At least 40 children dead as UP riot relief camps brace for a long winter

A child is buried at Malakpur refugee camp in Shamli on Wednesday.

Three months after fleeing their homes following the Muzaffarnagar riots, the displaced families face a new crisis the onset of winter. The cold has already claimed many lives, mostly children, according to organisers of the relief camps who put the figure at over 40. The district officials, however, denied any "irregular deaths".

On Wednesday, when The Indian Express visited the relief camp in Malakpur in Shamli district, 42-year-old Mehbooba was burying her four-year-old daughter Khushnooma. Sitting outside the tent three sheets of tarpaulin that make up the walls and some blankets tied together to cover the entrance Mehbooba pointed to holes in the sheets. "My daughter would shiver inside. I put my hand on the holes, because I had to use my dupatta to cover my other children. I have seven children and only four blankets. I have to use two blankets to cover the entrance," she said.

Mehbooba and her husband took Khushnooma to a private hospital on Tuesday evening, after four days of fever. "They said she had pneumonia... Now I have to bury my youngest child," she said.

In Suneti, another camp where 200-odd families take shelter under tarpaulin sheets, 38-year-old Irfan buried his four-year-old daughter Fatima in the early hours of Wednesday. "She had fever for the last four days. We managed to get a government ambulance yesterday, but by the time we reached the local hospital, she was dead," he said.

Murshida, who has been staying at the Malakpur camp since September-end, said she buried her infant son last month. "He would keep crying and shivering. I begged everyone for a quilt, but nobody had quilts then. He died barely 15 days after he was born," she said, brushing away her tears. Murshida said she only had her mother-in-law to help her during delivery. "There was no light, we only had one candle. I thought I would die that night," she recalled.

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