Muzaffarnagar aftermath: Where the state steps out, others step in
2014 being an election year, the impact of the riots of Muzaffarnagar is being calculated in the terms of political arithmetic. That means many are fishing in troubled waters and all sides are hardening in their positions.
If death and devastation were not tragedy enough, the victims of Muzaffarnagar will now have to go through the indignity of having their lives become electoral pawns. 2014 being an election year means everything, even death, is just fodder for endless electoral arithmetic. How do the dead in Muzaffarnagar violence change the math for the Congress or the BJP or the SP? The media storm about Rahul Gandhi’s awkward comment about ISI and Muzaffarnagar goes on and on but the lives of the actual people scarred by the riots is a passing blip, collateral damage in the great game in Delhi.
That is why Outlook should be commended for spending time with the families in the villages and relief camps around Muzaffarnagar to try and understand how one picks up the pieces after their lives are razed to the ground.
The prospects are bleak. The suspicions are deep and ugly. The Jats claim they have asked the Muslims to return but Devinder Singh, the relative of a local pradhan says “then the government announced Rs 5 lakh compensation for people who lost their homes. So they left once again.” Others go further saying that Muslims are setting fire to their own homes to get compensation and avoid paying back loans to Jat landlords. Meanwhile at the Shahpur camp, Irfan says “the state only provided help for 15 days… we’re on our own now.”
Not exactly. Where the state checks out, others check in. Outlook reports that in places like Shahpur even the tents are being provided by the Jamaat. Parents are reluctantly enrolling their children into madrasahs because the documents required for regular schools have been lost in the flight.
There are plenty of people to fish in troubled waters. An Open magazine story about Muzaffarnagar quotes Shahnawaz Khan, a Samajwadi Party worker as saying the Muslims here have now formed a Bharatiya Kishan Mazdoor Manch to “fight the battle of the disenfranchished. We have lived in the shadow of Jats for too long.”
The Samajwadi Party under fire for mishandling the situation now says the situation is coming back to normal and most people have left the camps. But in Hussainpur Arshad Khan tells Open magazine they cannot even go to the graves because it is too dangerous.
Political analysts read these stories and change voting blocs en masse from one party to another as if moving counters on a board. Yet reading the stories reveals a far more complicated reality – where lives are much more intertwined than labels like Jat and Muslim and Gujjar suggest.
Muslims once sharpened the farming implements of the Jats, sickles and ploughs, usually for free. “They used the same things to cut us,” Yameen tells Outlook. “We’ll never return.” Now farmers are having to get their tools sharpened at market rates. The side-effect of this polarization means sugarcane is rotting in the fields, past its prime and yet unharvested.
The area is rife with rumours. Rumours that even horses were brutalized. Of masked men on black Pulsars gunning people down. ]Given that the original spark of the violence was a case of eve teasing leaders tell Outlook that “violence this time is being engineering along fresh lines of discontent, the “bahu beti izzat” issue in particular to whip up emotions.” The Rashtriya Jat Kranti Patrika is writing fiery headlines about bhaiyon ka balidaan (brothers’ sacrifice) for their sisters’ honour. There are stories of rape but it’s not clear which are true and which are manufactured.
And in situations like this the same story gets turned on its head depending on who is telling it.
Open Magazine tells the story of one Rajinder Fauji. In one version, Fauji is watering his crops when he is ambushed by masked men and a gun put to this head. He manages to escape but three other farmers with him are killed. In another version told in an FIR by Md Qais, Qais was cutting grass in his field when Rajinder Fauji and 14 other men ambushed them. Fauji has been taken into custody. He has injuries but an inspector says “Maybe he inflicted the injuries upon himself to make his case more genuine.”
One thing is clear. With elections in the air, all sides are hardening in their positions complaining about mischievous FIRs, bogus compensation claims, and competing tales of victimhood. There is a move to add Jats to the OBC central reservation list.
“After the communal uproar, will it now be a Mandal battlefield next?” asks Outlook ominously.
Meanwhile the sugarcane rots in the field – sweet harvest turned bitter.
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