Opposing Mosque at Atali, Ballabhgarh
Destroyed Communal Harmony of Generations
Syyed Mansoor Agha
Atali, a village of 3000 voters (including 400 Muslims) in a population of 12 thousand, hit the headlines for wrong reasons on the eve of first anniversary of Modi led NDA Government. Atali is hardly 35 Km from Delhi in Haryana State under BJP rule. After last year’s assembly elections, central leadership of BJP (read PM Modi and his right hand Amit Shah) picked a first time MLA Mr. Manohar Lal Khattar to head the Government. His being a longtime RSS Paracharak, decisively played in his favor. Mum on anti-Muslim violence in Atali, Mr. Khattar seams rejoicing his well-groomed instinct of a Sayamsevak. This reminds a Modi of 2002 when Mr. Vajpayee, the than PM lamented on his failure to perform “Rajdharma”. Vajpayee had than posed a question, “How I will face the world” (duniya ko kya munh dikhaoonga?) Same question is now haunting Modi. He wants quick inflow of foreign investment but fast deteriorating communal atmosphere in his rule is creating road blocks.
He twitted: Be it caste or communal violence, they stall the growth of the nation. Let us affirm to be free from these tensions.” “Communal violence is bad for Nation”. In an interview (PTI -May 29) he said, “Any criminal act against any individual or institution is to be condemned. The attackers must be strongly punished. I say again: any discrimination or violence against any community will not be tolerated. My position on this is very clear: Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas. We stand for every one Indian regardless or caste or creed.” On February 18, he had said, “We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext. I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard.”
Certainly his encouraging statements are welcome. But nation is now keenly watching his feet and not his lips. He has spoken too much, now meanings of his words need to be reflected in action. Last week his trusted Minister Arun Jaitly claimed that “Minorities are safe in Modi’s regime.” How safe they feel! Only minorities can tell. Mr. Julio Ribeiro, the gem of Indian police officer who belongs to Christian minority expressed his pain and anguishes in an article “I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country.” (March 16, 2015). Custodial killings of five Muslim youth in Telengana and now destroying communal harmony by snatching calm and cool poor Muslims, torching their homes, arson and loot in Atali. We wonder how to assess Jaitly’s assertion.
Incidentally flare up of communal frenzy in Atali is noticed just after Mr. Khattar’s visit to the area on 20th June. The snake-lets of Sangh’s outfits suddenly emboldened. Communal messaging became viral on social media. The majority community was instigated to stop extension of the village mosque. Those who were opposing were defeated first in CJM court and then in SDM’s Court.
Courts settle dispute in favors of Muslims
Local residents Satish Kumar, 43, and Yogender, 31, in a petition filed in the District Court had sought “relief of declaration that the gram panchayat… is absolute owner” of the land where a tin shaded Mosque stands for last over half century. Petitioners pleaded that “present possession by Muslims be set as illegal, null and void”. Muslims counter claim that the land belongs to Haryana Waqf Board. The petitioners approached the court arguing that the panchayat was the owner, and that Muslims had got the land for a graveyard, not a mosque.
On March 31, civil judge Vinay Sharma ruled that after a “close scrutiny” of the case, the “inevitable conclusion” was that the disputed property “has always been in possession of the Muslim community”. The order noted that “though the plaintiffs… have tried to establish that the suit property vests in the Gram Panchayat, but they have miserably failed to do so.”
The Muslims submitted that the land belonged to the Haryana Waqf Board, and produced a gazette notification dated Nov. 21, 1970 that said the land was “reserved as Kabristan”. Records submitted during the trial showed the electricity connection was “in the name of Jama Masjid, Atali”. Counsel for the defendants argued that “Muslim inhabitants of the village offer their prayers in tin shed on the plot since the time of their forefathers”.
The petitioners argued that the disputed property couldn’t be vested with the Waqf Board since “in the revenue record, the panchayat has been shown as owner” of the site, and that between 2004 and 2006, the panchayat had constructed a community hall there “with its own funds”.
Former Sarpanch Daya Ram testified that during his tenure from 2005 and 2010, the Panchayat had passed a resolution and constructed a Chaupal at the site with its own funds, and that “there doesn’t exist anything in the said property”. His cross examination, however, revealed that at the site “exists a tin shed”, where Muslims offer prayers and that the community hall had been “constructed exclusively for the Muslim community”.
The Atali panchayat then approached the SDM and obtained a stay on the construction of the mosque. Earlier in May, a district revenue office team from Chandigarh came to Ballabhgarh to investigate the matter and submitted a report, following which the SDM allowed the Muslims to resume construction. It began a week ago, and the violence followed.
After stay was vacated, and SDM gave his nod, Mosque management resumed construction work under the watchful eyes of Police after five years of litigation. Police men disappeared minutes before the attack. During the pendency of case a symbolic temple had come up in the vicinity of the mosque on its land. Muslims of the village ignored the encroachment.
The activities of “Hindutva” cadre were very much in the knowledge of Police and Civil Administration, but did not dare to act against RSS and BJP men. In the presence of police, groups armed with swords, axes, spears, country-made pistols, petrol and gas cylinders assembled and attacked the mosque when faithful were preparing for As’s Salat. After vandalizing Mosque they divided in groups and went on rampage in the village. In the next half hour, 17 houses, three cars, one tractor trolley, two tempos, 15 motorbikes and two shops were burnt. Fodder stocks for animals and dung cakes used as fuel were also put on blaze. The one sided violence lasted a little over an hour on Monday evening but that was enough to make the Muslims to flee for their lives. The evidence of the hasty exodus could be seen by the fact that no house was locked. Many still had fans running. 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 mosque is lined with small shops. Only one shop owned by a Muslim was torched.
Victims claimed that this selective targeting of homes has an underlying trend. Surrounding the Mosque are about 20 homes, 17 of them owned by Muslims. All 17 were torched. A godown of a Muslim farmer, almost one Km from the mosque, was burnt next morning.
After ransacking Mosque, the attackers divided in groups of 8-10. Each targeted a house. First bricks and gas cylinders were hurled inside the houses. Residents tried to escape by locking themselves inside house. But when they started dousing homes with petrol and setting them on fire, people started to flee.
On the face it was a well-planned attack. The planners were aware that all Hindu residents are not in the favor of violence. So they called their like-minded people from nearby villages. Victims feel that police deliberately delayed action. Two persons Budhdhan Khan and Naimuddin, who were working at the mosque, were injured seriously. Naim said, attacker tried to “kill by burning him”, then the chopped his fingers and toes with an axe. Budhan’s hands were burnt. Another elderly man Hasnu was left unconscious when he was attacked next morning. He stayed back to look after the cattle. He thought that being an elder in the village he would be safe. He was attacked with axes by four youth, two of whom whose fathers were known to him and whose marriages he had attended. All 3 are recuperating in Hospital in Faridabad. Some 200 Muslims have taken refuge in Ballabhgarh Police Station. Police has registered an FIR naming 6 persons but is reluctant to arrest any.
A day after the violence Police have set up a post near the Mosque and makeshift Temple. An officer explained, “We have been given specific instruction to ensure that neither the mosque nor the temple is disturbed in any way.”
|Manyl Hindu Jats want Muslims back home. |
Non action of police against culprits is hampering their return
According a local old man Mumtaz Ali, the foundation of the Mosque was laid 5 years ago. “Some 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 earlier this month. But since then, some Jats have been opposing and there has been tension,” he said. They attacked the day when preparation to cast the roof were going on.
A report says, “Tensions had escalated in the village for at least five days. However, little administrative action was taken prevent the violence. As a result minority community has lost their homes, their belongings, livelihood and most importantly sense of amity with Hindu community. An elderly woman is bewildered to see that young Jat boys, who grew in “our laps”, have become thirsty of our blood. She said, we are living here for hundreds years like a family. The Mosque has also been there. Hindu women used to lineup with their toddlers on the gate of Mosque at prayer time to get their child blow with air and Dua from Namazis.
The answer may be found in local politics. Village Panchayat elections are due in August. One candidate is hard bent to oppose the Mosque, while present Sarpanch wants amicable solution.
A CPI(M) statement noted that “ a BJP activist who aspires to capture the Sarpanch's post in the coming local body elections mobilised his supporters and incited them to target the Muslims.” And that “this incident is part of a series of attacks on religious minorities in the state since the run up to the Lok Sabha elections. It gathered momentum after the BJP-led government installed in Haryana..”
It looks like Muzaffarnagar repetition. The mobilisers are largely BJP men. After Modi win they are more visible and upbeat. The trend is same. Violence is preceded by spreading rumors on social media. However earlier anti-Minority attacks were restricted to urban areas. Now villages are the target. Most attackers are fellow villagers. Victims recognize them. As Hasnu and the old lady of Atali said, “we were attacked by people we know, grew up with us, we lived together.”
Certainly this symbolized destruction of social fabric which is main target of RSS since 1923. As a result alienation and sense of insecurity is sharply rising in Muslims living in small numbers in villages. An old woman in a relief camp in Muzaffarnagar said, “If our fellow villagers could do this to us this time, they can do it again and again, where is the security?” The attacks are almost sudden, and more traumatic as these are from within. The fear factor is huge, and in almost all recent incidents the minorities have fled with just the clothes on their body and not willing to return. Though intensity of violence is low but impact on social life is huge. Even those who have not been subjected of violence are gripped with sense of insecurity and trauma.
Though debris from the roads and burnt houses has been removed, yet there is no indication of restoration of confidence. The village headman, Sarpanch Rajesh Chaudhury, who was trying to convince village elders to end violence, was attacked same evening and he was forced to flee. Inaction of police against the culprits is hampering any restoration of confidence among victims.
R. Rathi, ACP (Tigaon) told, “3,000 police personnel have been deployed to ensure no further episodes of violence.” SHO has been sent to the police lines. Center has reportedly sanctioned Rs. 3.5 crore to compensate the loss of property. It will have to be seen how administration makes use of this amount.
Ballabgarh MLA, BJP’s Moolchand Sharma, said “The State BJP government will ensure that those who are accused are severely punished. We will work closely with the police to ensure that no further violence takes place in the village. The situation in the village is now completely calm,” he claimed.
Let us see, if this incidence becomes game changer or else. Nation is watching if Prime Minister’s pronouncement, “violence against any community will not be tolerated.” is converted in to reality or remains a rhetoric.