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Displaced suffering grows as temperatures fall

At least 34 children have died since Hindu-Muslim Uttar Pradesh riots

<p>Freezing temperatures and lack of supplies have sharpened the woes of these displaced Muslims (Photo by Manish Kumar)</p>

Freezing temperatures and lack of supplies have sharpened the woes of these displaced Muslims (Photo by Manish Kumar)

  • Ritu Sharma, Muzaffarnagar
  • India
  • January 10, 2014
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Taking the last bite from his metal curry bowl, Wakeelu Din, 69, is deeply engrossed in thoughts about his family’s uncertain future.

Din and his extended family of 26 have been living in tents for five months, victims of last August’s communal riots in the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. They have seen conditions in their camp deteriorate as the region experiences record cold, with night temperatures hovering near freezing.

Din along with 2,500 other Muslims fled Phugana, a Hindu dominated village, and took refuge in one of the nearly 800 tents in a government-built camp in neighboring Loi village. Their homes were nearly completely destroyed in the riots.

“Nothing is left there. We are determined we will not go back," he told ucanews.com.

Officials in Uttar Pradesh have said 34 children below the age of 15 died between September 7 and December 20 in the aftermath of the violence. Around 12 died in the relief camps, while others died at local private or government hospitals, officials said.

While state officials insist that the near-freezing temperatures did not kill the children, residents said the relief camps lack the basic necessities to survive the substandard conditions.

“We don’t have enough woolens to wear and blankets to protect us from the biting cold. We generally spend the night awake huddling around the fire to keep us warm,” said Mohammad Abid, one of the residents. “The layers of plastic sheets on the tents do not keep the chill away. You need to have something harder to survive the cold winds at night.”

Another resident, Shahnaz Khatoon, lost her three day old infant last month.

“My child died due to pneumonia. If we were at our home, this would not have happened. The state government gave me a compensation of 20,000 rupees (US$333) but that is not going to bring back my child,” she said.

Nadira Jahan, 30, who gave birth to a son in early January, is finding it a struggle to care for the infant.

“He feels cold and cries all night. I am afraid that my child does not meet the same fate that others in the camp have." 

She said her family had a good life back home. “We had everything. I had never imagined we would have to spend days like this in tents.”

The communal violence broke out in Muzaffarnagar district on August 27 last year when a Muslim youth was stabbed to death in the village of Kawal by two Hindu youths. They accused him of sexually harassing their sister.

Later, a Muslim mob stoned the two Hindus to death, leading to clashes among the two communities that spread through nine villages in Muzaffarnagar and neighboring Shamli, leaving more than 60 dead and displacing 50,000.

Sahira Khatoon, 18, was caught in the chaos and witnessed a man being hacked to death.

“The attackers butchered a man from our community in front of my eyes. They cut him into three pieces. My family was locked in the house for two days as it was not safe to go out and after that police brought us to the relief camp,” she said.

Late last month, the local government started to dismantle the tents and asked people to go back to their homes. But fearing more attacks, they moved their tents to a nearby site.

“What can we do?" said one of them. "The attackers have burnt our houses and mosque. They even took away our belongings from our homes. They have told us not to come back or they will kill us.” 

Sadly, many people from the Hindu community in the village say they would welcome their old neighbors back.

“It is very unfortunate that this happened. Every community has some bad elements. It was a wave that came and went. We have no hatred for the Muslim community,” says Anand Prakash, 48, a Hindu.

Echoing the same views, Rajive Malick said the two communities used to live in brotherhood in the village for generations. “We were one society. Talks are going on and we will bring them back.”

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