CM lands in Muzaffarnagar today,a day ahead of PM
After visit by Akhilesh,Azam issues call for peace

Muzaffarnagar riots: Tales of tragedy and destruction unfold in refugee camps

Over 41,000 people are now housed in relief camps in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli.

Lisarh represented all that was good in Muzaffarnagar,dubbed the sugar bowl of India. It had the prosperity arising from the region’s agrarian boom,and in its demographics,it had two communities living and working together in peace.

PHOTOS: Tales of tragedy in Muzaffarnagar relief camps

Haji Samiuddin,65,of Lisarh represented all that Muzaffarnagar could have been. Having toiled in his fields for decades,he had ensured his children got a good education and saw them become owners of a saw mill. The family business was booming,and they were thinking of expanding.

Samiuddin and his wife are now dead,killed and dumped inside their burning home. And Lisarh,a village that was on the cusp of becoming a town,will now never be the place it was.

***

Samiuddin’s eldest son Saeed Hassan remembers each detail of the last time he met his father. It was the morning of September 7. Things had been worsening,and they had heard of the Jat mahapanchayat being held that day in Sakheda,35 km away. “The Jats have gathered in lakhs. Our friends are leaving and so should we. These are dangerous times,” Hassan had said.

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Samiuddin found this incredulous. “We have lived here all our lives,half the youngsters here have grown up sitting in my lap. Nobody will harm us here,” he said.

Hassan says he told him that it was no longer about the villagers. “This is about politics and things we are not connected to.”

However,Samiuddin insisted on staying. “You go son,you have your children to think about,” he said. “You mother and I were born here and come what may,we will die here.”

His mother Hamida,age 58,had added,“I cannot leave your father’s side. Jahan bhi jao khuda to sab jagah hai (Wherever you go,god is everywhere).”

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***

Their faith in Lisarh wasn’t without basis. Like several other villages in the surrounding areas,it had considerable Muslim presence. In its population of 8,000,close to 2,500 were Muslims. The village,like most others in the region,is also primarily agrarian,with the economy centered around sugarcane. A few hundred work in two brick kilns on the fringes of the village,while some commute to Muzaffarnagar to serve in government offices.

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“Four thousand are Jats,and the other 1,500 Hindus are Nais,Valmikis,Kumars and Pandits. There are two ponds here,and all the children used to play there together. Because the communities were so evenly distributed,it was very hard to imagine violence on a scale such as this,” says Mahender Kumar,a resident of the village.

If Hassan employed Hindus as labourers in his mill,like other prosperous Muslims,the workforce for Jat farmers was Muslim. There is both a temple and an equally large mosque in the village,and festivals were celebrated together. “During Eid,the Muslims would make food for the rest of the village,and this was reciprocated by us in times like Diwali,” says Rakesh Choudhary,a Jat of the village.

***

Lisarh had also given Samiuddin all he had hoped for. “We are three brothers and two sisters. My father made sure we all got the best education possible and did not limit ourselves to just farming. He knew the land would have to be divided among us one day and that education was our best bet in the long run,” says Hassan,44.

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Hassan went on to own one of the two saw mills in Lisarh,along with his brothers Gajoor and Tahir. The family business was doing well and their clientele included most of Lisarh’s population. Plans for expansion were also set in motion; they had purchased new equipment and vehicles. Samiuddin’s “dream” was coming true,says Hassan.

According to him,the September 7 mahapanchayat ruined it all. He and the rest of his siblings and their families left Lisarh for Kandhla that same morning. In the evening,Hassan spoke to Samiuddin from Kandhla. “He said everything was fine and we should not worry. The next day (September 8) I spoke to my mother at 10 in the morning and things were tense but calm. I could not get in touch with them after that,” Hassan says. “She said god was everywhere,but he was not in Lisarh. He was not in Lisarh.”

‘My mother tried to drag us away but they chased us’

At 11 am,an unknown number of assailants attacked Lisarh armed with knives,guns and cans of petrol. “We could see houses burning when we reached Lisarh after we received a distress call. The Army helped rescue several villagers from burning homes,” a senior police officer says.

Around 3 pm,Hassan received the news he had been dreading. A neighbour,Umar Khan,who was rescued,says,“They dragged Hassan’s father out and attacked him with swords and knives while another mob torched the house and their wood mill.” When the flames roared strongest,Samiuddin and Hamida,by then dead,were thrown in.

Hassan,who walked around the refugee camp in Kandhla gripping photographs of his parents for three days,breaks down. “They gave us everything. Nobody loved us more and now there is not even enough left of them to bury. After the violence died down,a few of us went to the house. We found nothing,just ashes,” he says.

He remembers other funerals,at other times. “Two years ago,a wooden splinter had pierced my thigh several inches deep. I was falling in and out of consciousness because of the blood loss. Two Jat men from the village rushed me to the nearest dispensary. I needed more treatment so they took me in a tempo to Muzaffarnagar. They refused to leave until my wife came to

the hospital. In gratitude,I provided wood,free of cost,for all Hindu cremations.”

***

The story of Lisarh is repeated across villages—Kutba,Lakh,Hassanpur,Bhavdi,Jauli,Jaula,Kirthal,Bhorakalan,Kalyan,Khayali,Shahpur,Foghana and Baraula,to name a few.

In each,the modus operandi was the same. People left fearing the worst,and are now in relief camps. At last count,the number of refugees in Kandhla alone was 20,000. Add to this an estimated 4,000 persons in Khairana,3,000 in Badwana and thousands more in Jauli and Bassikalan.

The organisers of the camp in Kandhla say the numbers have overwhelmed them. The chairman of the Nagar Parishad,Wajid Hassan,says four camps had been set up there and they could keep no more. “We have taken support from neighbouring towns and new refugees are being sent there. We provide for them by collecting donations from the residents of the town,” says Hassan.

District administration officials estimate that the total number of those who have fled their villages is around 41,000,across 27 camps in Muzaffarnagar district,and 11 camps in Shamli.

***

At both the relief camps and the now divided villages,with empty houses a testimony to the madness of the past week,there is anger. Yasin Ahmed,who is living in one of the refugee camps,says,“This is all political. This is just so they can polarise us before the elections. We are nothing but fodder for these politicians.”

Iqbal Ansari had just come back from Haryana,where he had gone for some work. “I had no idea what was happening. How is any of this connected to me?” says a bewildered Ansari.

Many were not even lucky enough to find refuge. They were caught by attackers who used the same sugarcane fields that have given the region its livelihood to hide and leave a death trail.

Back in Lisarh,the Jats lay the blame at the door of the Muslims. “We did not start this,” says Yashpal Singh. “The government seems to only listen to one community and has no space for us.”

When asked about the gutted houses in Lisarh,Mahendra Singh Chowdhary says,“How could we arrange the stuff to burn all the houses in this village? They set fire to their homes themselves so they could get compensation.”

For Hassan,such talk is laughable. “I will sell off what land I have left and try to eke out a living elsewhere. We have lost at least Rs 50 lakh worth of equipment and wood. And the government has announced some meagre compensation for our lost parents,but only if we can prove it. Why will we ever return to Lisarh?” he asks.

In neighbouring Lakh,an 11-year-old Hindu boy is wondering why not. “I used to play with Nawazuddin and Syed,” he says. “Tell me,what is the difference between them and me?”

***

Nasima,living in the Kandhla refugee camp,has questions of her own. She is nursing Arman Imran,born to her the day the violence began. Her husband and parents were killed and the rest of her family is scattered across similar camps. “We were in our village Kanyani when news filtered in about the mahapanchayat on September 6. I was in labour when we had to leave. My baby boy was born in the relief camp just as the violence erupted,” Nasima says.

The Kandhla camp alone includes at least four other women like her,with sons and daughters not more than seven days old.

However,it is another mother’s story that shows why the scars of Muzaffarnagar will take a long time to heal.

Ruksana,says cousin Liyakat,has not eaten for days.

“Her daughter Tamanna was born on September 6. She

was trying to leave Hassanpur the next day. There were no vehicles and,with attackers on her heels,she ran through the fields with her baby across her shoulders in a makeshift sling,” he says. “But while she was running,the baby slipped out somewhere. We went back,but we could not find her.”

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