PUCL July 2002

20 July 20/02

A tale of Maretha riot affected persons

Maretha, a village just 9 km from the Vadodara City, is one of the villages where the Riot Affected Persons (RAPs) have not been allowed to enter and resettle in their own homes.

In the first week of April, following an attack by militant mob, all the 82 Muslim families of Maretha were forced to flee to Vadodara City. Currently, some 35 of these families are living in the Charotar Rahat Camp in Yakutpura area of Vadodara City and the rest are living with their relatives in surrounding villages. All is waiting for an opportunity to return to their village Maretha.

Recently, the district collector and police commissioner had promised to help these RAPs to return to their homes in Maretha, but soon afterwards changed their position. The administration succumbed to the pressure from a few notorious communal elements of the locality, which have successfully blocked the rehabilitation of the RAPs.

The state administration has declared the situation as "normal". Yet these 82 families from Maretha, continue to languish in this camp, which has been "officially" closed since June 30!

Because of its "closed" status, the government relief and ration has been stopped. If only, the families in the Charotar camp could shut their pain of hunger, as easily as the government shut the ration! These families of Maretha are staring at the dual tragedy - hunger and inability to return to their homes. Today, they are completely dependent on community support that is fast proving to be inadequate.

Maretha was a relatively safe village for all its residents, Hindus and Muslims, for over a month since the tragedy in Godhra and the riots that followed. Indeed, some Muslim families who were displaced from Makerpura area of Vadodara City during the initial days of riots had taken shelter in Maretha. But this peace did not last long.In the first week of April all the 82 Muslim families and other displaced families who had taken shelter in Maretha were attacked and forced to leave the village by a militant mob. Their houses were looted and then set on fire destroyed. The standing crop in the farms destroyed or looted. Except for eight partially destroyed houses, all others were completely destroyed. In addition, about forty-five vehicles including motorbikes, auto-rickshaws and tempos were burned and destroyed.

After wandering through the countryside, these families finally took shelter at Charotar Rahhat Camp at Yakutpura, which was already teeming with over two thousand RAPs from different parts of Vadodara City and district.

Officially the Charotar Rahhat Camp is closed from June 30, 2002 onwards. According to Camp Sanchalak shri Najirbhai Gilatewala, the administration has stopped supplying ration to the camp despite that they are providing shelter and food to thirty five families who are still in the Camp. So far the camp organizers have managed to secure supply of relief and ration from the community sources. But these sources are now drying up as the resources of the Muslim community have been stretched to limits during these four months havoc. And the camp organizers are in dilemma. They must find a way to either resettle these families in their village as early as possible, or the
families will have to scatter and fend for themselves.
District police and colloctorate had organized several meeting for rehablitation of the families. Recently on 15/07/02 the Police Inspector Shri Rana (PI) of Makarpura police station hold a meeting of majority community people of Maretha. The representatives of RAPs too were also invited. Meeting took place in the police station itself. The representative of RAPs requested for their early rehabilitation stating that the camps are closed and now they have no other place to go and for those who have took shelter with the relatives, the relatives too are not in position to support these RAPs. The PI explained the situation of RAPs to the majority community people. Only few people from the majority community
prevailed upon the meeting. They told the PI in harshly that they would not allow the entry of all the 82 families. Only the 8-9 families who are owner of agricultural land in the village would be allowed to come and stay in the village. PI too in return retorted strongly and warned them that he would not allow any obstruction in the resettlement process. He told categorically that all the persons who are enrolled in the latest electoral rolls all would have to be
resettled into their respective village. The electoral rolls are government document and it is his duty to act according to it. He even warned the majority community people that if they would tried to maneuver and to create the trouble then he would not hesitate to take recourse of firing. The meeting was dissolved with firm note. However the PI told the representative to come to Maretha village next day where the joint commissioner was going to hold the meeting.On the next day 17/07/02 one another development took place. Mr.
Ganibhai Kureshi who is the chairman of Minority Board of State Government phoned the collector, Vadodara to give hearing to representative of RAPs. The representative took the view that they have explained their position to PI Rana a day before so it would be more appropriate to see the collector than to remain present in the meeting held in the village.

At about 7 PM they went to see Collector Vadodara. The collector told them that right at that time the joint commissioner Shri Thakur is holding meeting with the villagers and would resolve the issue of rehabilitation. Then the representative told the collector that their all houses are completely destroyed and demolished and there is no place to cover their head. They urged the
collector to erect temporary shelter- Tents- so that they can stay in camp for night and in the daytime they can start cleaning and repairing their houses. The collector categorically told them that the Government has stopped providing such temporary shelter and he would not be able to provide the same.

On the next day on 17/07/02, the representative of RAPs went to ses
the commissioner of police Mr. Tuteja. Mr. Tuteja told them that it would be better if they can see Mr. Thakur who had meeting with the villagers' yeasterday. He also gave them a letter addressed to Shri P.C. Thakur. With the letter they went to see Mr. Thakur. Mr. Thakur broke the earth shaking news that looking to currant Mahaul- Vatavaran it would be better that only 8-9 families goes to Maretha. The shocked and desperate RAPs told that how it is possible to survive for few of them in such Mahaul- Vatavaran. Mr. P.C. Thakur
offered them enough protection but then what about remaining 73 families. Where they would go and when their rehabilitation would take place was unsettled question over which the meeting ended up. The representative of RAPs came to the camp with heart breaking news. On hearing this completely opposite development, the atmospheres of the camp went into dead silence. Five six notorious elements of village with support of some influential persons of the area succeeded in obstructing their return to their own homes.

The rehabilitation issue of RAPs from Maretha is deadlocked. Officially the Charotar camp is closed and all have returned to the village. So there is no urgency on the part of administration to deal with these criminal elements firmly. On the other hand the camp organizers are finding it increasingly difficult to support the 82 families. The camp organizers have given a dead line of 21/07/02 to RAPs to find out alternative accommodation. It seems that tomorrow the RAPs would be on street.

Apart from stoppage of relief ration from the camp, the compensation awarded by the administration for houses damaged in Maretha village has been extremely meager. As per the rehabilitation policy, Rs 50,000/- is to be awarded to house owners whose property has been completely destroyed. While most of the Muslim houses in Maretha have been completely destroyed, the actual compensation paid to the owners is typically meager between Rs 1,000/- to Rs 4,000/-. Only three households have received up to Rs 25,000/- for the damage to property. Clearly, the procedure to assess the damage done to property has been quite arbitrary.

Although the riots have subsided, for the victims of Maretha there is no end to their long ordeal in sight. They cannot continue to stay in the camp, they are not in a position to return to their village, they are not assured of their safety, and the compensation package has offered so far has been very inadequate to help them make a fresh start to their lives. As for the administration, these helpless victims of Maretha no longer exist. If only one could wipe away the
scars of rioting so easily!

Rajesh Mishra
Arch Vahini Mangrol
Ta. Rajpipla Dist. Rajpipla
Phone 02640 50140, 50154

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