A year since 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq was lynched on the suspicion of slaughtering a cow on Eid at Bisada village in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri, about 50km from New Delhi, a communal fault line that cleaved the village shows no sign of healing .
A group of youngsters stops our car at the entrance of Bisada. They demand to know who we wish to see, and why.
After the interrogation and a few phone calls, they let us pass, but with a warning.
“Do not roam around for too long, especially in the area where the Muslims live.”
Hindu families have stopped visiting their Muslim friends. The azaan calling the faithful for namaz no more blares from the loudspeaker. Kids from the two communities do not play matches and no festivals are celebrated together.
“It is not the same anymore,” says Rahul, one of the boys at the vigilante style sentry duty at the entrance of the village.
“Earlier people used to come out in the evening and sit together to discuss politics, games and films. Women used to go to buy vegetables. Kids used to play cricket matches, but after the incident, everyone prefers staying indoors. The Muslims do not come to this side where we live and we do not go near the masjid,” he says.
“The Hindus are very angry. And for the right reasons. It is because of these Muslims that our friends were picked up and jailed for no fault of theirs. All of us just want them (Muslims) to leave the village,” he adds.
Muslims fear being cornered
For a year now, Mohammad Azhar has no work. His son worked in the village too, but since the incident, no Hindu has engaged him. He now works in Dadri.
Azhar says that he does not want his son to return to Bisada. “If they can kill Ikhlaq, they can target us too. We have asked our children to stay in Dadri and not come back,” Azhar says.
“In most Muslim households, the men were employed by Hindus as carpenters or ironsmiths, but since the incident, they have stopped engaging us, so there is no work left here. It is better that our children stay out and work in Dadri, which is safer,” he says.
Though no one talks about their fears openly, some women are vocal about it. “The azaan is not heard on the mike anymore. No one celebrated Eid-ul-Adha this time fearing that these Hindus will protest. Our life has changed since the episode,” Meena says, while her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, asks her to keep shut and go inside the house.
He adds, “No one admits it openly but there is fear. Earlier, we all used to visit each other on festivals, but not anymore. We are in a minority and we cannot afford to raise our voice. We just hope everything settles.”
Hindus blame Muslims for their children’s arrests
Vexed over the arrest of 18 youngsters for allegedly killing Ikhlaq, the Hindus families have now started blaming the Muslims for their misery. The government’s step to give monetary compensation to Ikhlaq’s family has irritated these families even more.
Dheeraj Singh, father of Saurabh and Gaurav, accused in the case, has been shuttling between the court and police station for the past one year. He claims his sons, both graduates, were sleeping inside the house when the incident happened.
“Police randomly picked up children from Hindu households without investigation, just because they were under pressure to make arrests. Both my sons were sleeping when the incident happened. I have been shuttling between court and police station, leaving all my work, to ensure that justice is done. But a year has passed and my sons are still behind bars. No Judge is ready to give them bail,” he says.
“All I think about these days is how to get my sons out of the jail. How do the investigators know that my son were there? The incident happened around 10 pm and they were picked up within an hour. My elder son was supposed to join his new office the next day and had come to Bisada only to collect some documents that night. There was no CCTV footage or recording showing them hitting Ikhlaq. Why not arrest people who were actually involved?” he asks.
Kiran Rana, mother of another accused Vishal, calls the arrest a “political gimmick” for votes.
“The government is being pro-Muslim because they need to build a vote bank. They cannot afford to ignore them. To prove their sympathy, they have put my son behind bars and given crores of rupees to Ikhlaq’s family as compensation,” she says.
She is convinced that Ikhlaq and his family had indeed killed a cow and even justifies the lynching with chilling reasoning.
“Now it is proven that he slaughtered a cow, then why is his brother not being arrested? ” she says. “So what if Ikhlaq was lynched? So many Ikhlaq’s die everyday. It was a mob that attacked him. My children were not even armed. The killing was not pre-planned. Why make them suffer? Why spoil their future?”
The Hindus also claim that it was them who actually rushed Ikhlaq to the hospital after he was thrashed. “The men who thrashed him were not even from our village,” Om Mahesh, a local says. “The incident happened on the main road which is a common road, with many people passing by. When they heard the announcement that a cow has been slaughtered, they got together and started thrashing Ikhlaq. Most children who have been picked up were not even there. In fact, the Hindus of Bisada, rushed Ikhlaq to the hospital and called the police,” he says.
Om Vir, father of Sandeep, another accused, is also angry. Says his son is innocent. He claims his son was recovering from malaria and was sleeping next to him that night. “We heard the mob shouting but did not even step outside the house. Why was he arrested? The anger among us Hindus against the Muslims is justified. While we are suffering here, Ikhlaq’s family is being facilitated, like he was martyred. For what? Slaughtering a cow?” he asks.