After their kin were murdered, homes burnt and women raped before their eyes during the recent communal clashes, thousands of people fled to the safety of makeshift camps in the worst-hit Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts of Uttar Pradesh.
One such camp in Malakpur, 18 kms from Shamli, housed the largest number of such displaced persons until recently. Death has visited this camp almost on a daily basis since.
It witnessed the maximum (28) number of deaths in the past one month, 25 of them infants, all under a month old.
Murshida Khatoon, 25, one of many grieving mothers in the camp lost her 20-day-old baby a week ago.
A plastic tent surrounded by filth and human excreta is now her home and the family sleeps on dried grass, without a quilt to protect her other children from cold weather.
“We got a quilt after I lost my child,” said Khatoon. “But what is one quilt for a family of seven?”
Another riot survivor, Dilshana Begum, whose five-month-old baby died at the camp, said, “We took loans and sold our motorcycle to collect Rs. 20,000 to pay for the hospital expenses. But even after spending every penny we had, we couldn’t save our child.”
Stories of deep despair can be heard at other camps. Three other camps— Khurban, Badheri Khurd and Barnabi — have witnessed eight deaths, which include four children aged less than 30 days. Too afraid to take the dead back to the villages that were once home, hurried burials are carried out in graveyards adjacent to the camps.
“Newborns and old people are dying of cold. There is a severe lack of warm clothes and toilet facilities in the camps which makes the situation very grim. The last time a medical officer visited any of these camps to treat the inmates was almost a month ago,” says Chaudhary Gulshad, a member of a local committee running the camp.
A number of deaths have been reported from Muzaffarnagar, the epicentre of the bloody clashes.
Shahpur and Basi Kalan camps have seen four deaths while Loi, another camp with a large number of displaced people, has witnessed 12 deaths, the last one a day ago.
Mohammad Shaqir and his wife, Sabira, rushed to a nearby health centre around midnight after their eight-month-old kid woke up screaming and wheezing. The doctor told them that the boy needs to be administered oxygen, a facility they didn’t have. So, the couple rushed to another hospital.
“While we looked for a hospital, I realised that he had stopped breathing,” recalls Shaqir.
“He died in my arms.”
Shamli additional district magistrate Pratap Singh has no information of the deaths in the camps in Shamli.
Muzaffarnagar ADM Indermani Tripathi said that 11 deaths have taken place in the Loi camp. Clearly unaware of the deaths in the camps, Muzaffarnagar chief medical officer SK Tyagi said only “one or two deaths have taken place” in the camps in the district and he has been looking after medical measures for the camps’ inmates.
Rehana Adib, whose organisation Astitva has been involved in the relief work, said many more deaths have gone unreported because the camps lack proper supervision by health officials.
More than 60 people died in the riots in Muzaffarnagar and neighbouring districts of Shamli and Meerut, but now, the humanitarian crisis unfolding in these camps has claimed an equal number of lives.
Three months after the riots, about 18,000 people are still huddled in camps, 4,500 in the Malakpur camp alone. More than 40,000 people were displaced by the riots.
Courtesy: Furquan Ameen Siddiqui, Hindustan Times