On September 7 2013, a gale of hate violence hit districts of western Uttar Pradesh, destroying and displacing thousands. Three years later, the large majority of these hate refugees remain exiled permanently from the villages of their birth, painfully rebuilding their lives in small makeshift colonies.
A poisonous communal campaign led to violent murderous attacks on Muslim settlements, mainly of poor agricultural workers in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. The campaign claimed that Muslim boys enticed Jat Hindu girls for ‘’love jihad’’ based on an incident that was ultimately proved to be a mischievous falsehood. At least 75,000 people fled in dread of their neighbours and took refuge in Muslim majority villages.
In exile, they endured two bleak winters under plastic tents in camps. By the third year this expulsion from their homelands has become permanent. The state government did little to create conditions in which survivors felt safe to return to the villages of their birth. Without any public remorse by their attackers, any official or community initiatives for reconciliation, and any attempts at justice, these hapless people were unable to return to the villages of their birth. Sometimes with small grants from the government or NGOs, but mainly with usurious loans from private moneylenders, they bought house-plots in hastily laid out colonies in Muslim majority villages on what were cultivated fields. Seizing the opportunity to make windfall profits, local large farmers and real estate developers sold these plots at exorbitant rates to these luckless displaced persons.
The indifference of the state government is reflected also in the fact that there is no official record of these mostly self-settled colonies, let alone official plans to ensure that they are able to access basic public goods and citizenship entitlements. Therefore, Aman Biradari and Afkar Foundation undertook a comprehensive survey of these new settlements of internally displaced persons.
With mounting astonishment and anguish, we discovered as many as 65 refugee colonies, 28 in Muzaffarnagar and 37 in Shamli, housing 29,328 residents, described in our report Living Apart. Even this does not represent the full numbers of people who could never return to the villages of their birth. Uncounted populations bought houses or rented homes in existing Muslim settlements, or permanently migrated out of these districts or even the state. We estimate that the mass communal violence led ultimately to at least 50,000 people permanently expelled from their villages as hate refugees, of which 30,000 we found in these 65 new refugee colonies.
BJP MP Hukum Singh stirred a nation-wide controversy by claiming that more than 300 Hindus had been forced to leave the Muslim majority urbanised village Kairana in Shamli district because of extortion, threats and violence by criminals of the Muslim community. He was forced to backtrack when investigations confirmed that many in his list were dead, or had left the village even 10 years earlier in search of better schooling or jobs. It is remarkable, then, that the forced permanent exodus of 30,000-50,000 Muslims from Hindu majority villages because of violence and fear has attracted little public attention, even less outrage, although this represents a grave betrayal of the constitutional guarantee of fraternity.
In hellish slum-like settlements, these internal refugees are bravely building their lives anew. Perhaps our most striking survey finding was the almost complete absence of the state from these efforts. Apart from a Rs five lakh grant given only to households directly hit by the violence, the state took no responsibility. The displaced were forced to either abandon or sell at distress prices their properties in their villages of origin, and the state compensation for the loss of their moveable assets, was negligible.
The colonies were settled substantially with the self-help efforts of the impoverished and battered refugees. Part support in many colonies came from mostly Muslim organisations. The exceptions were Sadbhavana Trust, which assisted 230 households to design their houses and choose their neighbours in Apna Ghar colony. And in the only initiative by a political party, the CPI (M) gave Rs one lakh to displaced households in Ekta Nagar. The support from Muslim organisations often came with strings, such as forcing residents to adhere to more orthodox beliefs, or refusing to give land titles to the residents. Muslim charities collected donations from Indian Muslims overseas for a few colonies, but often charged the residents for the land and houses.
In 41 of the 65 colonies, households are still unable three years later to build houses and instead are living in makeshift structures with plastic roofs and temporary walls. In the others, with grants, personal labour but also loans from private moneylenders, they have been able to build all-weather brick houses, though these are modest and small.
The developers rarely invested in drinking water, sewerage, drainage or electricity, and the district administration, at most, installed a hand-pump. These colonies therefore typically lack basic infrastructure and public services. In Muzaffarnagar, 82 per cent colonies do not have clean drinking water, 93 per cent no street lighting, 61 per cent no drainage and not a single colony has a public toilet. In Shamli, 97 per cent colonies lack drinking water, 76 per cent street lights, 70 per cent drainage and 97 per cent colonies have no public toilets.
Education and child-care services are badly hit in these colonies. Conflict anyway pushed children out of school into the work-force or early marriages. But in more than half the colonies in Muzaffarnagar, and two-thirds in Shamli, there is no primary school within a kilometre of the colony. Less than a quarter of the colonies have ICDS centres. In not a single colony do people have MGNREGA job cards. In Muzaffarnagar, in 27 out of 29 colonies no one has a ration card. In both districts, virtually no one receives old age, widow or disability pension.
The state administration is equally culpable for its failures to secure justice. Police and even the judiciary often display communal biases. Of the 6,400 persons accused of crimes in 534 FIRs, charges were pursued against only 1,540. Most of the cases of murder were closed without a chargesheet or trial claiming the accused were ‘’unknown persons’’.
In the two episodes of killings in Qawal village that set off the hate violence, the Muslim men accused of killing the Jat cousins were duly arrested and charge-sheeted. By contrast, police closed the case related to the murder of Muslim boy Shahnawaz, claiming that no one is alive who killed him. However, many eye-witnesses confirmed that the Jat cousins were accompanied by many other men who participated in the murder but escaped.
Only three of the 25 men accused in six cases of gang-rape have been held. In one rape case, all the accused men have been acquitted; in another after three years no one has been arrested; and in the other rape cases, all the accused men are out on bail.
In this way, once again, communal violence cynically engineered for political benefits leaves in its trail thousands of broken lives of people whose only crime is their religious identity. Uprooted, exiled, denied justice, in their new underserved settlements they slowly begin life once again.