Communal Polarisation: Violence by design
A mob targetted Muslims in a Faridabad village, where the poll for the sarpanch post is due. Is it yet another case of communal polarisation for politics?
Jyotsna Singh Ballabgarh
Meenu, a 30-year-old Muslim resident of the village of Atali, in Faridabad district of Haryana, has not met her toddler for a week. She has been camping in the Ballabgarh city police station since May 25, when a mob of hundreds attacked her house – bringing the roof crashing down.
With all her male family members away at work, Meenu hid in a small room with four other women and five children during the attack. But, after half an hour, the mob realised where they were hiding. Meenu’s mother-in-law opened the door to save it from being broken. Seeing the aggressive mob, the family ran outside. Young men who they’d watched grow up chased them and beat them with sticks and rods as they fled, along with another 200 or more Muslims. It was more than an hour before the police intervened and rescued them in its vehicles. Meenu’s children were sent to stay with relatives in nearby Khedi village.
The evening of May 25 is engraved in the memories of the Muslims of Atali, less than a two-hour drive from Delhi. Tension had been rising since May 20, when the Muslims in the village decided to start construction of a mosque on a piece of land that is owned by the Wakf Board according to revenue department records.
On that day, both sides pelted each other with stones, according to the Jats in the village. Then the police was deployed, and construction of the mosque started on May 22 under police protection. Three days later, the Jats went to the construction site and warned the Muslims living in the area about an impending attack in the evening.
“The police convinced us that nothing would happen,” said Shakir Ali, whose house and two cars were set on fire that evening. Clearly, the police could not help the victims. In fact, the victims accuse the police of complicity in the crime.
Naimuddin Khan, 27, hails from Badkhal, another village in Faridabad. He works as a construction labourer and was at Ali’s house at 5.30 pm to offer namaz when the mob struck. “I was hiding in the bathroom when I overheard two attackers talking among themselves. One of them said, ‘Jaldi kar, do ghante hain (Be quick, we have two hours)’,” said Khan. He is in Badshah Khan hospital in Faridabad with severe burns on his body.
Other victims stranded in the police station confirm his suspicions. They said that the police strength started thinning around 4 pm and by 5.30 pm there were only eight to 10 police personnel in the village. “I tried calling the SHO myself. Others called many policemen and the thana on the landline. But no one picked up the phone. Why were there so few policemen when they knew there was the possibility of an attack?” said a victim, requesting anonymity.
The fact-finding committee of the National Commission for Minorities mentions Babu Lal, SHO of the area, as allegedly favouring the attackers. The Commission has asked for an investigation into his role. The Commission has also asked for proper compensation for the victims. “People should be compensated for all that they have lost. Only then will it be called justice,” said Ajaib Singh, a member of the committee. He said the Commission had received calls from residents of the village on May 24 when they felt tension rising in the area. But, despite Commissioner of Police Subhash Yadav being asked by the Commission to look into the matter, there was a serious lapse of security for the minorities.
Meanwhile, the village remains polarised. As recently as June 4, the Santro car owned by a Muslim household was burned, and vandals did more damage to the empty houses. Jats from the village say they will agree to let the Muslims return only if they live outside the village, construct a small mosque and not read out the azan over a loudspeaker. “We have been speaking to the village elders. Efforts to reduce tension and send the Muslims home are on,” said Gajender Kumar, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ballabhgarh.
But Meenu said she does not want to go back. “We don’t feel safe anymore. Some of us went the other day to consider the possibility of returning. The villagers’ gestures suggested that they will kill us if we return,” she said. Samina, her neighbour, said the police can’t provide security forever. “In any case, we don’t trust this police and administration,” she said, displaying the bruises on her hands. Of at least 28 injured people who were taken to government hospitals in the area, 27 were Muslims. One was a Jat.
Janhastakshep, an independent organisation that sent a fact-finding team to the area, has demanded that the culprits be arrested immediately and FIRs be lodged against them. It has also asked for deployment of a central police force to build trust and a judicial inquiry into the role of the administration and police.
Naresh Balyan, Delhi MLA from the Aam Aadmi Party, visited Ballabgarh and questioned the role of the ruling BJP in the matter. “We got to know that people associated with the BJP held many meetings in the area prior to the violence of May 25,” he said. “Sarpanch elections are due in June-July. This communal flare-up is to be seen in this context. The BJP has always played politics of communal polarisation and this is an example.”