Muzaffarnagar's Muslims, haunted by memories of riots, rebuff notion of 'compromise' with Jats

The Lok Sabha polls, fortunately, saw no repeat of 2014 and polling here was completed peacefully in the first phase on 11 April. But a sense of safety and security still eludes the displaced Muslim families.

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Muzaffarnagar: Kutba-Kutbi village, about 24 kilometres from the district headquarters of Muzaffarnagar, is home to an abandoned mosque. There are no Muslims left in the village to offer prayers there. Fearing violence from the dominant Jat community of this village of 6,800 folks, the 500-odd Muslim residents fled after the August-September 2013 communal riots which claimed the lives of about 60 from both Hindu and Muslim communities. That fear, and distrust remains, even six years after the riots, though villagers claim they want the Muslim families to return and will even help them rebuild their lives, but on the condition that they withdraw their complaints against the Jat families.

“They did not help protect the lives of our people at the time of need, how are they going to help us now?” asked Mohammed Kayyum, a former resident Kutba village. In his 80s, Kayyum said there is no question of returning to the village and accepting any compromise. “Those people (the Jats) will never understand the pain of abandoning one’s home built with our life’s savings.”

The abandoned mosque in Kutba-Kutbi village. Saurabh Sharma

The abandoned mosque in Kutba-Kutbi village. Saurabh Sharma

Just a few days ago, the family of one of the Muslims killed in the riots, met the district police chief and demanded the arrest of all the six accused in connection with the death of Shahnawaz Qureshi, whose death sparked the 2013 riots, according to a Business Standard report. According to an NDTV report, seven have been held guilty of killing two men that triggered the violence and were sentenced to life in prison in February. Meanwhile, the district magistrate refused to make any comment on reports that the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath-led state government, apparently, at the instance of Sanjiv Baliyan, the sitting MP from the region who belongs to Kutba village, recommended withdrawing 38 criminal cases related to the rioting against more than 100 individuals.

It is a move that is not likely to decrease the fear of the displaced Muslim families, who recall the communal frenzy, which started in village Kanwal and soon spread to the entire district and led to the displacement of about 55,000. Most moved to relatives' homes elsewhere or to the rehabilitation camps set up by the administration after selling their homes at throwaway prices.

Jats during their evening panchayat in Kutba village. Saurabh Sharma

Jats hold their evening panchayat in Kutba-Kutbi village. Saurabh Sharma

The clashes began when two boys, Gaurav and Sachin, were killed by one Shahnawaz when they reportedly tried to stop Shahnawaz from eve-teasing their sister. Later, Shahnawaz was killed, which sparked more tension in the district. The police arrested members of both families but later released them. Following these developments, a mahapanchayat was called where Hindu leaders allegedly gave provocative speeches triggering widespread clashes across the town. An indefinite curfew was imposed in Muzaffarnagar.

According to the SIT, 6,000 were booked, 294 arrests made, 36 surrendered and 566 cases of inciting communal violence were registered. Initially, the situation was very much contained. But the shifting of additional superintendent of police and the district magistrate on the orders of the then Samajwadi Party (SP) government stoked the communal fire when BJP leaders such as Sanjiv Baliyan and Sangeet Som made provocative speeches. Baliyan was later sent to jail as a preventive measure. A year later, BJP swept the state in the Lok Sabha polls.

The Lok Sabha polls, fortunately, saw no repeat of 2014 and polling here was completed peacefully in the first phase on 11 April. But a sense of safety and security still eludes the displaced Muslim families.

Rishi Pal, 73, a farmer in Kutba village, said villagers are ready to welcome home the riot victims. “The whole village will help to rehabilitate Muslims and will help them in getting their houses repaired,” said Pal. “But the Muslims will also have to compromise and withdraw the cases against the Jats.” Many Jat families were booked for rioting and are fighting their cases in court. But the real issue which no one mentions is that Muslims worked as labourers in the fields of the Jat landowners, who now have no labourers to work their fields.

Irfan Mohammad, 40, a native of Kutba village who now lives in the Shahpur rehabilitation camp, when told that residents of Kutba were ready to welcome them back expressed the fear that “no one is ready to take the responsibility that Muslims will not be hurt again.” Living in the camp for six years now, which does not have proper electricity, drainage or drinking water facility, Irfan and others like him have built small kuchcha houses in the land allotted to them by the government, which gave each family a solatium of Rs 5 lakh. “They are doing this only to get the cases against them withdrawn by us,” added Irfan. Irfan, a father of three daughters and a son, talked about how his cousin was killed in the riots and said he cannot risk the lives of his children and wife by returning to the village.

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Kaluram, a primary school teacher, one of those facing a riot case, claims he cleans the mosque, repairs it and washes it often. “It is the holy place of our Muslim brothers who imposed a false case of rioting on me, but I do not hold any grudge against them,” said Kaluram. “I am not going to force anyone to withdraw my case but if they want to, then they can.” According to Kaluram, he was at his school on the day of the riots and had attended the khap panchayat which was called in the night in the village due to which he thinks his name was registered with the police for rioting.

He said his son has also been booked though he was in Delhi for studies. "I know a lot of persons who have been falsely implicated because the police, without verifying names, age and other things, booked villagers based on the complaints they received. Interestingly, they do not know who the complainant is."

“There is a very big space between the Jat and Muslim community of Muzaffarnagar and that space need to be filled,” said Muzammil Husaain, 64, a veteran journalist and activist. “A lot of leaders including the sitting MP, NGOs and members of the peace community have worked a lot to restore peace but it will take time. Many people affected by the riots still need help. And a lot of people from the Jat community have been working to restore peace and rehabilitating riot-affected people, so it would not be correct to say all Jats want the Muslims to compromise in return for help to return to their villages.”

The author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters

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