“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.
On the day of my visit, most of these lanes were covered with stagnant pools of water—a result of the ongoing monsoon season. Just behind the mosque were a few small brick structures, which were the only permanent homes in the area. Vijay, a 26-year-old member of the Aftar India Foundation, who accompanied me to the colony, said that about 120 people reside in the permanent homes. The foundation is an independent organisation that works with the survivors of the riots and provides them legal assistance. Chaudhary, one of the authors of the EPW article, is a trustee of the foundation.
Beyond these structures was open farmland, dotted with jhuggis, or semi-permanent structures, with thatched roofs. Small tents stood in the area between the jhuggis—Firdoz would later tell me that these served as toilets for the residents of the colony. “Even the people that live in the finished homes use these because there is no proper drainage system in the houses,” Jaitoon Ali, a middle-aged woman who resides in the settlement, told me.“Look at this,” she continued, pointing at a tent. “Urine flows all the way from here till the hand-pump from where we draw our water.” Firdoz added that several children, including her own, had contracted dengue and chikungunya due to the stagnant water and the open toilets in the area.