Unaccompanied girls in tights/trousers and kurtis cycling through traffic and a burkha-clad woman weaving her two-wheeler on the roads are not exactly the sights one would expect to be greeted with upon arrival at the headquarters of a district that saw communal violence little over a fortnight ago. Keep in mind, too, that the clashes, in which 53 persons were killed across the districts of Western Uttar Pradesh, were allegedly sparked by the harassment of a college girl.
The comfortable co-existence that prevails in these parts are still seen in telltale signs — Muslims’ houses stand cheek by jowl with those of Jats and other Hindus. However, villages that witnessed rioting or suffered casualties in the violence still nurse their anger over the “sudden” turn of events.
Many of the Muslim houses across the 35 riot-torn villages have been abandoned and the hamlets look gloomy as Jats’ sentiments oscillate between anger and remorse. Other non-Muslim communities are left wondering how things went so wrong; how neighbour turned on neighbour overnight. Though several Jats now openly pledge support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — particularly its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi — the two communities that took up arms earlier this month insist it is not a Hindu-Muslim fight but a Jat-Muslim issue.
This is evident in the Muslim-dominant Shahpur area, where Hindus can were mingling with Muslims who had crowded the narrow streets on Wednesday afternoon to witness the ‘nikah’ (marriage) of 27 girls living in the refugee camp set up by the community in Haji Ballae Ka Ghar.
This camp, set up in an under-construction structure, is providing refuge to 1,543 people — mainly from Kutba and Kutbi villages, which suffered death tolls, and Kakra, where a mosque was vandalised in reaction to the death of three locals who had gone for the September 7 Mahapanchayat called by the Jats.
While the district administration records show that 355 people had left this camp by the evening of Tuesday, September 24, those managing the camp insist otherwise. “No one has left this camp. They all want to settle down in this area as they feel there is security in numbers,” said Hafeez Saleem Ahmed, a member of the camp committee, as local leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Akram Khan nodded in agreement. The BSP is the only political party to be seen in these camps, which are peopled mainly by the lower castes among Muslims, referred to, like their Hindu counterparts, as “churas, chamars and telis”.
Picture: Riot-affected women and children having food at a makeshift camp at Islamabad Shahpur in Muzaffarnagar.File photo: PTI