By Tarique Anwar
Jun 2, 2015
Atali/Ballabhgarh (Haryana): For Muslims of Atali, the riot-ravaged village, 12 km from Ballabhgarh Tehsil of Faridabad district in Haryana, survival comes at a cost. There are not too many options. The majority community demands that Muslims “cannot ask for justice” if they want to stay in the village. Only then, they will be allowed to have limited religious freedom.
A week after members of two communities clashed over the construction of a mosque in the village, all Muslims residents have fled their houses. They are forced to live under a tent in the scorching heat because no agreement has been reached so far in negotiations mediated by the administration and the political leadership. They would be allowed to return home and resume the construction of the mosque “only if they withdraw” cases filed against the rioters.
In addition, the mosque will be allowed to be constructed on the following terms and conditions: its boundary wall cannot be raised higher, loudspeaker will not be used for azans (prayer calls), imam (prayer leader) of the mosque should be a local and no Tablighi Jamaat - an Islamic religious movement inviting people to God in the manner of Prophet Muhammad - will be allowed in the mosque.
"The bone of contention between the two communities is the mosque, which we won’t allow to come up unless they (Muslims) withdraw cases against our youths. They have two options – ya to case kar lo, ya masjid bana lo (either file cases or construct the mosque)," a middle-aged man told Firstpost strongly refusing to disclose his name.
When reminded of a 2014 court judgement that categorically states that the land in dispute is Wakf property, has always been in the possession of the Muslim community and a tin shed mosque was there for at least five decades now, he said, “Court verdict means nothing for us. Our elders and respected people of the village have come up with a compromise formula: withdraw the cases and live here happily as before. We have even softened our stand and allowed them to build the mosque with certain conditions. It should be acceptable to them. If they defy the decision and go ahead with the construction works after their return, they should be ready to face the consequences because we are the original residents of the village and have been living here for decades. They are outsiders who came here and settled long back. They will have to accept the fact and try to respect our emotions.”
He was interrupted by another young man who said sarcastically in his local dialect that it appears that "the village has become Pakistan and we will have to do dharm parivartan (conversion) if we want to live here".
The village wore a deserted look because of prohibitory orders and heavy deployment of Rapid Action Force (RAF) and state police. Walking in different lanes of the village, we met 15-20 people sitting outside their homes but none of them was ready to reveal names or talk politely.
Major Dent in Inter-Community Relationship
The level of hatred can be gauged from the fact that a majority of the villagers do not even express remorse at what happened there. Rather, they – most of whom were youth – justified the violence and passed intimidating remarks.
Hinting that the incident was not aimed at killing people but to give a warning to maintain restraint, a resident joked pointing towards the hand of this correspondent: "If I had to cut your fingers, I could do it easily but I won’t because it was not my intention."
Even women folk are not ready to accept that whatever happened on the fateful day was wrong and caused a dent in the harmonious relations between the two communities.
Dayawati, who was in her late 60s, said, “We were doing kirtan (devotional singing, usually accompanied by musical instruments) in our temple close to the mosque at around 5 pm. They (Muslims) asked us to switch off the loudspeaker. When we refused to do so, they started throwing bricks from the mosque and attacked us with sharp-edged weapons. Had our boys not reached the spot, we would have been killed.”
Another lady of the same age intervened and said the mosque is the root cause of the conflict and therefore, it should not be allowed to be erected. “The Muslims have made our life hell. They are eloping with our girls and converting them to Islam. This (the violence) was necessary to bring then under control,” she said adding the famous ‘Love Jihad’ angle to the incident.
On the other hand, Muslims say the clash has created a valley of distrust between the two communities. “Many of the attackers were my school friends. We celebrated Eid and Diwali together. Suddenly, they became our enemy and were hell-bent to take lives. Even if we return, how will we be able to face, talk and live with them?” asked 27-year-old Shahnaz.
Amid Trust Deficit and Hate Mongering, Exceptions Are Always There
Somesh Sharma, who runs a grocery shop in Atali, says such incident was uncalled for. "The tolerance level of people has gone so low that they are not ready to think before committing violence. Whose house are you burning – your brother with whom you have grown, studied and spend day-to-day life," he says with a reaction laced with both anger and sorrow.
Pointing towards a shop owned by a Muslim - Zakir Hussain – opposite to him, he told Firstpost, “I call him Khan sahib. On 25 May (the day of violence), he opened the shop late, cleaned it and soon brought the shutter down. He had sensed the trouble because a panchayat was going against the construction of the mosque. I asked him as to why he is closing the shop. He told me something very bad can happen. As he left, I saw a group of hundreds of people, most of them were youth, moving towards the mosque. They torched the houses and shops of Muslims in their way. I also closed my shop. They broke the lock of Hussain’s shop and looted it.”
“Had it not been a violent mob, I would never let anyone even touch a single thing of his shop,” he said adding that this was vice versa. “We grew up together, studied in the same school and got married in the same year. We had mutual understandings and always maintained harmonious relations. But everything was lost in hours. If I had to go inside my house or somewhere leaving my shop opened and unmanned, I often ask him to keep an eye. And he used to do the same,” he said hoping that normalcy will soon return in his village and they will be able to live together once again.
Panchayat Election Adds Fuel to the Fire
Some people in the village feel the incident is orchestrated keeping the panchayat elections in mind, which is due sometime in August. In the last election, Hindu votes got divided because of large number of contestants from the same community but consolidation of Muslim votes took place in Rajesh Choudhry’s favour and it helped him win. “After the court judgement on the disputed land last year in favour of the Muslim community, Choudhry convinced the villagers to accept the mosque. On the other hand, his political rivals - who would be testing their luck in the upcoming election - instigated the majority community not to allow the mosque. By projecting themselves as champion of Hindus and someone who is fighting against the mosque for long, they want to polarise Hindu votes in their favour so that they can win the poll,” said an old man of the village.
Victims Refuse To Return, Cite Security Concern
The victims are being persuaded by the administration to return to the village so that any negotiation can take place. The former argue that they will go back only after their four main demands are addressed: construction of the mosque at the site without any pre-condition, action against the culprits, compensation for loss and damage to properties and suspension of Chhainsa SHO Babulal who is accused of withdrawing security and letting rioters go loose.
Three meetings have been held so far, two were mediated by the police and one by Union Minister and Faridabad MP Krishna Pal Singh Gurjar, Ballabhgarh MLA Mool Chand Sharma and Prithla (under which Atali comes) MLA Tek Chand Sharma but none of them could break the deadlock. The mediators separately met representatives of both sides.
“We are being pressurised to compromise to defuse the situation. They are assuring us that all the accused will be arrested and we will be allowed to build the mosque, but not now. They also put the proposal to build the mosque outside the village but we declined. There was not a single word on the suspension of the SHO who had asked the rioters that they had two hours to do whatever they want,” Ishak Khan Namberdar, whose three vehicles and two storey building were set ablaze, told Firstpost.
Eleven FIRs against 20 people, including three women, have been registered but there is no arrest so far.
“We have been asked to return to the village. How can we do that without any security? Who will guarantee the security of our life?” asked Noor Hasan adding that they are getting demoralised and running out of patience because of the “biased attitude of the police”.
“We were attacked, looted, displaced and now being asked to bow down before those who are the culprits. The administration wants us to leave the police station premises just to keep us away from the media. They are busy downplaying the incident,” he added.
However, the police say restoring normalcy in the area and sending the victims back their village is it priority. “We are alert and taking every step with very carefully because of the sensitivity of the situation. Once things get back to normal, we will take action and no one will be spared,” Police Commissioner Subhash Yadav told Firstpost.
Asked why no arrest has been made so far, Deputy Commissioner of Police Vijay Patrap said, “The accused are absconding but we will nab them. Any arrest at this juncture may result in fresh set of violence. Our priority for now is to maintain peace. Law will take its course.”