Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ballabgarh Communal Tension: Their houses set on fire, Muslims flee village

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | Atali (ballabgarh) | Updated: May 27, 2015 8:30 am
The violence may have lasted a little over an hour on Monday evening. But that was enough to make the Muslims residents of Atali village in Ballabgarh, Faridabad, flee for their lives. The mosque under dispute was burnt, homes were torched and belongings were abandoned. Most who fled the village agreed — a return simply didn’t seem possible.
The evidence of the hasty exodus could be seen everywhere. Almost no house was locked. Many still had fans running and policemen could seen going in to switch them off. Equally abundant were the signs of the carnage — streets littered with bricks, skeletons of torched vehicles and smoke-blackened house façades.
The lane that leads to the under-construction mosque in Atali village is lined with small shops and only one was owned by a Muslim. This shop alone was torched during the violence.
Muslims in the village claimed that this selective targeting of homes during the violence was the underlying trend. Surrounding the under-construction mosque are about 20 homes, 17 of them owned by Muslims. All 17 were torched on Monday. A godown owned by a Muslim farmer, almost a kilometre from the mosque, was burnt on Tuesday morning. It was the only structure in the area that was targeted.
Police said the village has been tense since the beginning of May, when the Muslims began construction of the mosque at the disputed site.
While the Muslims maintained that the court had given them permission to resume construction, after a near-six year stay was vacated, the Jats maintained that resuming the construction in the village was in clear violation of the court’s order.
The violence began a little before 5 pm on Monday. The Muslims had gathered at the residence of Isal a showroom owner, located directly opposite the under-construction mosque.
“We had just begun praying when the attacks started. They came in groups of 10 and attacked each house. Bricks and gas cylinders were thrown hurled inside the houses. They attacked us with baseball bats and sticks. We tried to escape by locking ourselves inside our homes.
That was when they started dousing our homes with petrol and setting them on fire,” he said.
The Muslims alleged that the violence was planned and claimed that even Jats from nearby villages were called in to attack them. They alleged that police deliberately delayed taking action. The Jats, in turn, alleged that the violence was instigated by the Muslims and two houses, owned by Jats, were also burnt.
Police arrived at the village around 6 pm on Monday evening. Officers said they took immediate action and had to use mild force to disperse the rioters.
“The injured people were sent to the civil hospital in a bus. A number of Jat villagers had also sustained injuries and they were also sent to the hospital,” an officer said. A heavy police contingent, including members of the Haryana Commando, is currently camping at the village to prevent further violence.
Police sources said the process of lodging complaints has begun. “Currently, we are taking down complaints that are being lodged. We are also identifying the houses that have been burnt, locating their owners and calculating the extent of loss,” the officer said.
While most people were discharged from the hospital by Tuesday morning, police said two who sustained serious burns are still at the hospital.
“We have lodged an FIR under sections pertaining to rioting. We are investigating the matter. Additional forces have been deployed in the village to prevent further violence. We haven’t made any arrest yet, but will do so soon,” Bhupinder Singh, DCP (Faridabad), said.
Protest outside police station
Many who fled from the village made their way to the Ballabgarh (city) police station. Those with minor injuries, after being discharged, also came to the police station. By Tuesday afternoon, the hundred-strong crowd began a protest outside the station accusing the police of inefficiency in investigating the matter and gross negligence. “Police have done nothing. Even 36 hours after the violence, they have not made a single arrest. They are giving time to those who have made us homeless to bury evidence and get away with it,” Sahil Ahmed, a protester, said.

At the heart of the violence at Atali village stands a half-built mosque with scaffolding all around. This site has been under dispute for the past five years and lies adjacent to a temple.
While the Muslims maintained that the construction work began earlier this month after the court gave them permission to do so, the Jats alleged that the construction was a deliberate attempt to create communal tension in the village.
The Muslims had planned to lay the roof at the ‘Atali Jama Masjid’ on Tuesday. Eyewitnesses to the violence said the mosque too was targeted, with about 10 men entering it and dousing the scaffolding with petrol.
 “They then brought in motorbikes that were parked on the street and doused those with petrol as well. They then burnt the structure down. One of them took a pickaxe and broke the nameplate of the mosque,” Asim Mohammad, an eyewitness, said.
A day after the violence, the mosque is heavily guarded. Police have set up a post in the courtyard next to the temple. An officer explained, “Whatever damage has been done to the mosque has been done. But we have been given specific instruction to ensure that neither the mosque nor the temple is disturbed in any way.”
Mumtaz Ali, a village elder, said the foundation of the mosque was laid five years ago. “The Jats went to court and said they didn’t want the mosque built. They built a temple in the adjacent plot while the case was still on. Finally, the court ruled in our favour and we started construction work earlier this month. But since then, the Jats have been opposing the construction and there has been tension,” he said.
Randeep Singh, who owns a grocery store near the disputed mosque, countered this. “They began construction of the mosque with the deliberate intention of beginning communal tension. The violence began because they instigated it,” he said.
Meanwhile, both the district administration and the police said they weren’t sure about the veracity of either claim. An administrative official said, “We are going through the records and we have contacted the court to know the status of the case,” he said

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