By Johanna Lokhande and Hozefa Ujjaini*
The much-talked-about 2002 Gujarat riots have hit headlines of late for various reasons. Without getting into the complexity of what happened and how it happened and who is responsible for it, one would like to draw attention to some of the crucial aspects of a post-conflict situation. The bloodshed and destruction along with immediate impact have many other long-term implications which sometimes go unnoticed by the policy makers. The riots left a huge chunk of people homeless and displaced- the displacement was an immediate effect of the aftermath of the riots and rehabilitating them became an immediate need that had to be acted upon.
When the temporary relief camps closed down after 6 months when the government stopped supplies the camps, immediate resort for shelter had to be sought- the announced compensation package at that point of time, did not account for any form of rehabilitation- families who had become homeless, who had lost their houses and had left their villages due to fear had nowhere to return. The government with its limited approach did not envisage the magnitude of the violence and with limited application of mind made monetary compensation for losses which did not consider rehabilitation, the burden of these destitute people came on to the civil society that was tirelessly trying to help the victims in all possible ways.
At that crucial stage, there were people who offered their lands benevolently to build houses for all those who were displaced 86 such relief colonies were built across Gujarat to rehabilitate all those who had become homeless, it was the collective effort of the civil society organisations and various individuals that these people nearly 2 lakh people who had been displaced found refuge in these settlements. These settlements at that point of time had been allotted to the persons who had lost everything and was homeless.
Both in the rural and urban areas in most of the colonies these houses were given to the survivors free of cost, without any ownership. The ownership of the land and houses remained with either the person who owned the land or with the committees who had built these colonies. In 11 colonies a token amount was taken from the people who were allotted the houses. A large number of these colonies were opened to people without a single penny being paid. This solved the immediate problem of returning to safer places. This also gave rise to an entire community of internally displaced persons or conflict induced internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The newly acquired identity did not ensure any rights, it was an identity that was forced on to the people living in these colonies excluded from the mainstream, and most of these colonies are built on the outskirts or on peripheries where access to “normalcy” seemed like a distant dream. Physical violence that is front of the naked eye does get over by curbing it, but the miserable conditions of people living in these colonies without basic facilities is a continued form of violence that had a deafening silence. Without basic amenities these colonies were like graveyards with structures that did not even bear the name plate of the resident of that structure but just the name of the person who had donated the land or build the place.
The silence broke in August 2006, when Farah Naqvi and GaganSethi filed a complaint on the issue of continued internal displacement in Gujarat before the newly constituted National Commission for Minorities (NCM). The NCM was the first quasi-judicial body to send a team to actually visit 17 colonies in Gujarat spread across 4 districts. The recommendations made by the commission and the plight of the colonies came to light and when the government was held responsible, the then chief secretary went on record to say that these people have not returned because they have better employment opportunities. It was with the intervention of the Supreme Court Commissioner under the Right to Food Dr NC Saxena who had brought to the notice of the SC of the irregularities of the Right to Food schemes in these colonies, the collectors of each districts were instructed to pay heed to this situation and were supposed to implement these schemes, this led to minimal facilities being provided in the colonies.
With continued efforts put in by Janavikas, an Ahmedabad based organization, by engaging with people in these colonies, basic amenities beginning with ration cards, election cards in some places electricity, roads and water supply was made available. Much as the government tried invisibilizing them many efforts were made to visibilize the IDPs in Gujarat by making several representations to various commissions. The UN Guiding Principles on internally displaced persons puts stresson the state to take full responsibility of survivors of violence and also ensure safe and secure rehabilitation.
The Government of Gujarat has failed miserably on this count; taking into account the entire situation, when the deplorable situation of the IDPs was presented and a charter of demands was made to the NHRC in April 2007 by Antarik Visthapit Haq Rakshak Samiti and Centre for Social Justice, the NHRC directed the state government to respond duly to the charter of demands. The government has paid minimal heed to the needs of the people residing in these colonies.
Today, after 12 years of living in dire straits, the residents of these colonies are facing a new challenge — to add insult to injury all these colonies that have been built on private land do not give ownership rights to the residents of these colonies. Out of the 83 colonies in only in 17 colonies the houses are in the name of the residents. Availing passport, pan card and Aadhaar card becomes difficult for these residents as they do not have any document that certifies them as residents of these areas. In certain places, where committees were formed to overlook at the welfare of the colonies, these committees have turned hostile to the displaced people and have threatened the residents about losing their homes if they protested unnecessarily.
The much-talked-about and much-documented Citizen Nagar in the Bombay Hotel area of Ahmedabad is situated right in the middle of a lethal poisonous land field where the garbage of the entire city is deposited. The poor residents have nowhere to go, neither do they have houses in the colony in their name. Lack of potable drinking water, poisonous gases being emitted constantly from the land field where the garbage is burnt, the local authorities seem to be oblivious to human existence in that area. The Monsoons create havoc in that area and makes living condition inhuman. Peepli village in Anand district a small colony of 8 houses was built by a private donor who offered land to some of the displaced persons in his farm where he allowed them to build houses and live, after the demise of this donor his son refuses to allow those people to live in those houses so much so has cut the water supply these 8 houses live in dire condition now.
Islamic Relief Committee, Jamate-E- Ulema Hind, Gujarat Sarvajanik Welfare Trust, private builders like Nawab Khan, owner of the Sona Cut Piece, United Economic Forum (Hyderabad), North West Relief Trust Baroda, All India Memon Organisation Mumbai, Anjuma-e-Tamir-e Millat, Dhoraji Yatim Khana, Manav Kalyan Trust, Muslim Sankalan Samiti etc. rose to the occasion of offering help and also helped to rebuild the lives of all these displaced persons. After 12 years all these organizations have turned their backs on the people refusing to entertain them.
Some families from Citizen Nagar went all the way to Kerela to find solution to their housing problems. Incidents of moral policing and sectarian divide conflicts internally within communities have been rampant in these areas. This sort of forced ghettoization excludes communities in distress from the main streams completely.
Simultaneously, Visthapit Ladat Samiti – comprising of displaced persons, under the guidance and support of Ahmedabad-based organisaiton Janvikas, has been consistently approaching the government to take notice of the deplorable conditions of these colonies. Representations have been made to the local authorities there have been protest demonstration in various districts as well.
One of the members of the Visthapit Ladat Samiti had made a representation stating the demands of the displaced persons specifically stating that the displaced person should have ownership to the house they reside in and the government should intervene to provide assistance. Addressed to the Chief Minister of Gujarat and the State Human Rights Commission, the letter to the chief minister was transferred to the revenue department and the revenue department dismissed the application. The SHRC went a step further and cited that since the matter is more than one year old hence as per section 36(2) of the Human Rights Act there is no action deemed in the said matter.
The question that arises here, and is an alarming, is that what actually constitutes human right violation? Is it just the incident that took place, or the impact of the incident is also necessary? The riots happened in 2002, but here nearly 3000 families wait for some sort of stability and they have been demanding it by asking for housing rights.
Today housing rights are the most difficult to avail, it is necessary to reflect on some of these benevolent acts done in the heat of the moment. In the absence of any specific policies that take care of conflict induced IDPs there is a grave sadness among those who have been displaced. With the passage of time it is very conveniently assumed that the grief and the difficulties have died down and people have returned to normalcy, these assumptions push communities to the margins making them invisible. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Committee estimates nearly 6 lakh people in India remain displaced due to conflicts the numbers might not be alarming compared to the population of India, but the fact is also that India has been prone to several small and big internal conflicts among communities; the number will only increase in the coming years.
It is not enough that the government offers compensation to the families who have been affected; the disproportionate manner in which the government operates in awarding compensation does not cater to the economic problems that displaced communities’ faces. Just like there are specific policies for persons who are displaced due to development projects there should be policies for person displaced due to conflict. The same demand had been put forth to the Planning Commission of India by civil society organization before the 12th five year plan was being decided, but with very little success only some parts of the 12th five year plan document successfully recognized IDP as a category.
The two major concerns that emerge are, when individuals and organization offer support and rehabilitation, what measures should be kept in mind to ensure long term security for person who are displaced. In absence of a comprehensive policy by the government what measures should be taken to ensure that no long term damages are done.
Visthapit Ladat Samiti has made the following recommendations to all the concerned authorities:
- The government should make a policy for rehabilitation of conflict induced IDPs.
- The government should provide basic amenities to these 83 relief colonies on immediate basis
- The government should make a special provision for transfer of housing rights from charitable organizations to individual IDP family residing in the relief colonies.
- In the absence of a policy, government should come out with a special scheme for proper rehabilitation of the IDPs.
- In the absence of a policy, government should provide alternate housing to the IDP’s in ongoing urban and rural housing schemes.
 Independent Journalist and member of the NAC
 Social Activist, Appointed Special Rappeture in 2006 by NHRC
Homeless in Homeland
*Senior Ahmedabad-based activists