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Inside Atali: With No Muslims Left, Communal Violence Has Torn Apart Yet Another Village

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By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:

When I reached Ballabgarh last Saturday, no one was willing to take the auto-rickshaw to Atali, a village in the Faridabad district in Haryana. A group of women on the way wanted to go beyond Atali but the auto-driver refused to take them, citing the heavy police presence in the village and the fear of violence. In Atali, the only shops open were those where the police and RAF personnel were buying refreshments. The streets were deserted and people unwilling to talk, even as the police made arrests. As I walked through one of the lanes, two women asked me to leave lest I got arrested. When I told them that I was a reporter, they started talking of how the mosque was to blame for all the trouble before my beard made them stop short. Then the police arrived and they left.

For representation only
For representation only

On 26th May 2015, around 15 houses of Muslims were destroyed in Atali by about 2000 armed men following a dispute over the site of construction of a mosque. Although a Faridabad court had ruled that the land belonged to the Waqf Board, which the Hindus were arguing belonged to the Panchayat, violence erupted when the roof of the mosque was being laid. After the violence 150 Muslims took shelter in the Ballabgarh police station. After a month of suspended tension, another round of violence followed on 1st of July despite heavy police presence. By the 4th of July, not a single Muslim family remained in Atali.

After a week of trying to meet Ishaq Khan, I finally settle for a telephone conversation. His house was among the houses that were most aggressively vandalised. I ask him if he is thinking of returning, considering 10 arrests have been made in the case. “No, we will not return just yet. How will we return?” Ishaq says over the phone, “Our houses are still burnt. We don’t have anything right now.” Ishaq’s concern can be understood in the light of the hostility in the village. When the police were rounding up some of the accused, the atmosphere was tense. When reporters went inside the village, after RAF had done a flag march, they were accosted by women angry at the arrests being made by the police. You could not photograph without being accused of framing the village’s Hindu boys.

After one of these women had shown me a door, they said, was broken by the police while making the arrests, Leelu Parashar, a shopkeeper interrupted the women, to talk. The allegations that he and the women made appeared to be only a reproduction of what is the popular stereotype of a Muslim. And their allegations seemed contradictory. One of the women alleged, for instance, that the Muslims used to borrow money and raised the issue of the mosque when Hindus asked their money to be returned. The site of the mosque, however, has been in contention since 2009 and stay orders on its construction have been made only due to petitions filed by the Hindus. Leelu denied that any loans were to be repaid.

When the group of women I was talking to hysterically alleged cow slaughter, I asked if they could tell me when it had happened. The woman speaking about it then turned to another for help and the only response I got was that the whole mosque is tainted with the blood of cows. One doesn’t need to be a genius to see how small myths sold to the collective imagination of people can create hatred. Slogans asking that those who slaughter cows be hanged are painted all the way from Ballabgarh to Atali. “There are only one or two people in the village- bad elements- who have spoilt the whole situation,” Ishaq says.

Already communal violence has erupted in Tikri Brahman village near Atali, where a Hindu girl was allegedly teased by Muslim youth. The police suspect that it is the tension in Atali that has spread to the village. A case of eve-teasing can be dealt with by the police and there appears to be no reason why it should pit people of entire communities against each other, unless, of course, the idea of Love Jihad that has been in public imagination for a long time, due to Hindutva organisations’ campaign against a threat that is a socially constructed myth, was at work here. Prior to the Lok Sabha elections last year, BJP’s Amit Shah openly justified, in election rallies in U.P., violence for protecting the honour of Hindu women.

There is also a perceived image in Atali of what constitutes a “good Muslim”. The image is of a Muslim who doesn’t speak up, puts up with the status quo and accepts the terms of the high and mighty. Members of a fact finding team of PUDR (People’s Union of Democratic Rights identifies itself as civil liberties and democratic rights organisation), who have made several visits since the 26th May violence, say that there is a sense among the Jats that it is a “Jat area” and given that, “how can there be a mosque?” Ishaq confirms on the phone that there is no mosque to be found in a 10-12 km area. The same fact finding team learnt through its interviews that while Jats are either landowners, have government jobs, and are independent financially, most of the Muslims are dependent on the majority Hindu population for their income. While some have rented shops, others borrow land for agriculture at a rate of fourteen to fifteen thousand rupees a year. Some run auto-rickshaws, are plumbers or electricians. The villainy is attributed to the upward mobile Ali Seth and Ishaq Khan, who the women alleged were “the leaders” in “the trouble“. As Satish Deshpande, a professor of Sociology at Delhi University, put it in his piece on Atali, in the “Atali model”, ideas of “happy coexistence, syncretic culture, the inherent tolerance of Hinduism, etc.,” are predicated on the “subordinate citizenship” of the minority.

I ask Ishaq what he thinks is the reason his house saw the most aggressive vandalism and whether it has anything to do with his speaking up. “No, speak we will have to (because) it is our right. If we do not speak, we will be suppressed. Most people (among the Muslims) are not educated, are financially weak, they cannot even go outside-inside anywhere. You see anywhere…the leaders are removed first. That is the thing even today. ‘Remove them, everything will end.'” Perhaps there is a more complex politics at play in Atali and in Tikri Brahman. But on a simpler level, if simply more people in the country were speaking up for the rights of people around them, perhaps the ‘bad elements‘ of Atali would not have any influence. As Ishaq sums it up, in the defence of the construction of the mosque for his fellow villagers, “The country is everybody’s: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian.”

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