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Gujarat camps being closed down

These are nervous and spine-chilling moments for the hapless riot victims in Gujarat as many of the relief camps are being shut down by the authorities in their bid to show that "normalcy" has returned to the state. With rainy season fast approaching, it would be only a tempest of miseries all the way for the victims whose majority has nowhere to go. Already serious disputes between camp organisers and the administration have broken out and the poor roofless victims are caught in an unseemly crossfire.

Home Minister LK Advani, who visited Gujarat on June 16, said during his visit, "I am satisfied with the stateís efforts as many riot victims were now returning to their homes. At one time in the state, there were over one hundred and fifty thousand riot victims in 121 camps. But with no untoward incidents taking place, people have returned to their homes. And now, in 19 camps, there are just 18,500 people. In the last week alone, over 12,000 people had gone home."

Advani also said that the administration was taking measures for the rehabilitation of these victims and that he was satisfied with its efforts. Narender Modi, the thoroughly condemned chief minister of Gujarat, got yet another clean chit from his mentor.

However, things are not at all normal in the camps. Inmates are already in the process of experiencing what would visit them in not so distant future. Just recently in the first week of June itself early monsoon showers visited Gujarat and relief camp inmates had only an open sky and a downpour of miseries. With the relief camps on the verge of closure and most of them having been shut down, it would only be a nightmare for the hapless victims. Overcast skies pregnant with rain after all predict what more is in store in future. 

Umarbhai Saiyed, a volunteer at the Shah Alam Relief Camp in Ahmedabad, said, "There was chaos at our camp. People started running helter-skelter as soon as the dust storm started." Relief camps such as Gomtipur Chartoda Kabrastan and Bapunagar Aman Chowk also witnessed chaotic scenes. "We had nowhere to go. All of us sat with our families, covering ourselves with old rugs and quilts, waiting for the showers to stop. We were grateful the rain did not last long though even then the brief downpour was enough to wet our belongings," said Shabnambanu Mohammadmiya, an inmate at Bapunagar camp. 

Rains apart, another grave problem before the camp organisers is the newborn babies for whom special care and arrangements are needed, which is nearly impossible in the present circumstances. There are over 30 babies at the Shah Alam Relief Camp, more than 20 at the Bapunagar camp and about 15 at Gomtipur camp. Most of the newborns are less than three months old while some are only a week old.

Now when the relief camps are being shut down one after another, thousands of refugees who are still unable to pick up the threads to rebuild their lives and homes are thrown out on the streets without shelter and food. Their homes have either been burnt down or damaged beyond repair. Even the paltry sums of upto rupees 2,500 [US$ 51] provided to families to "repair" their homes is grossly inadequate and beyond comprehension. 

Most of the camps have already shut down or are on the verge of imminent forced closure with the inmates having nowhere to go. Jehangir Nagar camp was shut down on June 1. Similarly in Vatva area of Ahmedabad three of the four relief camps have been ordered closed.

"We have to come to repair our homes. Our Jehangir Nagar camp has been closed down but our house is in such a bad state that we canít stay in it. After whatever little we can repair, we go back to the camp to spend the night," said 40-year-old Mohammed Ashfaq who had been staying with his family here. 

Another camp inmate complained, "We were given rupees 2,500. But itís impossible to repair our house with such an amount of money. We come and clean the houseÖ.sit for sometime and go back to Zia camp."

During April nearly 80,000 people were sheltered in 60 camps in Ahmedabad. Officials now say that there are only 10 camps in the city which are presently housing almost 14,000 people. They also claimed that more than 15,000 riot victims have been helped to re-settle in the past ten days. There are clear indications that the number of camps will go down further if Modi administration has its way. q

Recounting an unusual happening, Mohsin Kadri, chief organiser of Shah-e-Alam Roza relief camp, said that late on Sunday June 16 night a team of officials from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation landed at the camp and said that of the 4,500 inmates, 1,500 riot victims would be relocated to a municipal school premises in Danilimda. This was reportedly an unprecedented happening. "The move was sudden and without consulting the camp organisers. The Naroda-Patia victims, one of the worst during the recent pogroms, donít want to go anywhere," said Kadri. Stiff resistance from the camp inmates forced the officials to retreat but they see in this a beginning to prepare grounds for the campís closure.

On the other hand, Ahmedabad District Collector K Srinivas had something else to say. He contended, "We are not putting any pressure on the camps to close down. It is all voluntary. We have conferred with the camp inmates and a majority wants to go home. Only a few who stayed in Naroda-Patia and Gulbarg Society are not decided yet." He further explained, "What happened in Shah-e-Alam Roza camp was part of a temporary evacuation drill (in case of sudden rainfall) which is conducted at all relief camps. We will also set up water-proof tin shelters for those who will not be going back home in the near future."

Sangh Parivar (RSS family) elements are preparing for another show of strength in Gujarat. VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS have planned to organise "Rath Yatras" (chariot rallies) to celebrate and make Hindus "aware" of their recent "victory" by conducting the worst-ever anti-Muslim pogroms in the state. This is yet another step to keep the Hindu-Muslim polarisation in the state intact. The state chief minister Narender Modi has indicated early elections in the state to make use of the current communal polarisation in which many Hindus may vote for those who "taught Muslims a lesson.".

Though, the relief camps are being closed down but the inmates have another lurking fear staring at them. What if the Rath yatras turn violent and Muslims are targeted once again? It is this fear that is keeping at bay most of the riot victims who are being compelled to return to their homes. "Threat of a violent Rath yatra looms large and one cannot throw these 1,000-odd inmates out of the camp just like that," said Mujib Ansari, coordinator of the Aman Chowk camp at Gomtipur.

There are problems galore for the riot victims. In the next few days things are likely to get even worse with the monsoon hitting the state in full force. Alongwith the rain the threat of major epidemics breaking out is an acknowledged probability if no precautionary steps are taken immediately. 

Proper dwellings is another major problem for the victims in the case of forced eviction in the wake of camp closures. Besides, planned rath yatras will also keep the Gujarat pot on the boil. As such there is no respite for the helpless victims in the foreseeable future. 

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