It’s 8 pm on Saturday. We sit inside our car on the road connecting Bijnor city to Pedda village. Policemen including battalions of Rapid Action Force and riot control police can be seen moving on the streets. We have been waiting here for our local contact to take us to the village, where three Muslim men have been killed in what appears to be a communal clash on Friday, while many others including a one-year-old have suffered injuries.
Our contact arrives after keeping us waiting for around half an hour, but others accompanying him, strangely surround him. He knocks at our window and tells that it is not safe for him to visit the village over and again, as he was there in the afternoon. This contact of ours belongs to the ruling Samajwadi Party. However, he offers that someone else could drop us to the village instead of him. And finally, a gentleman agreed to take us along.
Leaders from the Muslim community who had come to visit them also believe that such ghastly killing cannot be an outcome of a minor altercation but was an attempt to communally polarise the areas surrounding the village just before the elections are due in the state
Our first sight of the village gave us the impression that it has been turned into a police camp with hundreds of policemen patrolling the roads and dozens of their vehicles flashing lights. This reminded this correspondent of 2013 and the Muzaffarnagar riots. However, as we entered inside Murtazapur, the exact location where the killings took place, we were greeted by cries of women and children sitting on floors covered with stains of human blood. We are informed that these children belong to Mohammad Ehsan, who was killed in the firing on Friday.
On seeing us, an old woman asked, "Is there any news of Ehsan’s whereabouts?" The woman, who was probably his mother, was not ready to accept that she had lost her son. But soon, we were told by others standing there that she had gone in a state of shock since the incident took place and was asking the same question to everyone visiting the family.
Explaining the sequence of events, Ehsan's brother told us that the feud between the two communities of the village took place early on Friday morning after a girl from a Muslim family was allegedly eve-teased by some Jats from the same village.The two communities had a minor scuffle over the matter, which later resulted in the gruesome killings and bloodshed.
“We never thought the minor altercation between us would end up like this, our girl was eve-teased by the local boys of the village, when we intervened, there was a minor fight and threats exchanged, but soon after we reached our home, there were sounds of gunshots from everywhere, it was as if there was a sudden attack on the entire area,” said Mohammad Furqan.
The Muslim villagers accuse the village pradhan Dilawar Singh and a local illegal arms dealer Manoj of having complicity in the killings; they also allege that the sequence of events here was not an outcome of what happened on Friday morning, rather it was pre-planned to arouse an atmosphere of communal tension in the settlement.
They also allege that some policemen were hand-in-glove with the killers as they were present at the scene when the firing started in the morning. Also, the cops failed to respond to numerous calls made to them at the time of the attack.
In a bid to give us a clear picture, Mohammad Zeeshan (name changed), a relative of the deceased asked us, “How is it possible that a minor altercation would end in such killings? Where did they get all the weapons from? It was not a sudden turn out of events, but rather a reflection of long-term planning. There are vested interests involved in this. We have lived peacefully with our Jat neighbours for years, and there is no reason for us to believe that they were not instigated by outsiders harbouring a political interest in arousing a communal flare-up.”
However, unlike Muzaffarnagar, where victims had to wait for years for compensation, the family of the deceased told us that they have been paid immediate compensation of Rs 20 lakh for the dead and Rs 5 lakh for the injured. But this does not undo the loss suffered by those whose family members have been killed: They are seeking compensation worth Rs 50 lakh for the dead and Rs 20 lakh for the injured, along with a licence for a gun — for self-protection. This depicts their loss of faith in police machinery and the justice-delivery system.
Leaders from the Muslim community who had come to visit them also believe that such ghastly killing cannot be an outcome of a minor altercation, but an attempt to communally polarise the areas surrounding the village just before the elections are due in the state.
Navaid Hamid, president of All-India Majlis-e-Mushawrat said, “This was clearly done in a bid to polarise votes on communal grounds, which always works in the interest of a particular political outfit. The ruling Samajwadi Party has been inefficient in stopping these incidents and is also attempting to bury the issue below the carpet, fearing repercussions and a dent in its minority vote bank.”
He asked us, "Isn’t it evident from the fact that they have already compensated these victims when the same government has made the victims of Muzaffarnagar riot wait for years for monetary compensation?"
Senior police officials including Deputy Inspector-General Onkar Singh and Additional Director-General, law and order, Daljeet Chowdhry who reached the spot told the media, "The situation is completely under control, we have deployed forces and ensured that no such further incidents take place."
The feud between the two communities of the village took place early in the morning of Friday after a girl from a Muslim family was allegedly eve-teased by some Jats from the same village
Amidst all this, at least the family of the three deceased — Ehsan, (36), Haseenuddin (50) and Sarfaraz (17) — expect that they are given justice before the dried blood from their floor is washed away, and that the 12 injured recover completely.
The members of the Jat community living in the surrounding areas could not be contacted for their version as they have all deserted their homes fearing arrests and persecution by police forces.
However, on Sunday, our sources in the village said that the Jat families who had fled, had begun returning. All except those who had been named in the FIR, which has so far seen 27 people booked on charges of murder, rioting, and molestation.