In December 2013, shivering under a tarpaulin tent at a relief camp in Loi, Muzaffarnagar, Rahisa lost her five-year-old son, three months after she had fled her village following the September riots. In December 2014, four months after she bought land in a new colony for people displaced from her village, just opposite the original camp, she lost another son days after his birth.
“It will be a month on January 20. My baby was just eight or nine days old. There was no time to take him to hospital,” says Rahisa, who hails from Kherad in Muzaffarnagar. “It is so cold and we are still living under tarpaulin structures. We spent all our money on the plot and there was nothing left for building a home.”
Her three surviving children too have recurring fever and cough. “We have started building our home only now, for the children. It is the only way to save their lives,” she says. She has not taken her children to a hospital yet; a haqeem from adjoining Budhana is giving them medicine.
These new colonies, one in Loi, one in Ahmednagar and a third, named Aman colony, in Kandhla, have come up near Muslim-majority areas, in the vicinity of the old camps. People bought the land from Muslim owners from September last year.
But with no water or electricity, drainage systems or toilets yet, and the bulk of the compensation provided by the state spent in buying the land, life has not changed much for riot victims. Garbage is piled on the lanes, water stagnates in potholes, and mosquitoes hover around the colony. Pitch dark at night, the colony stands out from other parts of Loi village.
Sharafat Ali lost his newborn daughter Ayesha nearly two months ago, a death he attributes to the winter. A year earlier, he had lost his first child in the camp in Loi.
“Tell me, what has changed for us?” he says. “Till the relief camp was running, we had at least a structure of organised committees to fight for us. The children would get milk, and rations were supplied weekly. Now we are on our own, and there is no time to take the children to hospital,” says Ali, who too is staying in the new colony in Loi.
Since the camps were declared closed in Muzaffarnagar, their residents say they have had to do without the help they were getting from the administration or from local political leaders who had set up relief committees; these were dismantled after the Lok Sabha elections.
Mohammad Salim, part of a new four-member committee elected by colony residents, said the SDM came on his first visit on Friday. “There were reports of deaths, so the SDM came. We told him to first clean the lanes of garbage,” Salim says. “Yes, we have bought plots, but are we not entitled to basic facilities like other citizens? With such conditions here, obviously there will be more disease and death.”
Village leaders who had been part of the committees in Loi don’t visit the colony, residents allege. “The pradhan is with the SP, and until the Lok Sabha polls he would come and take our problems to the administration. We bought land from him and this colony has come up. But after the polls, he has stopped coming,” says Irshad, from Fugana.
People say residents of Loi have become hostile, even on matters like burying their dead in the village graveyard. “They tell us we should get our own graveyard, but where is the money to buy more land?” Saleem says.
Abdul Jabbar, pradhan of Loi, says the committee was “automatically” dismantled after the camp closed. “When district authorities come, they still meet us, but we are not in touch with them regularly. We have helped them as much as we could. I sold them land cheap, and if someone comes for help we never turn him away,” Jabbar says.
Muzaffarnagar ADM Indermani Tripathi, who was put in charge of the camps and supervised their closure last year, did not respond to calls and messages from The Indian Express. SDM (Budhana) J P Gupta, who went to the colonies last week, says meetings will be held this week to review the facilities.
“We have done a preliminary survey and will share the details with senior district authorities,” he says. “The camps were closed last year, so obviously medicines and rations were stopped. When people moved and settled elsewhere, how can district authorities keep going to them?”