Wet and exhausted, uprooted victims wait for a place to go

Front483 families piled their children and belongings together on 30-odd government tempos and trucks and left, pulling their buffaloes and goats alongside.

On Monday night, when the temperature dropped to near zero in Muzaffarnagar district and rain added to the chill, the district administration informed 300 families living out in the open for the last four months that they had 24 hours to pack up and leave.

In adjoining Shamli, where riot refugees have been huddling in 12 relief camps, district authorities told community leaders "hosting" them that they had until January 4 to empty out the camps completely.

Consequently, over Monday and Tuesday, 483 families piled their children and belongings together on 30-odd government tempos and trucks and left, pulling their buffaloes and goats alongside. Some 2,000 of those who left had fled from Fugana village, where the largest number of riot FIRs were registered, including six of gangrape.

Some of them headed to the wet, muddy pieces of open land they have purchased in Loi or Neem Kheda with the Rs 5-lakh compensation the government has given them; others sought out a small bit of courtyard or a verandah in the home of a generous benefactor in Loi.

Still others went in search of shelter in two rooms at a government school in Muzaffarnagar, or in the cluster of 70-odd houses that the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind is building in Khampur.

On Tuesday, many of these families sat huddled at the bus stand in Neem Kheda, apparently with nowhere else to go. A few of the men struggled to erect cloth or plastic sheets above their heads; others simply sat or lay exhausted on charpais in the open, getting gently soaked in the fine rain that fell.

"Jab rakshak bhakshak ban jaye toh kya hoga? This time not only the state authorities but also the village pradhan turned against us. They said paperwork for the compensation could continue, but we needed to get off land owned by the government, and to protect ourselves from the cold. How are we being protected from the cold here?" said 23-year-old Afsana, as she pulled some donated woollens on her children Kashish, 2, and Sahir, 4.

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