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Do the right thing

Five years after the pogrom, some 5,000 Gujarati Muslim families continue to live in makeshift dwellings devoid of basic civic facilities. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) are victims of a mass crime that was enabled by the Gujarat government and its law enforcement machinery. Following some sustained campaigning by activist groups and the release of a report by the National Commission for Minorities on the inhuman conditions in which the displaced families are living, the Centre recently announced an enhanced relief package. While the monetary compensation for death and injury is better than what the Sikh victims of the 1984 massacres were able to win for themselves after years of struggle, the new package is wholly inadequate for the problem at hand. The families are unable to return to their original places of residence on account of threats from communal elements or because their meagre assets have been taken over by others. In some places in Gujarat, Muslim workers and petty shopkeepers and traders are being subjected to an informal economic boycott. In virtually no case have those who suffered property damage won compensation for the actual value of their loss.

A well-designed package aimed at long-term rehabilitation of the displaced families can easily be implemented for an outlay of Rs.200 crore to Rs.250 crore. This would include job creation, loans, and the provision of civic amenities for the 50 habitations where the IDPs have been forced to resettle. The Gujarat package could then serve as a model for the formulation of an India-wide policy for IDPs. For example, tens of thousands of Kashmiri Pandit families driven out of their homes in the Kashmir Valley by terrorist violence in the early 1990s continue to languish in temporary camps in Jammu and Delhi. Successive governments at the Centre — including the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance regime — have done precious little for their proper rehabilitation. In Assam, thousands of citizens from different ethnic groups such as the Santhals of Kokrajhar have been living in makeshift relief camps for nearly a decade following incidents of mass violence. Most recently, tens of thousands of people have been turned into IDPs by the Chhattisgarh government's anti-Maoist Salwa Judum vigilante campaign. A State government has a duty to protect the life and property of all its citizens. When it fails to do so, and people are forced to flee their homes and give up their livelihood, the Centre has a duty to provide compensation and ensure their timely and proper rehabilitation. Gujarat is a test case for whether the authorities are willing to shoulder this sovereign burden.

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