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''Mini Gujarat'' in and around Muzaffarnagar

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Kandhla/Budhana/Kairana:Uttar Pradesh saw over 200 small and big communal riots since Samajwadi Party came to power in February last year. The UP government itself conceded on the floor of the state assembly that 27 serious riots have taken place since it came to power. The riot party is well-known. Their weapons too are well-known: lies and rumour-mongering, now made much more easy with electronic gadgets. With the huge network of its parent organisation and innumerable allied outfits, it has learnt how to win elections: create a riot, polarise voters and win elections. They have been doing this since its former supremo LK Advani discovered the Ram Mandir issue and periodically played Holi with Muslim blood, during his rath yatras, which started in September 1990, after the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992 and moved on to the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 which enjoyed his support crucial for Modi to retain his post.

Made homeless by blind hate
Made homeless by blind hate

The plan for UP was clear when the notorious Amit Shah, out on bail now, was shamelessly appointed as the party in-charge in India’s most populous state. It was understood that the veteran of Gujarat pogrom and fake encounters would  unleash the weapons he knows best. Preparations had been afoot to foment big communal flareups in various parts of Uttar Pradesh ahead of the general elections early next year. In western UP, which has a strong Muslim presence, work was on in earnest. The area has always been an eyesore for the Hindutvadis. They had tried and failed to cleanse this area even in 1947. Posters of Modi appeared in villages, slogans of “Modi zindabad,” “Modi lao, desh bachao” were frequently raised. Meetings of BJP supporters were being held for weeks. A spark was needed for a big explosion. A collision of motocycles in Kawal village on 27 August led to a heated argument. Later, one party came back with its supporters and killed the other motor-cyclist (who happened to be a Muslim). Now relatives and supporters of the slain youth killed two youth of the other party who happened to be Hindus (Sachin and Gaurav). It was a clear case of murder and people responsible from both sides should have been arrested and legal formalities started against them. The administration failed to take this logical and necessary step. Instead, it clamped prohibitory orders (Section 144) on the district but did nothing else. During these prohibitory orders, mammoth meetings continued including the three “mahapanchayats” of Jats whose passions were aroused by concocting a story that the Muslim youth slain was in fact teasing a “Hindu” girl who was related to the slain Hindu boys. The girl herself, who lives in a hostel in Lucknow, later denied the story and said she never knew of any such person. But the passions were aroused in the name of Jat honour and hundreds of thousands from across three districts were mobilised through the mahapanchayats while the administration sat idle. All kinds of inflammatory speeches were delivered by BJP MLAs and leaders and latest gadgets apps were used to spread rumours. The last of the three “mahapanchayats” was held at Nagla Mandaur on 7 September. Some Jats on their way to that mammoth gathering taunted some Muslims, a clash occurred at Ganga canal and a few from both sides were killed (four Muslims and three Hindus, according to Prof Vipin Tripathy of IIT Delhi who visited the place soon after the incident). A Muslim woman was wounded and another Muslim was killed on that day by the Jats. Weapons were brought in from neighbouring areas and distributed among Jats.

The violence started in earnest the same night. Muslim houses were attacked in a number of villages like Phugana, Kutba, Laakh, Lasaadh and Batawdi. Many kept the attackers at bay during the night using bricks and barricading themselves. They kept phoning the police but no one came. Uprooted people told us that the police instead abused them on the phone and told them to defend themselves on their own as this was going to be the norm from then on. Many houses were burnt that night but some with heavy iron gates withstood the attack and people took refuge there. Attackers were both locals as well as outsiders who killed males, raped women and girls, stripped them naked and made them dance. Many girls were kidnapped and at least two dozen remain untraceable according to the refugees. The initial list of the Muslims killed was 48 which later rose to 64 but survivors in the relief  camps we visited  told us that over two hundred had been killed. Bodies of most of them were burnt in the fires of their own homes torched by the rioters who brought petrol and kerosene cans with them. In one case in Lisaadh village, a saw-mill owner and his family were cut to pieces using his own saws, then the rioters burnt his timber and threw the body pieces of the family into the fire. In other cases also, most of those killed were burnt alive or their bodies were thrown into their burning houses in order to erase all evidence. Elderly people and females left behind were later burnt alive in their homes as in Lasadh. Bhangis, Jheemars and Chamars were pressed into service. They were told to loot, kill and burn the Muslim houses and burn the corpses. There was a systematic plan to erase all evidence. People started fleeing the same night. Others fled next morning (8 September) when the rioters had gone off to sleep after the night’s hard work. The uprooted people came to Muslim-dominated villages, running, walking, on bicycles, motorcycles and tractors. Some took refuge with their relatives in other villages. Many villagers ran away out of fear though their villages had not seen any violence. Some in the relief camps told us that they have received messages from their villages to return on the condition that they would not wear “round” caps, would not sport beards, would not loudspeakers for azan, would not hold any religious meeting and that no Tablighi jamaat would ever visit their village. Obviously they refused these conditions. Mosques and madrasas in many abandoned villages have been harmed and burnt, idols and saffron flags have been planted in some.

Every victim has a story to tell
Every victim has a story to tell

Our assessment is that around one lakh people fled their homes on 7-8 September. Around 65,000 came to over two dozen camps while others went to live with their relatives. We visited about a dozen camps of these people and found that local mosques, madrasas and people had risen to the occasion. There was no dearth of food although the local administration started supplying some camps items like atta, rice, dal etc. But they have other needs too. Everyone fled in a hurry with only the clothes on their bodies and with no money in their pockets. In the short term, they need clothes, durries, blankets, bedsheets, tents, baby food, dry milk, etc. But on the long-run they need much more. Those whose homes have been burnt and where people have been killed, no one is prepared to return. This was the unanimous reply we got from everyone whose village had seen violence. They are adamant not to return to their villages. They want to be rehabilitated in Muslim-dominated villages. They will need a lot of help in terms of land and building material to build their lives again outside their native villages which were their home for centuries. Out of the one lakh uprooted, I think at least one third are of this kind who have seen murder and rape and whose houses have been burnt to ashes. It was also clear from my interaction with hundreds of these people in around a dozen camps that it was not a Hindu-Muslim clash but one-sided violence perpetrated by pro-BJP Jats who were supported in some cases by the local police like the Phugana S.O. (Omvir Singh Sirohi). Many Jats and other Hindu sub-communities refused to join this insanity. No Hindu was touched in Muslim-dominated villages. One notable observation was that mosques and madrasas have proved to be real citadels of the community. Their imams and administrators were taking care of thousands of refugees in each camp we visited. People of Muslim-dominated villages were whole-heartedly helping and sheltering these unfortune refugees in their own homes. We saw at times as many as 50 uprooted persons sheltered in a single house and there were many houses like this everywhere we went.

The writer visited Kandhla, Jola, Jogia Kheda on 14 September and Budhana, Kenwal, Taoli, Basi Kalan, Shahpur, Kairana etc on 20 September.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2013 on page no. 1

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