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Genocide in Rural Gujarat: The Experience of Dahod District
A report prepared by
Forum Against oppression of Women and Aawaaz-E-Niswaan
Bombay, June 2002
Situation of camps
More than 10,000 people were displaced from their homes and many are still living in relief camps in Dahod district. Relief camps only receive government assistance in the form of rations. Tents, the only shelter available for the camp residents, have only been available on rent (which is not paid for by the government). All other requirements of the camps are also being taken care of by the local community itself. Even the space is not necessarily provided by the government. Many of the camps, especially where people have been forced to move back to their villages, are being conducted in the remains of destroyed homes and businesses, which lack roofs, walls, windows, plumbing and electricity.
Camps do not account for all the victims. Those who are not provided a camp in their local area and have no choice but to try and occupy the rubble of their destroyed homes or live with their relatives who are not as badly affected. People in the camps are also being forced to go back to occupy their destroyed homes and businesses in their villages under the pressure from local government officials, e.g. the district Collectors, and from Gujarat State ministers, despite the lack of safety, shelter and income. The State has already sent a GR according to which all camps will cease receiving rations after May 31 and the fear is that they will have to be dismantled by then. More recently, some press reports had reported Mr. Narendra Modi assuring that camps will continue as long as they are required. We are yet to see any implementation of this assurance thus far.
The pressure to not have too many people in one camp in the town has been constantly applied by the State functionaries. So there have been constant and systematic efforts at getting people back first to their state (in case of those who fled and took refuge in Rajasthan), then to their district (those who went to camps in Panchmahals were asked to return back to the district) and then to their village camp (something that has been done in all the villages which had a large affected population like Fatehpura, Sukhsar and Sanjeli). So the numbers in the camps and the situation in the camps is constantly changing.
We give below the details of the camps in Dahod district that we visited and the major concerns of these camps.
There were three camps in Jhalod, roughly from March 5 through April 25. Camp 1 had housed 362 people, Camp 2 had housed 998 people, and Camp 3 had housed 950 people.
People in the camps were from the nearby villages of Rajpur, Chitrodia, Kaladungra, Sitavali, Munkhosla, Sanjeli, Seetavatli, Rangrej, Jhalod town, and Moti Bandibaar. On the 25th of April when we went there we were told that people from around 30 households of village Munhkhosla were not in any position to return back due to issues of safety and the lack of any appropriate compensation for lost property.
On April 25th itself, the Collector Mr. S. S. Pandor, who had just taken charge a couple of days ago, visited the camps and against the will of the residents and camp organisers, got the camps dismantled that very afternoon. This was his first visit to the area on taking office. He in fact sent a written notice to the camp organisers asking them to dismantle the camps. Later he had to take back the order although this has been done only orally.
Since then, the Mamlatdaar has apparently told some camp organizers that they can restart the camps, but the people were already dispersed and have been forced to relocate to other places. As of today, the rations have not stopped, although the camps themselves have been dismantled to the point that they cannot be fully reopened. These people are now living with relatives, or are renting rooms, which is quite expensive as all have lost their sources of income. Some people are attempting to live in the ruins of their destroyed homes and many from the nearby villages like Sanjeli and Sukhsar are forced to go back.
The need for the continuation of the camp is so strong that even now the affected people are requesting the Collector to reopen the camp and he has given a verbal assurance for this in a meeting that he had with the residents. (This meeting was held on 21st May, 2002).
There are a total of 3 camps in Dahod. The total number of people in camp 1 and 2 is approximately 1800. Camp 3, housing members of the Bohra community, is housing roughly 800 people. Many people at this camp have been given housing on community resources. At present, the camps are still functioning, although they are under heavy pressure to close them by the end of May.
The Dahod camps were set up around the 2nd and 3rd of March when people started arriving there from nearby villages like Sanjeli, Piplod, Limkheda, etc. These camps were started by the community itself and for the first few weeks they were not even getting rations from the State.
For some time they had set up a formal large camp in the Masjid where the main Muslim community in Dahod is situated, but as more and more people were relocated to houses of the local people, the tents were dismantled. Many of the people who had come to Dahod had relatives already living there and thus some were accommodated in their homes. Others have been given houses to stay in on rent or for free. Many local people have in fact vacated large parts of their houses to give them to refugee families. Few people in these camps have thus had to stay in tents in the hot sun.
Medical care too had been provided by the local community. Extensive work on compiling data and getting compensation claims too has been conducted fairly systematically here. According to reports, the then Collector, Mr. Rathod, had been instrumental in the assessment and distribution of compensation claims, both for the dead and the destroyed property. By the 24th of April, when we visited Dahod, already some families had been relocated to Sanjeli.
This camp has been set up in the Agriculture Produce Marketing Yard in Fatehpura. There were approximately 1135 people in this camp as of 25th April, 2002. Of these, 117 families are from Fatehpura and another 60 families are from adjacent Karodia. The Camp has been functioning since the 13th of March. The total number of affected population is of 1720 people plus the Bohra Muslims (around 200).
The camp is run by people from the local Muslim community itself; the only help the state is providing is the ration. The government had put up the tents before getting the refugees back from Rajasthan where they had gone. But these had to be later discontinued as it was extremely expensive. At present, there is a very inadequate temporary tent which falls many times a day and takes hours to put back up. Most people are sleeping inside the large warehouse spaces of the Marketing Yard, or are sleeping on the cement platforms in front of the grain and produce storage sheds. All cooking is done on wood fires.
Camp residents are being told that even the Marketing Yard will be taken away by the 31st of May. Rations will not be provided after this date. There are major concerns for safety, and of shelter from the rains. In the event that the camps closed by the 31st, they are absolutely in no position to rehabilitate about 50-55 families, i.e. roughly 400 men, women and children, who literally have nowhere to go and no income to buy or rent housing. Camp organizers require 9-12 months to make adequate arrangements for these 55 families, at least.
On 6th of April people returned back to Sukhsar from Jhalod relief camp. As of April 30, there were 350 people living in the Sukhsar camp. When it was first opened, there were roughly 600 people living there. They have cleaned up the remaining portion of a house and all are staying there. There is no enclosed space to sleep as all of the Muslim owned structures in the town have been gutted, window openings broken, and roofs smashed in (resulting in the destruction of roughly 40% of the town). From 6th to 16th April people came at night and fired in the air near the relief camp. On 16th April, some people came in a Maruti van, stopped next to the SRP Police camp, and fired into the relief camp itself while people were sleeping. Three boys from the camp got injured. The police watched and did not respond. Since then, the police on duty have been changed and firing has ceased.
By May 2nd, there were around 750 people who had returned from various relief camps, mainly from Dahod, Jhalod, and Sajjangadh in Rajasthan. They have not brought back their children and young girls, for fear how to protect them. They are all huddled in one big broken burnt house, which they have cleaned up. No rebuilding has begun in the town. At least half of the town was destroyed in the recent attacks. It appears as though it has been bombed.
On May 2nd, members of the fact finding team witnessed a truck load of people come and stand, with its engine running, right in front of the house where the Sanjeli camp is being organized. Two men in front played Dholak; it was clear that there was no reason for this but to add to the fear of these already-traumatized people.