Friday, December 27, 2013

Controversial remark on children’s death by top diplomat

File photo of two children who lost their father in Muzaffarnagar riots (Pic: The Indian Express)
NEW DELHI (AA) - As nearly 5,000 people battle a harsh winter in Muzaffarnagar riot relief camps, 130 kms north of India’s capital, a top Uttar Pradesh (UP) state government official said the dropping temperature is no big deal causing a major political controversy with senior politicians terming the remark as “insensitive” and “inhuman”.
“Nobody dies of the cold; if people did, then nobody would survive in Siberia,” AK Gupta, Principal Secretary, Home, one of the most senior officials of the state government, told reporters on Friday.
Kamal Farooqui, former member of ruling Samajwadi Party, reacted strongly to the statement and said the bureaucrat need not go to Siberia to witness extreme winter.
“I would like to say that he should spend a night with his family in the camps and he won't need to go to Siberia,” Farooqui said.
Omar Abdullah, chief minister of Indian-held Kashmir, which witnessed season’s first snowfall on Tuesday December 24, criticized the controversial statement on his Twitter page.
“Can’t die of the cold”!!!! Send him out in a few less clothes & let’s see if he isn’t singing a different tune pretty damn quick,” Abdullah wrote on his Twitter.
Spokesperson of right-wing BJP party Ravi Shankar Prasad slammed the statement.
“It is deplorable, inhuman and insensitive,” Prasad said.
Brinda Karat, a left leader, said that the statement was like adding salt to the wounds.
“It is an extremely insensitive, factually incorrect statement, it is like adding salt to the wounds,” Karat said.
UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, already in dock for his government’s apathy to the families living in the makeshift relief camps, cautioned the senior bureaucrat.
“In this age of television and cameras, people from our party and government should choose their words carefully so they don’t hurt anyone's feelings,” Yadav said.  
After weeks of denial, UP government on Thursday acknowledged the death of 34 children below the age of 12 in relief camps.
A high-level fact-finding committee appointed by state government confirmed the independent media reports that 34 children have succumbed to death in the aftermath of communal clashes.
The committee said that over 4,700 riot-affected people continue to live in relief camps contradicting chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav’s reported statement that there were no riot victims in the relief camps. 
Mulayam Singh Yadav, chief of regional Samajwadi Party which rules UP, made a controversial statement earlier this week that there is no riot victims in relief camps, only conspirators and political activists planted by the Congress and BJP.
Yadav’s comments were slammed as “insensitive” by rights activists and Muslim leaders at a time when several independent media reports confirmed the child-deaths with the onset of an extreme winter in ill-equipped relief camps. The media reports highlighted state negligence, poor facilities, like abject living conditions of the relief camps with only plastic sheets serving as roofs. 
Announcing the findings of the committee, Gupta on Thursday said, “There are only displaced people in the camps”.
However, according to the committee, only 10-12 children died in relief camps of which four were due to pneumonia. The rest died at government or private hospitals where their parents took them. The deaths occurred between September 7 and December 20.
The committee ruled out “medical negligence” and said no one died of severe cold or any epidemic in the camps.
The committee recommended that state government should improve the facilities in relief camps.
Three months after the communal riots, thousands of riot victims continue to live in makeshift relief camps refusing to return to their homes as they fear fresh leash of violence upon return.

In a spate of violence that broke out on September 7, at least 50 people were killed in Muzaffarnagar and neighboring towns and villages after a Muslim man was killed by the brother and cousin of a Hindu girl after allegedly harassing her. The two killers -- from the Hindu Jat community -- were reportedly lynched by the family of the slain Muslim and others in the locality.
Anadolu Agency, December 27, 2013

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