SP,” he said.
At the relief camps in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, where thousands of displaced Muslims are still living, victims are seeking support for the SP candidate from Muzaffarnagar, Virender Singh.
Husbands of two of the seven women who have filed cases of rape, have been visiting camps in Joula, Manna Majra and Neem Kheda, asking people to vote for the SP.
“What did the BSP do for Muslims after the riots? The local MP Kadir Rana (from the BSP) did not even come here until months after the riots. If it were not for this government, would our rape cases have been registered? Would we have got compensation? The government has transferred all corrupt officers who aligned with the BJP. We have to vote for the SP to ensure that we are protected,” said the husband of one of the alleged rape victims.
Speaking at a godown near Neem Kheda where displaced Muslim families from Fugana, Lakh and Lisad villages are now living, this man said he had been following up on all cases registered in Fugana as a representative of his village. The largest number of riots FIRs were registered in Fugana, including six of the seven rape FIRs.
However, many, including supporters of the BSP’s Rana, who is also an accused in the riots, are not willing to forgive the SP government’s lapses.
“The government has struck a deal with some of the victims who are playing politics now. They have been bought over. Not a single riot took place when the BSP was in power,” Mohammad Younis, a resident of Lisad who has been staying in Joula, said.
Residents of the camps have earlier complained that the government and police failed to protect them during the riots, and later tried to evict them from the camps.
In Budhana, many regular visitors at the election offices of the Muzaffarnagar candidates of both the SP and BSP are relatives of riot victims. They sit with block in-charges and local leaders as strategy on connecting with voters is chalked out, and campaign slogans are finalised.
The relief camps in Shamli (under Kairana Lok Sabha constituency, represented by the BSP’s Begum Tabssum Hasan) campaigning was slow until Friday. Voter ID cards were yet to be issued to the 1,337 voters in the camps, the subdivisional magistrate of Kairana said.
Over the weekend, however, party flags came up on nearly all the tents in Malakpur, where the largest relief camp in Shamli is.
“The BSP’s Kanwar Hasan helped us build a toilet here, while the sitting MP, who is the mother of SP candidate Nahid Hasan, watched as the government filed an FIR for encroaching on forest land even as our children were dying in the cold. After he (Nahid Hasan) was given a ticket, he came and put his flags here and announced he would donate land to build houses for us. But where was he all this while?,” Chaudhary Gulshad, one of the camp organisers, was heard telling residents.