ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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No Excuse for Callousness

There can be no justification for the deaths of children in the Muzaffarnagar camps.

More than 50 infants and children have reportedly died in the camps housing the thousands of displaced families affected by the riots in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh (UP) on 7 September 2013. They died not because of any disease, but because they were hungry and there was nothing warm to protect them from the freezing-cold weather. As families continue to battle the cold with only a flimsy tarpaulin as cover and small fires that shed light but little heat, the situation in these camps is a scandal that ought to be a national concern. Not only is this an unconscionable violation of the rights of citizens of this country, it is the result of the complete callousness of the local authorities and the state government of UP. What is worse, despite reports by the media and civil society groups working in the area, the state government has chosen to pretend that there is no problem. Indeed, for weeks it denied the fact of these deaths and only now, after the Supreme Court’s order following a writ petition, has the UP government acknowledged that 11 children have died. Also, only at the Supreme Court’s prompting have medical facilities been extended to the camps where scores of women are pregnant and need urgent care. Whether anything will be done about the almost total lack of sanitation in the camps, something that has made life a living hell, especially for the women and children, still remains to be seen.

The UP government’s attitude towards the displaced families following the Muzaffarnagar riots, in which an estimated 60 people died, has been not just extremely callous but also unthinking. First, it issued a notification offering compensation only to Muslims affected by the riots. Predictably, this was challenged in court and the Supreme Court struck this down as being discriminatory. Thereafter, the notification had to be reframed and reissued. As if that was not enough, the government seems determined to push people out of the camps and back to their homes without understanding why people are hesitant. If things had been tolerable in the areas where these people lived before the riots, would they have preferred to live under leaky tents in freezing weather, watching their children literally freeze to death, rather than returning? Obviously the reason they hesitate is because their prospects on their return are, in their minds, worse than what they face in the camps. These are families that have to confront not just homes that have been burned down but will also have to live with the very people who attacked them in an atmosphere where the resentments that triggered the conflict are still alive. It is hardly surprising then that they do not want to return yet, something that the state government seems incapable of comprehending.

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