Muzaffarnagar riots: six months on, 'missing' accused still roam free


Kalu's father, who had polio, was killed during the riots. Kallu (R) says the attackers are yet to be arrested.

Fugana village, Muzaffarnagar:  It's been over six months since the Muzaffarnagar riots, one of the most violent clashes in recent times, left nearly 60 people dead and more than forty thousand homeless, but a majority of the accused are yet to be arrested.

The communal riots had broken out across nine villages in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar district in August last year. Victims still live in fear.

"I was at home when four men came inside and raped me. My daughter was with me... They are all out free and I don't feel safe," said a rape survivor from Fugana village.

"The crowd came and attacked and killed my father. He had polio, so he could not run away... It's been five months and no one has been arrested," recounts Kallu, a riot victim from the Kotba village.

They say many of those who allegedly played an active part in the riots are still to be properly questioned or arrested.

"When the police goes to arrest them, women block the way and take out weapons. How can this be allowed?" asked riot victim Haji Aman Ali.

Mr Ali and dozens of families had fled their homes during the riots and have been living in tents in the nearby Lui village. He said he is worried about reprisal attacks, especially with the police unable to make any big headway.

Ironically, while the state administration insists it is capable of handling the situation, the Uttar Pradesh police has admitted to the Supreme Court that it had been unable to enter some of the villages where violence broke out to arrest the accused.

As the police plead helplessness, NDTV was in the very village, where a key accused is roaming free. Harpal Mallik, the former Pradhan for Phugana village who is accused in 26 cases including gang-rape and looting, even showed us around the village.

"No one comes here to investigate... Police is not entering as there is injustice... If we lose our honour, what life do we have? If our children are guilty, we will shoot them ourselves. But the administration is not listening to us," Mr Mallik said.

The former village Pradhan, who the police has been looking for, insists outsiders were responsible for the violence.

Pointing out at the many people accused in the village, he said "There is no proof against us and there can be no case... Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry is required... Otherwise they write what Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party chief) wants."

As we walked down the village streets, even six months on, the signs of violence were still visible - walls and doors of homes broken, belongings thrown on the floor.

"They had filed false reports that their homes were looted and burnt. So we took these pictures to show that this is not the case," said Mr Mallik, showing pictures of families taking away their belongings, insisting this is proof that there was little or no looting in their village.

Just a few kilometres away, Imran Mohammad, one of those who fled Fugana, claims otherwise.

"Whenever they go to arrest the accused, they are blocked and told that they are not guilty, then they should bring the guilty forward, they aren't even doing that... They know everything... they tell us that we should reach an understanding... or they will get us," he said.

Human rights activist and lawyer Askari Naqvi said that the delays by the police is only adding to insecurity and has petitioned the Muzaffarnagar court to get the police to act.

"It's unwillingness to do anything as the elections are near. Although the jats were never the vote bank of the Samajwadi Party, but the fact is that with elections so close they don't want to upset that balance... Two-three people have been arrested in Kotba. While 110 have been named, they can't file chargesheet until everyone is arrested," Mr Naqvi said.

While there has been growing distrust between both the dominant Jat and Muslim communities, they have accused the state police of being unprofessional and acting under political influence. The state government has declined requests for a CBI probe, but it will have to act if there is to be any chance of a long-term reconciliation between communities.

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