In Muzaffarnagar village, police arrest 10 Muslim youths after Hindu families allege harassment; kin cry foul

Muzaffarnagar: The nondescript village of Nirana in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar district is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Police complaints have been filed over some strange reasons — on Muslim boys hitting balls into people's homes while playing cricket in a cemetery and then entering the premises to fetch them, and also on people claiming that motorcycle-borne youths were disrupting marriage baraats.

In the first case, the families whose homes were being "invaded" claimed that there was more to the Muslim boys coming into their houses than just the game. A few families claimed other forms of disturbance.

An FIR was filed over these incidents two weeks ago. While the police asked the complainants to talk and settle the issues amicably, it has deployed a sizable number of officers in Nirana as a precaution.

Muzaffarnagar is a communally sensitive region, which witnessed deadly riots in 2013. It was in this district that the issue of migration of people from one community — allegedly for communal reasons — became a critical issue in the 2017 Assembly elections. Muzaffarnagar is now witnessing a similar situation, with about 10 families belonging to one community claiming that they have been threatened with consequences unless they leave the village. The walls of a few houses in Nirana bear the message "yeh makaan bikau hain (this house is for sale)".

In Muzaffarnagar village, police arrest 10 Muslim youths after Hindu families allege harassment; kin cry foul

A house in Nirana village in Muzaffarnagar with the sign "house for sale". Image Courtesy: Sachin Johri/101Reporters

According to the superintendent of police (city), Om Veer Singh, around 10 to 15 "anti-social and rowdy" boys are causing all the problems in Nirana. There have been several verbal altercations and fisticuffs between youths of different communities in the village over the past couple of months, but the media reports on them are painting the dispute in a whole new colour, he said.

A few families in the village want to move away because of some petty issues, Singh said. "We have deployed additional police forces in the village. There is no communal tension here," the superintendent of police said. "We have asked the gram pradhan (village head), Mohammad Istikaar, to speak with everyone and ensure that communal harmony is restored. The issue also seems to be politically motivated, and we are taking strict action against everyone named in the FIR."

Istikaar told the media that there had been a minor scuffle around 10 days ago. "The incident occurred while people were dancing during a marriage procession," he said. "Muslim boys claim that Hindu boys were dancing in a vulgar manner and teasing the Muslim women who were watching from their terrace. I personally went to talk to those people. But they were not ready to listen to anything and called the brother of former BJP MP Sanjeev Baliyan. What can I do when no one is listening to us?"

'BJP leaders disturbing harmony'

One Ajay Kumar, son of Vijay Pal Singh, had registered the FIR on 29 June, alleging that a few Muslim youths had assaulted his brother a few months ago. Shahjad, Adish, Adnan, Amir, Mohsin, Sakib, Thseen, Gappa, Kadir and Rehan — all residents of Nirana village — were arrested on 11 July, charged under sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 307 (attempt to murder), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) of the Indian Penal Code.

"Baat ka batangad bana diya hai (the issue has been blown out of proportion," said Rizwan, father of one of the accused, Rehan. "There is no communal tension in the village. There are many Hindu families here, besides these Pals (who belong to a backward caste). Only the Pals have accused Muslims of committing atrocities. A few BJP leaders are trying to disturb the communal harmony of our village. Our children have been falsely booked, and the police are not listening to us."

One of the Pals Rizwan is referring to is Parvesh Pal. Although not involved in the brawl mentioned in the FIR, Parvesh Pal claimed that his family had been victim to the unruly behaviour of these boys. "These boys play cricket in the cemetery, which is a stone's throw from the residential area," Parvesh said. "They intentionally hit the ball towards our house, scale the walls without permission and then snoop inside on the pretext of retrieving the cricket ball. This scares our family members."

"I tried to maintain a good relationship with the Muslim community," Parvesh added. "I tried talking to them, and even hosted an iftar party, but nothing helped. People came, ate and left. They were at it again the very next day. This was insulting for me and my community."

He also alleged that the Muslim youth harass the Hindu women in the village. "The police are not doing anything. They say they will take action and are then seen having tea with the boys. We have no option but to leave the village."

Communal tiff or sexual harassment?

There is an eerie similarity to the events of 2017, when the alleged migration of Hindu families from Kairana village in Muzaffarnagar became a volatile electoral issue. Nirana, barely 7 kilometres from the scene of the earlier communal riots, is now threatening to go the Kairana way.

Simran Pal from the same family claimed she had stopped going to school after passing Class 10 because of the harassment she faced from some boys. "They make sexist and absurd comments on girls," she said. "I stopped going to school in 2014 as for higher studies, we had to go to Muzaffarnagar, and while on our way, these Muslim boys used to ride their motorcycles and harass us. Now, the activities of these boys have become intolerable and uncontrollable."

She also alleged that these boys create a ruckus at marriage processions, religious festivals and other events organised by the Hindu community. "Recently, a baraat came to our village, and these boys started doing stunts on their bikes and ventured into the middle of the baraat. When people requested them to not disturb the procession, they hurled abuses at them and resorted to fighting," Simran said.

But not everyone is heaping the blame on the Muslims in the village as a whole. Sunita Pal, who recently sold her house in Nirana said: "The problem is with no one but these boys who have been allowed to play cricket in the graveyard. These boys scale the walls of our houses and try to see our girls while they are bathing and doing their chores. When we object, they give the excuse of trying to retrieve their cricket ball. I sold my house as we got frustrated with this."

Another resident of Nirana village, Babulal, said such incidents had been taking place for the past two years, but the police did not pay heed to their complaints. "The accused were arrested only after the media covered this issue, and I can say that 80 percent of the fear is gone. The administration has assured us protection," he said.

Meanwhile, BJP MLA Pramod Utwal and local party leader Vijay Kashyap visited the village and urged residents to erase the "for sale" signs from their houses. Assuring them that their complaints will be heard, Utwal said there was no Hindu-Muslim issue in Nirana.

People want to leave because of some anti-social elements, but now, the police has taken action, and no one will go anywhere from the village, he said. "The police will take action against anyone involved in hooliganism, and if they don't, I will take the matter to the chief minister," the MLA said.

The author is an Uttar Pradesh-based freelance writer and member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters

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Updated Date: Jul 14, 2018 15:04:48 IST