NOTE: This blog has been updated due to changing circumstances on the ground.
By James Mutti, India Country Specialist, Amnesty International USA
The riots that killed over 50 people and engulfed the northern Indian district of Muzaffarnagar in August and September of 2013 have been over for months.
But for tens of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees forced from their homes in the violence, the injustice continues today. Those guilty of murder, rape, arson and other violent crimes continue to walk free, and dozens of young children have frozen to death in squalid, make-shift refugee camps.
The Uttar Pradesh state government is hoping that paying off refugees and forbidding them from returning to their homes and land, along with a healthy dose of political mudslinging and obfuscation, will make the violence and gross human rights violations magically disappear.
The state government’s indifference to the suffering of Muzaffarnagar’s refugees during and after the riots contrasts sharply with Chief Minister Akilesh Yadav’s recent personal Bollywood and a foreign sight-seeing trip for state ministers.
The government’s current strategy to forcibly clear out the refugee camps to create the illusion that life is back to normal instead of providing justice and safety for those driven from their homes demonstrates a shocking lack of respect for basic human rights and the rule of law.
India is preparing for national elections this year, and many fear that the deadly political tactic of stirring up violence between religious communities – mostly Hindus and Muslims – will increase as elections draw closer.
Such violence is not spontaneous. For months before it erupted in Muzaffarnagar, rumors spread and tensions rose between Hindus and Muslims, initiated and amplified by various political and religious actors and aggravated by the state government’s incompetent response.
As elections near, it is important for the world to be watching and to deliver a message that this politically-motivated violence is unacceptable in a true democracy.