By Hofeza Ujjaini and K Mohan Krishna*
The communal carnage in Gujarat, which took place in 2002, not only saw the death of nearly 2,000 persons, mainly Muslims, but it also forced thousands of people to flee from their residence, whether it was an urban township or a village. They fled in search of security and safety. The Gujarat government did set up 102 relief camps to cater to the immediate need of the security and shelter of those who were forced to flee. By the first week of April 2002, an estimated 1,13,697 people from the minority community were living in these camps.
All these persons fitted well into the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), which say that IDPs are “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human–made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.”
The relief camps remained operational for six months after which they were officially closed down by a directive of the Gujarat government. All aid to the camps was blocked on June 30, 2002. Many of the IDPs were forced to return back with a mere Rs 1,250 as cash dole for all they had lost. Others were condemned to a life of permanent compromise and second‐class citizenship. Eeven today, an estimated 5,000 families continue to remain internally displaced. Currently, there are over 83 relief colonies across Gujarat, which is a chilling reminder that IDP problem has come to stay in Gujarat.
A case in point where IDPs live is Faizal Park in Vatwa area of Ahmedabad, which was constructed after the Gujarat carnage of 2002. It has over 100 internally displaced families residing since the riots. Among those who live here are the survivors of perhaps the worst carnage during the riots, of Naroda Patiya, which took place on February 28, 2002 in Naroda in Ahmedabad, in which 97 Muslims were killed by a mob of approximately 5,000 people, instigated by Sangh Parivar outfits. They have been living there in a subhuman condition which has been forced upon them, despite the fact that they are provided with bare minimum facilities by the officialdom even a decade after the riots.
Sadbhavna has touched the colony, despite a widely propagated three-day Sadbhavna fast by the Gujarat chief minister. Finding themselves neglected continuously, the residents initiated correspondence and persuasion with the officials of the Gujarat government and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) for water and sanitation facilities, which they should have been provided normally, without any precondition. They had been pressing for these facilities for quite some time, yet the only success they could achieve was an internal pipeline, in which, incidentally, water never flowed. The alternative before the residents was to plead for water from the AMC through tankers daily.
However, the quantity of water provided was insufficient and erratic. Children sometimes missed schools, as they waited for tankers to fill their water pots and have their ablutions. The community members made several applications for pipeline water connection to the authorities, but it fell on deaf ears. Records show that applications were handed over both to the district collector, Ahmedabad, and the commissioner, South Zone, AMC, on May 9, 2012, on August 4, 2012, on January 16, 2013, and on February 5, 2013. Yet, nothing seemed to change What they received were vague promises.
In the above context of administrative apathy and continued neglect that the community members were forced to go in for a protest action against the authorities. They staged a one-day fast on June 18, 2013, at the AMC headquarters, Sardar Bhavan, Jamalpur, Danapith, Ahmedabad form 9.30 am to 5.00 pm. People from different communities and areas joined in to express solidarity. The demands of the people were for the provision of the following basic facilities:
(1) Adequate drinking water supply,
(2) Proper sewerage facilities, and
(3) Street light facilities.
A leader of the community, Majidbhai, who lost seven members during the riots, along with others submitted a memorandum, asking the authorities to fulfill their demands. The result was, Ahmedabad municipal commissioner Guruprasad Mahapatra held a meeting with a delegation from the community and the city engineer. He asked the latter to solve the problem. The commissioner promised representatives of the community who met him that the colony would be provided with regular water supply. Other needs would also be taken care of, he added, and the deadline for all this, he declared, was by August 31, 2013. On a temporary basis, the AMC officials were asked to increase the supply of drinking water by tankers to the Faizal Park, and clean up the drainage pit of the colony.
During the talks with the delegation, the commission admitted that there was a need to look into provision of the needs of other colonies whose demand were almost similar, including Arsh Colony, Vatwa, Citizen Nagar, Danilimda, Ekta nagar, Vatwa, and Siddiqabad, Juhapura. The delegation took this opportunity to remind the municipal commission that the issue of house ownership still remained pending, which they felt would need a much longer struggle on the part of the affected families.