“The situation has been the same since we moved here—the water makes us fall sick, and women here have to use tiny tents in the open for all things one would do in a bathroom,” Firdoz Ali, a 40-year-old woman residing in Munawwar Hassan colony, a transit camp, told me. The camp is located on the outskirts of Kairana town in Shamli district. Firdoz, formerly a resident of Sherpur village in Muzaffarnagar district, left the village in 2013. “I am yet to receive a ration card and that is why I have to depend on others in the colony for grain to cook for my two children,” she added.
Firdoz is one of thousands of people who were displaced following the communal riots in western districts in Uttar Pradesh—namely Muzaffarnagar and Shamli—in mid 2013. Tens of thousands of people—largely Muslims—were displaced due to the riots, and forced to settle in relief or refugee colonies in the region. In a piece publishedin the Economic and Political Weekly in October 2016, the researchers Harsh Mander, AkramAkhtar Chaudhary, Zafar Eqbal and Rajanya Bose discussed the findings of an in-depth survey of the conditions in which riot survivors and displaced persons were living three years after the violence. The authors noted that close to 75,000 people were displaced due to the riots, but that three months after the violence, the Uttar Pradesh government announced the closure of all relief camps, although thousands were still displaced. The authors added that 50,000 people were permanently expelled from their villages, and 30,000 among them had settled in 65 refugee colonies. “In 41 of the 65 colonies across both districts, three years after the riots, households are still unable to build houses and instead live in makeshift houses with plastic roofs and temporary walls,” the researchers wrote. “In Muzaffarnagar, 83% colonies do not have clean drinking water ... not a single colony has a public toilet.”
Munawwar Hassan—named after the owner of the land on which it stands, the late Munawwar Hassan, who was a member of parliament from Muzaffarnagar—is one such colony. It is situated about five kilometres from Kairana town, and is home to nearly 250 residents. On the way from Kairana to the camp, stretches of empty farmland flank both sides of the road. The settlement appears as if out of nowhere—the only structure visible from the road is a mosque that is currently under construction, the façade of which obscures most of the houses. Behind the mosque, narrow lanes lead into the settlement.