"I don’t know what those who went to meet the Muslims said. But we are not going to allow the mosque to be built near the temple. First they wanted land for a graveyard. Now they want to build a mosque and tomorrow they will take over the village,” Satish Singh, a resident of riot-hit Atali village, told a national daily last week.
If there is one comment that holds the key to understanding the background to the rioting in Atali, a village in Faridabad’s Ballabgarh area, then this is the one.
On May 25, 2,000 armed men descended on Atali and set on fire several Muslim homes and shops. Some 150 Muslims fled the village and since then have been camping at the Ballabgarh police station. While Muslims claim that the land belongs to the Waqf Board, the Jats claim it belongs to the panchyat, and that the Muslims got the land for a graveyard and not a mosque. This tug-of-war between the two communities over the land, always a precious asset in this densely populated country, had reached the courts in March, which ruled that it was a disputed property and “has always been in possession of the Muslim community”.
In places like Atali, where religious communities live cheek by jowl, studies show there is always a high possibility of such communal conflagrations. Yet the authorities were caught napping in Ballabgarh, like they were during a series of riots in Uttar Pradesh in the 2013-14. Even their post-riot response in Ballabgarh was appalling. The victims, who had to flee the village, claimed that the SHO of the Ballabgarh police station had helped the “miscreants”. Even though he has been suspended, such attitudes from policemen are not unknown, and are responsible for further aggravating the tense atmosphere.
Incidentally, BJP politicians represent the Ballabgarh assembly and Faridabad parliamentary seats: The Faridabad MP, KP Gujjar, is Union minister of state, ministry of social justice. Despite having such good representation in the ruling party, they did not do much for the riot-affected people. While the district administration asked the Jats to meet the victims and assure safety, no one is buying this promise.
Confidence rebuilding is not always an easy task and the administration, along with political leaders, must change its tardy dispute resolution strategy before long-term damage is done.