VIII. INADEQUATE RELIEF TO VICTIMS
- Harsh Mander192
The destruction as well as enmity and insecurity left by the communal violence in Gujarat in February and March 2002 forced more than one hundred thousand Muslims into over one hundred makeshift relief camps throughout the state, some located in Muslim graveyards. By October 2002, virtually all the camps had been closed by the state, forcing many victims to return to their neighborhoods where their security was continually threatened. Throughout this period, the state government failed to adhere to standards laid out in the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (Guiding Principles) and to international human rights standards.193 This chapter examines the state government's failure to provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons, its forcible closure of relief camps, and the ongoing insecurity faced by returnees.
Failure to Provide Humanitarian Assistance
A report sponsored by the Citizens' Initiative in Ahmedabad, titled Rebuilding from the Ruins, found that government officials also routinely underreported the figures of those residing in relief camps, partly to minimize their own obligations to the residents, and partly to further the notion that "normalcy" was returning to the state.195 Several camps in Ahmedabad were also not recognized by the government and therefore did not receive any state rations or relief supplies.196 Inspecting officers often visited camps in the middle of the day, when most of the wage earners were out pursuing their vocations, resulting in artificially low estimates of the number of residents in camps and food ration entitlements. While voluntary organizations tried to meet these expenses through donations and contributions, they found it difficult to run the camps indefinitely.197
In January 2003, Human Rights Watch visited Shah-e-Alam camp, the largest camp in Ahmedabad. Though the camp area, which is situated in a dargah (a traditional meeting ground for Hindus and Muslims), seemed largely uninhabited at the time of our visit; at the height of the violence approximately 12,500 people resided there. According to one of its managers, the camp was closed on August 23, 2002, two months after the government ended its official support. Between March and June the government provided 300 grams of flour, 100 grams of rice, 50 grams of dal, 50 grams of milk powder, 50 grams of oil, and five rupees per person per day. Apart from this five rupee allotment per person per day the camp received no additional financial support from the government. Instead, money was collected from local community members or by placing advertisements in newspapers.198 A camp resident told Human Rights Watch:
By June 2002, 8,500 people had left Shah-e-Alam camp. Many went to relatives' homes, some to rental homes, while others out of necessity returned to their homes in Naroda Patia, Naroda Gam, and elsewhere. At the time of the camp's closure in August, 4,000 people remained. A Muslim charity repaired some 700 homes and constructed approximately sixty-five homes in various Ahmedabad neighborhoods. When asked whether the government provided financial support to run the camps (as opposed to the limited subsidies to victims described above) the manager told Human Rights Watch: "Forget money, they didn't even give us protection. We kept asking for help with rehabilitation, even to [Prime Minister] Vajpayee when he came, but nobody did anything." Some of those who lost family members have been able to construct or buy homes in Muslim majority areas. The remainder have for the most part returned to Naroda Patia. "They returned because they own property there and have been unable to sell it for the price at which it was bought."200
The Forcible Closure of Relief Camps
The forcible closure of the camps in circumstances in which it was foreseeable that some camp residents would have no option but to return to unsafe conditions is contrary to Guiding Principle 15(d)-the "right to be protected against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk"-and violates the right to choose one's own residence under article 12(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Furthermore, the closure of the camps without an offer of adequate alternative shelter is a clear violation of article 11(1) of the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)-"the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing."205
Ongoing Insecurity of Returnees
When interviewed by Human Rights Watch in January 2003, Savera Bibi, a former resident of Naroda Patia, was among a handful of people who had continued to reside at Shah-e-Alam camp months after it was officially closed. She explained that she and her seven family members had refused to return to Naroda Patia: "I haven't gone home, and I won't go back. Why would I go back? We barely survived leaving. We barely saved ourselves on the way out, why would we go back? I don't have a death wish."207 Those who have returned to their homes, for a lack of other options or because they do not wish to abandon property that they own, continue to flock to now-closed relief camps at the first sign of trouble, further undermining the government's assertion that "normalcy" has returned to Gujarat. According to R. Bibi, a former resident of Naroda Patia and also a lingering resident at Shah-e-Alam camp, "There used to be thousands of people in this camp. Now they've gone to their homes. For some they were constructed by committee people [a Muslim charity], and some had to go back to [Naroda] Patia out of necessity. But whenever something happens they come running back here. They put the locks on and come running back here. There is still danger for us there. I don't feel like going back there."208
According to a report in the Times of India, by the end of March 2003 the residents of Naroda Gam and Chamanpura, Ahmedabad had fled to relief camps six times since returning to their residences. The exodus triggering events were the attack on Akshardham in September 2002, the Jagannath Rath Yatra209 in July 2002, the Muslim holiday of Eid and the attack on VHP leader Jaideep Patel in December 2002, the India-Pakistan cricket match and the assassination of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya in March 2003. The VHP call for a statewide bandh (shut-down) following the assassination further added to Muslim insecurities.210 Ongoing impunity for attacks against Muslims (see Chapter IV) and periodic episodes of violence have also made it impossible for many families to return to their homes where their assailants roam freely in their neighborhoods.
192 Harsh Mander, "Before it is too late: The wanton subversion of relief and rehabilitation in Gujarat," Frontline, September 14 - 27, 2002 [online], http://www.flonnet.com/fl1919/19191100.htm (retrieved May 16, 2003). Harsh Mander is the Country Director for Action Aid, India, and former officer of the Indian Administrative Service.
193 The U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were presented to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (the Commission) in 1998 by the Special Representative of the U.N. secretary-general on internally displaced persons, Francis Deng, and unanimously adopted by the commission. Although non-binding, the Guiding Principles are based upon and reflect international humanitarian and human rights law. The Guiding Principles address all phases of displacement-providing protection against arbitrary displacement, ensuring protection and assistance during displacement, and establishing guarantees for safe return, resettlement, and reintegration. The Guiding Principles have gained widespread international recognition and authority. Resolutions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly have described the Principles as a comprehensive framework for the protection of internally displaced persons, and have welcomed their use and encouraged U.N. agencies, regional organizations, and NGOs to disseminate and apply them. U.N. agencies and NGO umbrella groups in the U.N. Inter-Agency Standing Committee have endorsed them. Regional bodies in the Americas, Africa, and Europe have endorsed or acknowledged them with appreciation. Individual governments have begun to incorporate them in national policies and laws and some national courts have begun to refer to them as a relevant restatement of existing international law. See http://www.reliefweb.int/ocha_ol/pub/idp_gp/idp.html (retrieved April 23, 2002).
194 For more on access to humanitarian assistance in relief camps see Human Rights Watch, "We Have No Orders to Save You," Chapter VIII.
195 HIC, YUVA, Rebuilding from the Ruins, p. 28. A semblance of "normalcy" would also promote the state's bid for early state assembly elections. "Gujarat ready for polls, says governor," Times of India, June 6, 2002. For more on the elections, see Chapter XI.
196 HIC, YUVA, Rebuilding from the Ruins, p. 40. The investigating team also visited Hindu camps but found that they were mostly empty "indicating a greater sense of security and confidence amongst Hindus in camps to be able to go out, move about the city and resume their regular lives." Ibid., p. 35. The report added that Hindu camps received far better official support from the government, in the form of visits by prominent politicians and the involvement of local officials in running the camps. Ibid., p. 36.
197 Election Commission of India, "Press Note," pp. 31-32.
198 Human Rights Watch interview with Shah-e-Alam camp manager, Ahmedabad, January 3, 2003.
199 Human Rights Watch interview with camp resident (name withheld), Ahmedabad, January 2, 2003.
200 Human Rights Watch interview with Shah-e-Alam camp manager, Ahmedabad, January 3, 2003. For more on the Guiding Principles and on humanitarian conditions in Chartoda Kabristan and Dariyakhan Ghummat relief camps in Ahmedabad, see Human Rights Watch, "We Have No Orders to Save You," Chapter VIII.
201 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2003, p. 238.
202 Election Commission of India, "Press Note," p. 35.
203 Mander, "Before it is too late."
204 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2003, p. 238.
205 India acceded to both Covenants in 1979.
206 Election Commission of India, "Press Note," pp. 16, 17.
207 Human Rights Watch interview with Savera Bibi, Ahmedabad, January 2, 2003.
208 Human Rights Watch interview with R. Bibi, Ahmedabad, January 2, 2003.
209 An annual Hindu ritual in which a chariot is drawn for 14 kilometers through the streets of Ahmedabad.
210 Harit Mehta, "Riot victims flee sensitive areas after Pandya killing," Times of India, March 29, 2003.