Kairana (Shamli): On a chilly winter evening, Shabbir Ahmad was sitting on a cot with a quit wrapped around his body in a small room having asbestos roofing at Alflan colony – inhabited by displaced victims of 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots – in Shamli district’s Dhebri Khurd village. Accompanied by three other elderly persons, he was discussing the assembly elections scheduled to begin from Saturday in western Uttar Pradesh.
They were miffed at the fact they cannot exercise their fundamental right to vote despite being a citizen of the country. Why? They are not registered as voters with the Election Commission (EC).
“Our names were not included in the electoral rolls even three years after the communal violence. Why are we being denied of our right as a citizen of this country?” asks Shabbir Ahmad, who fled his home at Baraut in Bagpat district after the violence engulfed the area.
If a survey conducted by an NGO Afkar India Foundation is to be believed, around 35 percent of people who were displaced after the Muzaffarnagar riots and living in different refugee colonies are not registered in the EC’s electoral rolls. The migrants colony at Daberi Khurd alone has 240 families with 900 are eligible voters, but only 11 of them have valid voter ID card.
Ahmed said he and all victims like him living in the refugee colony were voters of their constituencies but their names were deleted from the voters’ list ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when they migrated from their villages in the wake of riots.
“No government official ever visited this colony to register our names. We approached concerned authorities several times but of no avail,” he added.
Asked why they do not return to their villages when the situation is quite normal there, another person sitting with him said amid puffs of bidis (a type of cheap cigarette made of unprocessed tobacco wrapped in leaves), “How can we go there? We have filed FIRs against the rioters who attacked us and they are still in the village. They have not so far been arrested.”
Amnah, a resident of Lak village – the epicenter of the violence – in Muzaffarnagar district, echoed the same. “Two members of my family were killed and the killers are roaming free in the village. We gathered courage on several occasions to go back but the determination gave way as reality sank in,” she said.There are hundreds of cases where the accused have not been arrested. This reluctance to arrest suspects compounds the fear and pain of Muslim refugees who fled the villages on September 7 and 8 and are still living in refugee settlements Muslim-dominated villages for protection.
“See our sufferings. First, we were evicted from our places where we were born and had to die. We were forced to live in inhuman condition here. Now, we are denied our basic right to franchise. Will now be thrown out of this country advancing the argument that we are not Indians?” she asks in sarcastic manner.
Meanwhile, Shamli District Magistrate Sujeet Kumar said, “Around 48,000 new voter identity cards have been issued. We will look into the matter if somebody has been left out,” he assured.
Many refugee settlements with little basic necessities were built in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts by different social organizations and NGOs in the wake of the plight of the victims in several relief camps. The Afkar colony constructed on 21 bigha (3,66,492.14 square feet) of land donated by a local in Daberi Khurd is one of them.
The foundation built around 300 rooms in the area and each family was allotted one room to live. At present, 240 families live here. Although the colony has electricity connection, it severely lacks clean drinking water. All the tube wells are non-functional, except one that pulls out stinking water.
There is no medical facility. “If any organization makes arrangement of free medicines, we will request the locals to arrange a doctor. We feel helpless when anyone from our family falls ill. There are several cases of snake bite,” said a resident.
As many as 85 children are there who need education, but government schools in the area have allegedly refused to admit them.