A harsh winter
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Three months after communal conflict forced large numbers of Muslim families to flee their homes and villages, they are at risk from the elements. The onset of winter has reportedly claimed several lives in relief camps. Most appallingly, nearly 40 children, including newborns, have died because of exposure to the cold, the lack of warm clothing and adequate shelter. Though the district administrations dispute these figures, reports of the lived experience in these camps confirm that state assistance has been feeble. Those who are still huddled in camps are overwhelmingly poor families who have little to rely on apart from the relief provided by the administration and community groups.
There have been hundreds of weddings among these families, compelled, in part, by the sense that single young women were vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault. There has been illness and death leading directly from the dislocation and squalid conditions in the camps. The state authorities must know that their delay and inefficiency is taking such a terrible toll.
By all accounts, the primary concern of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav — whose control over the reins of power in a regime headed by his son, Akhilesh, is becoming increasingly conspicuous — is with shutting down the camps. Relief camps, after all, hurt the image of the government, especially one that flaunts its "secular" credentials. Yet the unvarnished reality is that after having allowed lives and property to be destroyed in communal violence under its watch, and failing to provide minimal security to these families, the SP government also seems to have abandoned its responsibility to provide relief to those rendered homeless. After a large-scale tragedy, the slow rebuilding of lives is the greater challenge, and government commitment often wanes as public attention turns elsewhere. In Muzaffarnagar, however, the SP has not only betrayed the basic contract with the citizens, to provide security and welfare, it has also clearly abdicated its responsibility towards the state's minority community. Only a year ago, the SP had devoted 12 out of 31 promises in its manifesto to Muslim concerns, promising welfare schemes, government jobs, security-free loans, rolling back of false terror cases. But when it comes to concretely providing security, medical assistance, shelter, supplies and a just rehabilitation for the citizens of Muzaffarnagar, the SP seems unable to square up to the task.
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