There once existed a village pond. Now, politicians are fishing in its troubled waters. The row over ownership of the burial ground for Muslims in Amloh town the land title, as per revenue records, is 'gairmumkin johar' (common village pond) - is taking political overtones, with both the Congress and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) busy playing politics.
Congress MLA Randeep Singh Nabha, who represents Amloh seat of Fatehgarh Sahib district, says he averted a "Muzaffarnagar-like situation from erupting in Amloh" after the alleged burning down of huts of Muslim Gujjar families living on the burial ground since the past eight years.
"The Muslims were very angry, but I pacified them and took the matter to the Punjab and Haryana high court, which cancelled the anticipatory bail plea of two accused persons. But they are still at large. The incident took place in October and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal gave me an assurance on the floor of the House during the recently-concluded assembly session that all culprits would be arrested within 48 hours. First, the police took no action for four hours after the incident. Now, some cops are threatening poor families. Even if the Fatehgarh Sahib deputy commissioner wants to go by the criterion of Muslim population, they should resolve the issue," Nabha said.
Welfare Committee of Amloh alleges that one of the accused on the run, Iqbal Singh Rai, is a block samiti member of the SAD and close to Amloh halqa in-charge Jagdeep Cheema, who lost the seat to Nabha in the 2012 assembly elections.
Cheema, when contacted, denied any involvement in the land-grab attempt, saying that it was made by kanungo Shingara Singh by illegally changing land records in favour of his wife and others. "On the day the huts were allegedly burnt down, Rai was not on the spot and his call records could prove his location. I do not know the other person who has applied for anticipatory bail (Kamaljit Bajwa). Both parties are wrong. The land in question belongs neither to Muslims nor those who tried to take its forcible possession," says Cheema.
The inquiry report submitted to Fatehgarh Sahib deputy commissioner Arun Sekri by subdivisional magistrate (SDM) Rajdeep Kaur has further deepened the controversy by stating that no graves exist on the disputed land. The DC's office on Tuesday issued a final reminder to the Wakf Board to prove ownership of the land (khasra number 49) if it exists in its records. But the Muslim Welfare Committee alleges that the land title was changed from 'gairmumkin kabran' to 'gairmumkin johar' through a subsequent consolidation order.
Claiming that the issue is being communalised, Sekri said, "No one has so far produced any record before us to prove that the land title was changed. If the Wakf Board does not reply, we will take action as per the SDM's report and ask the panchayat to pass a resolution that the land belongs to them and families living there are trespassers," he added.
Fatehgarh Sahib senior superintendent of police (SSP) Gurpreet Singh, too, claimed that it was a simple land dispute which was being given a "different colour". "The Gujjar families staying there rear buffaloes and supply milk. We cannot arrest people without verifying if they were present on the spot during the time of the incident. The investigation is on and we will file a chargesheet within 10 days," he said.
Sources in the SAD accuse Nabha of fanning communal trouble. "Not just Amloh, Randeep's earlier constituency Nabha (now reserved), too, has a sizeable Muslim population. So does neighbouring Malerkotla. The Nabha seat will be de-reserved in the next assembly polls. He is simply indulging in vote-bank politics by appeasing the minority community," an Akali leader said. Notably, though a complaint was filed before the National Commission for Minorities and the Punjab State Minority Commission, they are yet to take cognisance of the matter.
How many Muslims in Amloh?
The whole controversy is hinging on the number of Muslims in Amloh. The Fatehgarh Sahib district administration says the population of Muslims in the area does not justify the need for more space for a burial ground. The district administration pegs the number of Muslim families in Amloh town at 20 and in Amloh tehsil (town and villages) to not more than 300. The Muslim population in Fatehgarh Sahib, they say, is between 15,000 and 18,000, while the total population of the district is 6 lakh as per the 2011 census. District officials also claim that most villages and towns with Muslim families have their own burial ground.
However, the Muslim Welfare Committee of Amloh contests the population figures. "We have 260 ration cards of Muslim families in Amloh town itself. Including neighbouring four-five villages, there are 1,630 Muslim votes. In Amloh tehsil, there are close to 15,000 Muslim votes and in Fatehgarh Sahib district, there are nearly 30,000 Muslim votes," Shadi Khan of the welfare committee said.