Indian children freeze to death in camps

About 30 children living in relief camps in the wake of riots in Muzaffarnagar have died due to harsh cold in the past few weeks.


Life for Rukshana has been a nightmare ever since she fled her home after riots broke out between Muslims and Hindus in districts of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The 25-year-old, who now lives in a relief camp in Loi village along with hundreds of riot survivors, lost her four year-old son last month due to the harsh winters.

"There are no facilities in these relief camps. We have no blankets or warm clothes. My child became so unwell that I could not do anything to save him. I am afraid and worried for my other two children who cry throughout the night due to cold," she says.

In the past few weeks 30 children living in these relief camps have died due to the harsh cold, as they don't have access to warm clothes and blankets.

Even the basic facilities of food, water and electricity are missing in the camps located barely 100km from the nation's capital, New Delhi.

Children are the worst affected by the deadly violence as many of them have been orphaned and left homeless. Instead of going to school, they can be seen roaming around barefoot in tattered clothes.

"The future of our children is bleak as they have even lost their schools. It has been more than three months that these children have not gone to school. It is high time that peace is restored in the area," says Zahoor Hassan, 50, school teacher.

About 60 people were killed and more than 50,000, predominantly Muslims, were displaced in the wake of the communal riots in the last week of August. More than half of them have returned home, but thousand others have refused to return to their homes fearing for their safety.

The winters are a big worry here as this area has recorded temperatures as low as 0.6 degree Celsius in the past.

"We have lost everything. These camps are unhygienic and we are living like animals. Everybody feels so cold inside, and in the night the dew makes it worse. The tents become wet. There are no medical facilities and I really dread the future," says Jameel Ahmad, 51, residing at Bashi Kala Relief Camp.

Monetary compensation has been announced by the government, but many families are yet to receive a single penny.

"Government had announced compensation of 500,000 Indian Rupees ($8079) to affected families and 1000,000 Indian rupees ($1615) in case of death and many have received it. But there are still some families who are waiting for the compensation," says Mohammad Ayub, 48, staying in Budhana Relief Camp.

Civil society groups have come forward to boost aide at the relief camps. Child rights body, Save the Children, has also raised the plight of the children in the camps.