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In relief camps, kids born too

Lucknow, Dec. 25: Yes, children had indeed died.

The district administration in Muzaffarnagar today confirmed that 16 children had died in relief camps till December 15 since early September, when thousands of riot victims had fled their homes to the relative safety of these shelters.

The figure partly confirmed what social organisations have been saying but the acknowledgement coincided with another claim on a day the world celebrated its biggest carnival of hope: a voluntary group working for the welfare of victims affected by the September 7 flare-up said 39 children were born in these shelters, though some of them may have died later.

The Christmas Day claim by the Intezamia Committee anticipated 21 more births over the “next month”, according to a report made available to the Uttar Pradesh government and the media. The committee also said 2,500 people, including 339 children, were still holed up in 14 camps in Muzaffarnagar.

Muzaffarnagar district magistrate Kaushalraj Sharma said a probe conducted by the state government had found that from September 9 to December 15, “16 (children) have died” in these camps. “We have submitted a report to the NHRC, the Union home ministry and the Supreme Court. Most of these deaths have occurred in Burana block. Statements of relief camp dwellers corroborating this were also recorded,” Sharma told reporters.

The probe followed a December 12 directive from the top court, which had asked the Uttar Pradesh government to “ascertain the correctness” of reports of deaths of children in relief camps in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining Shamli.

Shahid Hasaan, a social activist, had earlier told the court in an affidavit that 39 people, including 21 children below the age of 10, had died because of the pathetic conditions in the shelters.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, too, had highlighted the “terrible” condition in these camps after a trip on Sunday, when he visited several of these shelters urging the still scared inmates to return home. Rahul said if they didn’t, it would suit the designs of those behind the violence that left 60 people dead and 40,000 homeless and led to fears of a polarisation ahead of the summer national elections.

A day earlier, a delegation from the National Human Rights Commission had visited the riot camps.

As winter set in, several activists claimed the cold had worsened the conditions in the camps. But district magistrate Sharma said the cold was not the reason and all the children who died had succumbed to diseases.

Sharma didn’t specify the age of the kids who died, but a source in the health department said eight of the 16 confirmed dead were less than two months old. Health workers said the eight appeared to be among the 39 born in the camps. The health source said six of the dead children were between six months and one year old. Two were between six years and eight years.

The Intezamia Committee, which brought out the report on the births, said: “After the riot flames were put out, 39 children were born in various camps, 13 at hospital and 26 in delivery camps organised by various welfare agencies.”

“At least 72 more mothers are at various stages of pregnancy,” the report added. “Of them, 21 are expected to deliver their babies next month.”

But the future remains a worry. Ibrahim Khan, a social worker, said one of the newborns, Najma, had lost her father to the riots. “Their house was set on fire,” Khan said. “Even the buffaloes the family owned are gone.”