Rajgarh: It was 26 January and patriotism was in the air. Across the country, people were marking Republic Day in their own ways, and one such celebration was planned in Khujner, a small town located 21 km from its district headquarters Rajgarh in Madhya Pradesh.
A few days on, however, the village, which already has a bloody history and has seen several riots, finds itself in the middle of a ‘communal’ controversy, after a clash between members of two communities at the programme took a nasty turn.
How the situation snowballed
Some villagers adamantly insist that Muslims engaged in seditious sloganeering and attacked students participating in the celebration, but the police have dismissed the communal angle. Officers say two local goons belonging to rival communities were trying to intimidate each other and got into a scuffle. On sustaining injuries, both allegedly called in reinforcements and the clash became bigger.
The police booked more than 15 people from both groups and imposed Section 144 in Khujner to control the situation. However, days after the incident, authorities have now received letters from some villagers seeking a ban on the entry of Muslims. The demand comes after local BJP leaders visited the area on Tuesday and assured the angry Hindu community of “justice”.
Former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said he would ask the police to withdraw cases against those “innocent” and slap more sections on “the real accused”.
BJP’s Prabhat Jha, Rajya Sabha member from Madhya Padesh, said, “We find the attack suspicious. The BJP government had uprooted the SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) network in MP, but I suspect it has reactivated under the new regime. According to locals, some Muslims brought out weapons from a masjid and attacked the gathering. This is not a simple case. The police should investigate the matter properly.”
The villagers have given the police time till Monday to withdraw the cases slapped on Hindus, failing which they will stage a protest.
On Wednesday, when we reached Khujner police station to assess the situation, we found several residents from the neighbouring Limboda village gathered outside, all armed with letters demanding a ban on entry to Muslims in their area.
A villager said, “We don’t want to ban them for good, just till the situation cools down. Locals are angry at the police for booking Hindus who were trying to save students during the attack.”
The Limboda locals claimed that their children were injured in the clash, and hence, they could no longer guarantee safety of any Muslim coming to their village.
Even as a 28-year-old man fumed about “goons from the Muslim community” hurting his niece during the Republic Day celebration, a 60-year-old man, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained the situation. “Our children were hurt; naturally, parents are angry, they want justice. Can you imagine what will happen if a Muslim enters our village in such a climate? We can’t guarantee their safety. And then what if it snowballs into a riot? This area is already infamous for it. Hence, to maintain peace, this ban is necessary at the moment.”
Limboda is dominated by the Yadavs and has no Muslim population. The village’s marketplace, however, attracts many Muslim hawkers and buyers from Khujner for daily business.
Pankaj Sharma, nagar parishad chief, said, “We have not provoked anyone to send such letters. I think the villagers are just taking a preemptive step to avoid clashes in the future. We don’t want any communal disturbance; that’s why we rescued Muslim children during the Republic Day attack."
“I remember a riot 26 years ago. I was just 12 then. The police booked me for rioting, and I lost my childhood because of that case. I know how the cops trap innocent people. Hence, we are demanding that they withdraw cases against innocent Hindus.”
Fear on the other side
The Muslim community hasn’t been sleeping easy either. Khujner resident Murtaja Ali Bohra said, “The issue isn’t that big; political parties are distorting the facts and painting the incident as a riot. It was just a fight between two groups."
“We saw the letters on social media...It has created so much tension; Muslims are terrified and no one from the community is ready to go to the market. We are appealing to the administration to nab those who are trying to disturb the peace.”
Aihtesham Siddiqui, an advocate, said, “People of Rajgarh are against such clashes. There is no doubt a fight broke out, but there was nothing communal about it. We only want peace in the area, but some people continue to call it a riot just for political gains.”
Administration fails to reassure locals
Rajgarh collector Nidhi Nivedita said Section 144 had been lifted and the administration was keeping a lid on the situation. But locals, especially Muslims, are staying put in the safety of their homes.
Some businessmen opened their shops on Wednesday, but they had to down shutters after a few hours as there were no buyers.
Superintendent of Police, Rajgarh, Prashant Khare said, “The situation is under control and we have requested businessmen to open their shops. It’s true we have received letters demanding a ban on entry to Muslims…we will take action against those spreading rumours.”
(Authors are Madhya Pradesh - based freelance writers and members of 101Reporters.com.)
Updated Date: Jan 31, 2019 23:02:55 IST