If anyone wants to document the slow death of a bustling town thanks to sectarian politics, she should pay a visit to Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. The once industrial capital of western UP, located only 128 kilometres from Delhi, is today a pale shadow of itself following the 2013 August-September communal strife in the area. The social fabric of the town is in tatters with Hindus and Muslims marking out their own territories, areas that are no-go zones for the ‘other’ community. Business is down with out-of-town Muslim labourers refusing to come back to the riot-hit town, women are afraid to go out and school/college-going girls have to be chaperoned every time they go out of their homes. There are also reports that Muslims are selling their property under duress and fleeing to safer areas and there are still thousands of riot victims who are yet to be compensated. The atmosphere is tense and stifling and any spark, however small, is enough to set off another inferno.
While the town is going through an unwanted social and political metamorphosis, the police, one year on, are still searching for the 22 riot accused and have announced a reward of a paltry `2,500 for providing information in connection with the six gang rape cases in Phugana and Lank villages during riots last year. To make matters worse, riot-accused BJP MLA Sangeet Som — who spent time in prison after he was booked under the National Security Act for allegedly circulating a fake video on social media that fuelled tension before the riots — has got Z-category security from the home ministry. The riots not only singed Muzaffarnagar but also had a cascading effect on other districts too: Saharanpur, Meerut and Moradabad. These were the big ones, but plenty of smaller fires across the state have been reported in the last one year over land rights, unsubstantiated rape cases and even things as trivial as a cricket match. The clashes between the two communities resulted in at least 62 deaths, among them 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus, injured 93 and left more than 50,000 displaced.
There are several reasons for such unending rounds of conflagrations but if one has to single out the main ones, it would be the weak State response to the riots and to those who have been affected by it and lack of closure of pending cases, which is being perceived, correctly so, as a denial of justice. In other words, in one year’s time, nothing has changed, only the wounds have been allowed to fester. This uneasiness and fear can spread to other parts of the country as well, leading to riots. To say that UP — and possibly India — is on its way to becoming a communal tinderbox would not be wide of the mark.