On Monday night,when the temperature dropped to near zero in Muzaffarnagar district and rain added to the chill,the district administration informed 300 families living out in the open for the last four months that they had 24 hours to pack up and leave.
In adjoining Shamli,where riot refugees have been huddling in 12 relief camps,district authorities told community leaders hosting them that they had until January 4 to empty out the camps completely.
Consequently,over Monday and Tuesday,483 families piled their children and belongings together on 30-odd government tempos and trucks and left,pulling their buffaloes and goats alongside. Some 2,000 of those who left had fled from Fugana village,where the largest number of riot FIRs were registered,including six of gangrape.
Some of them headed to the wet,muddy pieces of open land they have purchased in Loi or Neem Kheda with the Rs 5-lakh compensation the government has given them; others sought out a small bit of courtyard or a verandah in the home of a generous benefactor in Loi.
Still others went in search of shelter in two rooms at a government school in Muzaffarnagar,or in the cluster of 70-odd houses that the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind is building in Khampur.
On Tuesday,many of these families sat huddled at the bus stand in Neem Kheda,apparently with nowhere else to go. A few of the men struggled to erect cloth or plastic sheets above their heads; others simply sat or lay exhausted on charpais in the open,getting gently soaked in the fine rain that fell.
Jab rakshak bhakshak ban jaye toh kya hoga? This time not only the state authorities but also the village pradhan turned against us. They said paperwork for the compensation could continue,but we needed to get off land owned by the government,and to protect ourselves from the cold. How are we being protected from the cold here? said 23-year-old Afsana,as she pulled some donated woollens on her children Kashish,2,and Sahir,4.
Asima,who gave birth barely a week ago,said she would never forget the night of December 30. It was pouring and cold,and we had all collected opposite the bus stop where the government vehicle left us. We walked to our plot to build our jhuggi,in the rain,carrying our things, she recalled.
At the Loi camp,facilities had come up slowly over four months: a government-run mobile toilet,a health camp,a bulb in every tent. Here,they had a few dark,wet hours to rebuild an entire life,with no government support.
One 23-year-old who is the complainant in a gangrape FIR said she no longer had the strength to think about the progress of her case. I just want a roof over my head. Why couldnt they have given us time until we built a house? she asked.
According to government officials,eight days ration had been given to each family that left the Loi camp before the dismantling began,but most people at Neem Kheda said they had got nothing.
We were threatened at night by the same local leaders who had promised to protect us. Last week when the JCB excavators broke our tents,they told us to put them back up. But last night,they did not give us time to even pack,let alone fight for our promised rations. The local school is now occupied,people have spread out cots and quilts to occupy the space. What do we do now? said a woman who identified herself as Zubeda,as she tied belongings in small cloth bundles.
People at the bus stand recalled the kindness of a tehsildar who had come to their help at midnight on Monday. It was raining,and we were trying to reach any government official who would answer his phone. Finally,the tehsildar responded,and came here and opened a sugar cane crusher godown for us, said a man who identified himself as Naseem from Fugana.
On Tuesday afternoon,this dingy godown,owned by a local businessman,was home to 53 families,each fighting for a few feet of space in which to put down their belongings,and perhaps sit down themselves. It took some time to persuade the godown owner to allow these families in. We are trying to find for each family a space similar to the size of the jhuggi they lived in, said a local administration official at the spot.
Activists trying to take relief material to Loi from Shamli complained of being stopped by local police on Monday and Tuesday. 26-year-old lawyer Shehzad Poonawala complained to district authorities on Tuesday that he was told by an inspector of Fugana police station that the camp had been dismantled,and that he should return.
It seems the UP government wants to ensure that the relief camps are shut at the earliest as part of the cover-up exercise. They have done nothing for the victims,and the entire administration is now on a mission to deny even the existence of the riot-affected people, Poonawala said.
Muzaffarnagar additional district magistrate Indermani Tripathi said it was essential to dismantle the camp in order to protect the people from the cold. We arranged government vehicles to take people wherever they wished to go,and we have done a fresh round of surveys to identify those who have not received compensation yet. We will make sure the compensation reaches them wherever they are. Also,eight days ration is being given to every family to help them through the first few days of their new lives, Tripathi said.
He added that an ambulance had been sent for two pregnant women who had gone to Neem Kheda with their families,so they could be brought back and admitted to government hospitals for their delivery.
Abdul Jabbar,the pradhan of Loi village,said the residents of Fugana were being unfair to him. I sold plots to so many of these people,made arrangements for them for four months when they had no one else to turn to. Now,if they took compensation from the state after signing affidavits agreeing to vacate the camp,and the government is asking them to leave,what can I do?
Those who have bought plots here are being accommodated in the village school and at the homes of villagers until their own homes are built, Abdul Jabbar added.