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Gujarat: hunger, disease stare in the face of relief camps inmates
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

The rising heat on the India-Pakistan borders has relegated Gujarat to the inside pages of newspapers and off TV screens. Normalcy is limping back in the strife-torn state. For the seventh day there is no big incident. Night curfew is still in vogue in some sensitive areas. 

But for the riot victims, the situation is growing worse with every passing day. Over 160 camps are functioning across the state of Gujarat and at least 47 of these are spread in Gujarat's largest city, Ahmedabad itself. These camps face severe problems of hunger, disease as well as security. NGOs and camp organisers have daunting tasks to cope with meagre resources -- to ward off the growing pressures from the state authorities to close down the camps and to keep hunger and disease at bay from the victims who refuse to return to their original homes for fear of being attacked again. Authorities provide ration to only the registered inmates and even the provided five-days-ration is sufficient for just one day. Unregistered inmates, especially those who came later due to continuing violence, get no relief.

The newest problem faced by the inmates is the outbreak of various contagious diseases. These are caused by the unhygienic conditions which prevail in all the camps due to lack of sanitation and scarcity of water. Organisers say that numerous survivors are suffering from measles, bronchopneumonia, malaria, typhoid, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections. Most of the inmates refrain from visiting government hospitals fearing a threat to their lives if they ventured outside the camps. 

Dr Haroon Sheikh, a government doctor at Godhra civil hospital, said, “Patients are not willing to shift to the government hospital. They are still afraid and refuse to go there. We, however, convince them by saying that there are Muslim doctors here but they still hesitate to spend the night at the hospital. So, after taking short term treatment they go back to the camps. Patients are not even willing to accept medicines given by the government and they are taking it only from the camp organisers.” 

The state government has failed to set up a round-the-clock medical service at the camps. Doctors have warned that if proper action is not taken at the earliest, diseases like measles and typhoid would reach epidemic proportions in the camps. Besides, the current summer season has also given rise to diseases such as diarrhoea and gastroenteritis and many new cases are being continuously reported.

Contagious diseases apart, almost 95 percent of the riot survivors are now afflicted with mental disorders. Undoubtedly, the blood-letting in the state has left a deep imprint on the minds of the victims. Rape, mutilation and roasting alive of their kith and kin before their own eyes have left an everlasting imprint on these victims. Mental-health professionals report that at present victims in great numbers are reporting cases of insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorders, depression and other mental problems. A visit to the relief camps by a team of psychiatrists revealed that at least nine out of ten persons in the camps can be found having one or the other symptoms of mental disorders.

Though the spread of diseases is one of the major problems for the camp inmates, procurement of food is the gravest problem of all. Hunger in relief camps has reached crisis level. Thousands of people compete for space in small graveyards, mosques, schools and similar places which lack space and facilities for such numbers. The population at the relief camps has been bursting at the seams.

An uncooperative state government has so far refused to concede the actual figures of the inmates as provided by camp organisers. In over 160 relief camps spread over various districts of Gujarat, over one hundred thousand survivors are crammed. Gujarat state government’s figures are much less. For example, according to the latest government survey, there are 725 inmates at the Vatva relief camp. The organisers, however, put the figures close to over 1700. 

Finding the government’s surveys to be full of anomalies, the organisers of at least seven relief camps approached Gujarat high court. The court ruling compelled the state government to accept the figures given by the camps. The Vatva Relief camp organisers have now decided to follow suit and approach the high court. 

“The numbers of inmates in this relief camp are close to 1700, but we have been getting ration for just 700 people. That too has completely stopped since May 7. We are not getting anything now from the government to feed these people,” said MK Ajmeri, organiser of the Vatva Relief Camp. Earlier, camp inmates had to make do with just khichdi [a mixture of rice and lentils] all the time. Making rotis [bread] in huge quantities was simply out of question. For most of the victims any kind of nutritional vegetables and fruits has become a dream. Recently a camp was closed down in Viramgam town due to non-availability of government relief material. Unable to return to their homes the inmates now roam around.

The so-called monetary compensation to the riot victims being provided by the Gujarat government has also made the victims crazy. The majority has not been paid any compensation whatsoever. But a few of those who received it have either died of heart attack or at least received a stroke due to the measly sums offered. 

Babubhai Abdul Hamid is one such example. He died of a heart attack on May 2 at the relief camp near Dariakhan Ghummat in Ahmadabad. He had received a cheque for rupees 5,000 [just over one hundred dollars] as compensation for his burnt house and shop! 

When Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Shah Alam relief camp in Ahmadabad, arrangements were hastily made to give the camp at least a respectable look. Tents were hastily erected and some toilets were constructed. There were just 20 toilets for 120000 people who had taken shelter in this historical shrine. The government had also announced to distribute rupees 1250 to each riot-hit family as an immediate relief. 

All refugees in the Hindu relief camp at Kankaria were promptly paid this amount, but many in Shah Alam camp failed to see this meagre amount coming. It will be interesting to note that this fake "Hindu" relief camp at Kankaria was hastily erected to show the prime minister that even Hindus were affected by the riots. People were brought to this fake camp after being paid considerable money. 

The Gujarat government had announced that it will pay rupees one hundred thousand [US$ 2040] to the nearest kin of every person killed in the riots. The prime minister also announced a similar amount to be paid to such victims from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund. He also announced during his Gujarat visit to provide rupees fifty thousand [$1020] as compensation for permanently disabled persons and a similar amount to people whose houses were completely destroyed, and rupees fifteen thousand for partially destroyed houses in rural areas. 

But nothing came off these promises except media headlines. There are only a handful of people who have been paid the promised compensation for their relatives killed by the supernationalist criminals. People who lost their properties and businesses too are still awaiting the compensation.

Another victim, Ismailbhai Jamilbhai, a resident of Vasna, Ahmadabad, lost most of his property and household goods when his house in Guptanagar Housing Colony was looted and damaged by rioters. But he was shattered to receive a mere rupees 500 [$10] as one time payment for his loss and damages!. Reality has shattered his estimates and dreams to start a new life. 

Abdul Karim R Shelat, coordinator of a relief camp in the largest Muslim locality Juhapura in Ahmadabad, says that only about 40 per cent of the total 6,000 riot-affected people staying in the camps in Juhapura have been compensated. But, even those compensated have got very little solace. With just rupees five hundred or one thousand how does the government expect them to rebuild their shattered lives?'

The victim who has received the largest sum as relief amount is Jehanatbibi Muhammad Shah. She has been given rupees 12700 [$ 259]!. She says it is peanuts and asks as to how she is supposed to restart her life with this pittance?. Her house was looted and then burnt down. "With no means of livelihood left I am no better than a beggar. How can I go back to a home which does not exist and how do I start rebuilding with what I have got?" asks she. 

Though the government claims that it has paid compensation to the relatives of 417 families and injury compensation worth rupees 6.1 million in 234 cases, there are no reports or lists of the people who have received the compensation. In Shah Alam Camp, refuge of the Naroda Patia victims which was one of the worst massacre sites in Gujarat, only seven people have been given compensation for their relatives who were killed…

On the other hand there is rampant discrimination in the payment of compensation to victims. 'Compensation for injured people varies for Muslims and Hindus. Muslims receive rupees one thousand to two thousand for injuries while the compensation paid to Hindus ranges between rupees ten thousand to fifteen thousand,' says an inmate, Mohsin Qadri.

There are other issues too. In many instances government officials have refused paying compensation without physical verification which is almost impossible in the present cases where whole houses and shops and business establishments have been looted and burnt down. It is also being said by government officials that money will be paid only at the original site of their homes and shops. This means that the victims who were chased from their houses will have to return to be targeted and looted once again by the rioters. It is also being said that compensation will be paid only after the victims have physically identified their homes and business establishments. Victims are also being asked for "evidence" including electricity or telephone bills or rent receipts which are impossible to procure in the current situation when homes stand gutted and people are afraid to venture out of the relief camps. (Inputs from SU Rahman 
and Danish A Khan)

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