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SERVICES 
Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 19:40 GMT
Thousands homeless in Gujarat
A woman works through the wreckage of a burnt house in Ahmedabad
Aid workers say sanitation is the most urgent problem
Authorities in the western Indian state of Gujarat say nearly 56,000 people are now living in camps after fleeing savage rioting between Hindus and Muslims.


There has been a lot of national outrage at the violence in Gujarat, but that hasn't translated into any material help

Supriya
Aid worker

The state government said it had begun supplying essential food and medicines to the refugees, along with a small cash allowance.

But local non-governmental organisations said the government had drastically underestimated the number of displaced, describing the aid as too little too late.

The violence erupted after Hindus returning from the disputed holy site at Ayodhya were attacked by Muslims. Hindu mobs then went on the rampage across the state in search of revenge, leaving 650 dead.

On Thursday, a tentative compromise appeared to have been reached when the hardline Hindu group at the centre of the dispute said it would accept the verdict of a court trying to resolve the dispute.

Little outside help

The Gujarat state secretary in charge of relief work said food grains, edible oil and sugar had been allocated for each victim.

The Shankaracharya of Kanchi (l) and Babri mosque committee member Abdul Nizadi
Hindu and Muslim leaders have reached a tentative compromise

But Supriya, a spokeswoman for a collective of local NGOs known as the Citizens' Initiative, said the government aid had not reached most of the camps.

She also said there were far more refugees than the government estimate of 56,000 for the whole state.

In the state's largest city, Ahmedabad, alone, she said more than 45,000 people had taken shelter in camps, where providing them with adequate sanitation was the most urgent priority.

The Citizens' Initiative won much praise for its efforts during last year's devastating earthquake in Gujarat, which left at least 20,000 dead.

But Supriya said that it was different after the riots because so little help had arrived from outside, unlike the massive aid operation that followed the earthquake.

"There has been a lot of national outrage at the violence in Gujarat, but that hasn't translated into any material help," she said.

Red Cross shelters

The Red Cross said it had distributed relief supplies in two refugee shelters in Ahmedabad, one in a hall and another in a school.

A Muslim man cries during a peace meeting in Ahmedabad
Most of the victims of the recent riots were Muslims

"We found the people at the school living in basic conditions and the sanitation situation, due to overcrowding, was worrying," said spokesman Mauricio Castano.

"People wanted to find out what had happened to their homes but are still frightened of leaving the compound," he said.

Aside from providing food and shelter, Supriya said there was also now a need to help the refugees deal with the horrific psychological scars.

"Most of these people are too shaken about what has happened to them. It's too hard because they know they were not a victim of any natural calamity but barbaric acts committed by mobs," Supriya said.

Compromise

Meanwhile, the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organisation has offered a compromise in its long-running demand to build a temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya.

There were widespread fears that the latest bout of rioting would rise to the scale of nationwide violence in 1992, which followed the destruction of a 16th century mosque at the site.

The VHP says it will now accept the verdict of a court trying to resolve the dispute.

The move has been given a cautious welcome by a group representing Muslim organisations opposed to the temple construction.

Ayodhya special report

Ayodhya eyewitness

Background issues

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TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO

BBC WORLD SERVICE
 VOTE RESULTS
Should plans to build the Ayodhya temple be called off?

Yes
 66.79% 

No
 33.21% 

19422 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

07 Mar 02 | South Asia
Hindu hardliners 'will abide by court'
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
05 Mar 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Why is Gujarat so violent?
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