If the 2013 riots in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar and Shamli are a blot on the country’s image, what’s happening now — the handling of the criminal cases and the rehabilitation of the Muslim victims — is turning out to be a bigger embarrassment. Last week, the Special Investigative Team (SIT) probing the riots found only two of the six accused responsible for the murder of Shahnawaz on August 27, 2013. Shahnawaz’s stabbing sparked the riots, which killed 65 people, displaced 50,000 and triggered other riots. Shahnawaz’s father has now accused the SIT of botching up the case. There is a reason for doing so: Sachin and Gaurav, the two the SIT is blaming for the murder, are no more. They were lynched by a mob when they were trying to run after killing Shahnawaz. Even after taking more than a year to solve the case, is this all that the investigators have to show? Can it be a coincidence that the two dead are being held responsible, while the four others, who are alive, have been left scot free?
If the handling of the Muzaffarnagar case leaves several questions unanswered, here is another incident that is sure to upset many in India: An accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, Kunwar Bharatendra Singh, an MP from Bijnor, has been elected as a member of Aligarh Muslim University’s Court, a 190-member body that elects the chancellor and the pro-chancellor of the university. According to reports, six MPs, including Mr Singh, were elected to the court on December 12 through a motion moved by Agra MP and minister of state for HRD Ram Shankar Katheria on behalf of HRD minister Smriti Irani. By appointing an MP who has been accused of “violating prohibitory orders and provoking communal tension by making inflammatory speeches” during a meeting in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, and was arrested in October the same year, to the AMU Court, the Centre has sent out a wrong message not only to the minorities but also to the citizenry at large that tainted but loyal public leaders would be rewarded.
Last — but not the least — is the status of the rehabilitation of those who lost everything in those riots. In 2014, a year after the riots, when journalists went back to the area, they found victims living like refugees and several cases of distress sale of land. A recent report says that 25 people have died this winter. Worse, Muslims have been refusing to go back to their villages, fearing that they would be killed. Post riots, the people also became victims of the politics over rehabilitation , especially before the polarised Lok Sabha elections in May. Muslim politicians and candidates of the Samajwadi Party and the BSP in western UP tried to galvanise Muslim votes by running relief camps or donating land or getting houses built for the victims. However, the plight of the people did not stop the ruling SP from arranging the Saifai Mahotsav or going on junkets. The riots have become just another minor blip on the radar and it’s business as usual in UP.