Gulab Ali has been staying for the past four months at a relief camp in Sanjhak village of Muzaffarnagar,Uttar Pradesh. While most riot victims living in camps have been struggling to meet basic necessities like food and protection from the biting cold,Gulab has been missing his books the most.
On the first week of the new year,when schools reopen after the winter break,the 14-year-old will be going back to school again,becoming the only child from across relief camps housing the Muzaffarnagar riot victims to be headed to school. Abba has promised to get me the new textbooks and notebooks. I dont care about the uniform. Its so cold now,no one will know I am not wearing a uniform under my razai (quilt), he giggles.
Gulab is the son of a brick kiln labourer from Kharad village,50 km from the relief camp. When riots broke out in the twin districts of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in the first week of September,Gulabs family including his parents and two brothers escaped to Sanjhak. We have an aunt here,but her husband didnt like us staying with her,so we moved to this camp, he says.
From a two-room house with an open courtyard where I read my books,Gulab moved to a tarpaulin tent held up by four poles,with graves surrounding it. My mother said that we have become the living dead,as the camps have been erected on a graveyard. But if I was the living dead,why would I feel hungry? asks Gulab,adding he is not scared of graves.
After a month adjusting to life in the camp which included feeling hungry and wondering whether my village friends would make me the captain of the football team again Gulab started thinking of school. I have stood first in all my classes except Class VI,when I came second. My first-term results had been due in the end of September,and I hadnt done my Maths paper well, he says,adding that this started weighing on his mind.
He shared his worries with his father Hateem Ali,telling him he wished to go back to the Kharad school. After seeing our 60-year-old neighbour being hacked to death,the loot,the arson,and the abuses,I had decided never to go back. But when my son said he was worried about his marks,I knew I had to go back to get his result, says a teary-eyed Class III dropout Hateem Ali.
When Ali went to the school,he was surprised. The government school in Kharad has some 2,000 Muslim students. But I was the only Muslim father who had come for his sons results. People thought I was crazy, he says. The results showed Gulab had stood second.
The good marks only made the teenager miss school more. But he resigned to going back to his routine life in the camp waking up to black tea,with no milk supplies,a game of ball,cutting the sugarcane harvest for a days labour of Rs 200,going to the brick kiln with his father and earning an extra Rs 100 for the family,or just sleeping. Going to school in Kharad would have meant a lot of money for transport. We have no money. I was scared to ask Abbu, he says.
It was a full month after his results,in the end of November,that he mustered the courage. It was so cold and we were all struggling to sleep under one blanket. I felt so frustrated that I started crying like a baby, says Gulab sheepishly.
All that he yelled was that he wanted to go to school. I was shocked to see a 14-year-old boy crying out,Ammi mujhe padhna hai,mujhe school bhejo, says Hateem.
The next morning,father and son went to the Kharad school to request for a transfer certificate. The principal turned us away saying there were no instructions from the government on transfers of the riot-affected. He refused to even give us an attested copy of his marksheet, says Hateem. Four such trips later,Gulab took his father to his favourite teacher,who offered help. The teacher,Suresh Singh,is a Jat. I told my son that after all that has happened,it would be useless to ask him for help. But Singh spoke to the principal,made phone calls,and managed to get us the marksheet, he says.
Two weeks ago,after struggling with a lot of paperwork,Hateem managed to secure an admission for Gulab in the Muzaffarnagar boys government school. He also expects to get a final copy of the transfer certificate of Gulabs younger brother Naushad for admission in the same school.
So what does Gulab want to be when he grows up? An IPS officer,so that I can stop people from fighting,so that there wont be any problems,and so that we can have a government house from which no one can turn us out, he says.