Muzaffarnagar killings: In his new book, Harsh Mander writes on the betrayals of secular parties

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Muzaffarnagar killings: In his new book, Harsh Mander writes on the betrayals of secular parties

By Harsh Mander | Shreya Roy Chowdhury

Just three months after the [Muzaffarnagar] carnage, the state government officially terminated all relief camps, again as happened in Gujarat, even though several thousand displaced persons were still in fear and dread, and unwilling to return home because they continued to feel unsafe. Whereas displaced persons in camps should be officially assisted and supported to return to their original homes by promoting reconciliation and security, to force them to do so by premature closure of camps resulted only in thousands being left without even the meagre food and health support which the government had extended in the camps.

The sense of fear and alienation of the survivors was enhanced by distressing reports of organised social and economic boycott of Muslims after the mass violence, once again on the model incubated successfully in Gujarat. Many men testified that they were told they should cut their beards off if they wished to live in their village. People also reported similar hate exchanges in buses and public spaces. Survivors recounted intimidation and boycott in employment as farm labour, or economic activities like selling cloth and other goods from house to house.

 

The Akhilesh Yadav–led 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 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.

In a survey undertaken by Aman Biradari and Afkar India Foundation, we discovered as many as sixty-five refugee colonies, twenty-eight in Muzaffarnagar and thirty-seven in Shamli, housing 29,328 residents, described in our report “Living Apart”. 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 to begin a new life of the refugees. Apart from the Rs 5 lakh grant given only to households directly hit by the violence who would not return to their original villages (and none to the much larger number who escaped their villages because of fear of attacks), the state took no responsibility for helping them resettle in any way.

The displaced refugees from hate violence 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 themselves. This again strikingly mirrors the story of the violence-affected people of Gujarat.

The confidence of survivors to return to homes was further shaken because of the very low number of arrests and convictions of the men accused of murder, rape, arson and looting.

Without justice, as we have learnt from the survivors in Gujarat and every other site of communal violence, neither do wounds heal nor can fresh violence be deterred. Police and even the judiciary in Uttar Pradesh often displayed communal biases very similar to their Gujarati counterparts.

Of 6400 people accused of crimes in 534 FIRs, charges were ultimately pursued against only 1540 people. Most of the cases of murder were closed without a charge sheet or trial claiming the accused were “unknown persons”. Even after a year of the carnage, only 800 people were arrested, and most of those who were arrested were quickly released on bail. One reason given for the low number of arrests by the police administration was that large numbers of women blocked the entrance to the village whenever police vehicles drove there for arrests, or farmers parked tractors to thwart police passage. Survivors on the other hand believed that police themselves informally tipped off the villagers before arriving to make arrests, otherwise how would so many assemble at short notice to blockade village roads?

This allegation was difficult to independently verify, but no self-respecting police administration could accept this kind of public blockades to persist when it came in the way of their fulfilling their official duties. Only three of the twenty-five men accused in six cases of gang rape were 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.

There was enormous pressure on the witnesses to rescind their statements, and a large number of witnesses have turned “hostile” in court.

Although Indian criminal law does not permit “compromise” in heinous offences, we observed in Gujarat that this remains a routine practice after mass communal violence. Since the accused freely roam the same villages, either evading arrest or on bail, they are free to intimidate the complainants and victims.

It does not help that the majority of the complainants were impoverished farm workers or brick kiln labour, critically dependent economically on the large Jat landowners for work and loans. The police was particularly soft in acting against politicians who were allegedly directly involved in the rioting. They have at best been booked in very minor sections like Section 188 of the IPC involving disobedience of orders of public servants with maximum punishment of simple impressment for one month. Most of them did not even see the inside of a jail.

There were also other distressing signs of judicial bias, because most arrested people have been granted bail almost the next day or soon after their arrests. This ignored the gravity of hate crimes, and the susceptibility of the survivors to intimidation because of their vulnerable situation after mass-targeted violence has spurred large-scale fear, destruction of livelihoods and habitats, and migration.

Original Source: https://scroll.in/article/908798/muzaffarnagar-killings-in-his-new-book-harsh-mander-writes-on-the-betrayals-of-secular-parties

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