The scars have not healed. Friends have turned foes. Mosques and madrasas remain locked. The muezzin’s call for prayers is no longer heard. Many Muslims have left and those who remain are slowly coming to terms with the loss.
Kutba village in Muzaffarnagar — the home of Union minister of state Sanjeev Baliyan — struggles to erase memories of the September 2013 Hindu-Muslim riots. They are also fearful of what the elections due in 2017 will bring. From Dadri to Kairana, communal tensions have been simmering in parts of Uttar Pradesh over issues such as beef and forced migration, and Kutba is fearful of the communal divide widening again in a politically charged scenario.
Its fears are rooted in the attack on 900 Muslim families here, that led to eight deaths. Three years later, the village is also a symbol of the possible polarisation in the forthcoming UP elections. Those who left will vote one way; those who stayed may vote another. But in the midst of this division, the doors for reconciliation are slowly opening.
Those who left
Alijaan comes to the village occasionally to see the hamlet where he was born and grew up. For decades, he was a symbol of communal harmony. Jats depended on him to keep their farming equipment sharp. He says, “The riots destroyed our centuries-old brotherhood in half-an-hour.”
Though Alijaan has now shifted to the neighbouring village Palra, Jats still visit him to get their work done. He does not refuse.
Baliyan asked him to go back to Kutba and make a fresh start. Alijaan was willing but his six sons and their families refused to go back. “How can we return to the place where we begged for our lives, but were thrown out for no fault of ours?” asks Mohd Naseem, Alijaan’s son. “Where were they when we lived like beggars in camps for over two years?”
They are displeased with Baliyan. They say he never came to console them. Rather, he visited Jats who were in jail. Replying to their charges, Baliyan says: “I initially avoided meeting them because the atmosphere was not favourable. Now, the hatred has dissipated. I have visited a few families who are living in Palra and tried convincing them to return to the village.”
Those who stayed
Village headman Ashok Kutba holds outsiders responsible for violence in the village. “We regret failing to protect them (the Muslims). Efforts are underway to ensure their return in order to restore the tradition of harmony and brotherhood here.”
Babu, who lost his brother in the violence, suspects there is a hidden agenda behind the move to get the riot victims to return to the village. “Once we return, they will mount pressure to dilute cases against the men who have been named and jailed.” The riot victims accused 110 villagers of unleashing violence against them. Fifty-eight of the accused were jailed on charges of murder, loot and other henious crimes. They are now out on bail after being in jail for three to 18 months.
Chaudhary Mangeram, who heads 12 villages of the Baliyan Khap, feels both communities should sit and resolve their grievances. His son Vikas was booked for murder and is now out on bail after spending 18 months in jail.
While Jats are the dominant farming community, there was deep economic synergy between all communities.
“All castes and communities complement one another,” says headman Ashok admitting that villagers face great difficulties without Muslim artisans and labourers. The Muslims, who have now settled down in other villages, too say their income has declined drastically.
“Everyone in the village knew us... there was no dearth of work. We are struggling to get regular work after settling down at new places,” says Imran a mason, invited by the village pradhan to construct a house.
Dr Naresh K Malik, principal of Chotu Ram PG College, believes “this web of inter-dependence will overwhelm the politics of hate in west UP and also shape the 2017 verdict”.
“Both communities wish to revive their old harmony in the larger interest of society,” he says.