No man’s land is land under international law, land between nations or disputing parties, land under dispute, where uncertainty and ambiguity govern, land that no authority or state controls but significantly where no laws, national or others, apply. Internally displaced persons (IDPs), especially those displaced by man-made tragedies, deliberate plans of development or natural disasters are recognised as among the world’s most vulnerable people because they have not crossed international borders but remain under the protection of their own government, even though the government’s abdication of its fundamental duties and people’s rights may be the cause of their desperate flight.
Responsibility for their welfare must and should rest with the state. However, the culture of impunity prevalent in a country that has failed to book powerful state actors for their fundamental failure in governance — to protect, without prejudice or bias, the lives of the poor and underprivileged as much as the politically shrill and powerful — has blurred responsibility for the plight and conditions of IDPs.
In 2002, as 1,68,000 IDPs were forcibly and cruelly evicted from their homes by marauding mobs in Gujarat, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) supported a PIL that finally ensured that the Gujarat state accepted responsibility for the rations (grains, tea, milk and sugar) that was until then being borne by community organisations. The plight of those who were forced to live as cattle herd in essentially difficult conditions was made worse by the state’s desperate rush to hold elections. This meant “cleaning up” the blood and gore by forcibly closing the camps.
Eleven years later, the response of the state, under a different political dispensation, after the violence in Uttar Pradesh’s four districts of Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Meerut and Baghpat, is worse.
Faced with five petitions in the Supreme Court, and keen to maintain the gloss on its blemished image, the nine reports filed by the Uttar Pradesh government are obfuscations of the reality on the ground. As lead petitioners in one of the cases, we have submitted proof that the reports of the district officials contradict what the state is officially submitting to the highest court of the land.
Over 33,000 people forcibly displaced from their homes by the terror unleashed by a more powerful Jat community are today living on open state and central government land and private residences. Those in "camps" live in sub-human conditions -- many were living in tents, in bitter cold and rain and this resulted in several deaths -- until they were forcibly evicted. Nineteen camps in Shamli district and two in Loi were and are testimony to the gross abdication of state responsibility. Food and clothing was donated generously by private individuals; state presence in distribution was limited to a fortnight except the packets of milk that continued to come to Mallakpur relief camp until recently. (In September-October 2013 the numbers were 45,000).