Sitting on a charpoy at his Kankera village, populated by mostly Hindu Jats, a gritty farmer clan, Chaudhury Virender Singh tries to explain the deadly events: “Mahapanchayat Musalmaanon ke khilaf kahan thi, woh toh parsasan ke khilaf thi (The village council meeting wasn’t against Muslims. It was against the local authorities).”
On August 27, two Hindus had killed a Muslim youth for stalking their sister. The Muslims retaliated by killing two Jat Hindu youths. Virender Singh alleges the police had charged only one Muslim, but 10 Jat men in that case. “This is how we are being treated...with partiality.”
On September 7, as thousands of Jat farmers headed back after attending the council meet in Kawal village to protest the “partiality”, deadly riots had broken out, displacing nearly 42,000 mostly Muslim survivors.
Jats, a powerful community with remarkable clan unity, say they feel gradually disempowered and pushed to the margins. They said Muslims enjoyed greater patronage under the Samajwadi Party, which had won sizeable Muslim votes in the last state elections. The number of legislators from their community who represent this sugarcane belt has come down to five from 18.
Ironically, Muslims claim the police were complicit with Jats who raided Muslim villages on September 7. This perception of one community about the other getting more powerful, fueled by larger politics, had been stoking silent anger. Sexual harassment of Jat women in public places, otherwise rampant, has often served as flashpoints.
“I was saw a Jat girl being harassed but could not say a word because I was in a Muslim area,” said Chander Pal Singh.
Virender Singh said these incidents had made “Jat blood boil”. “It’s like living in Aurangzeb’s reign,” he said, referring to a 17th-century Mughal emperor widely condemned for mistreating Hindus.
Muslims, on the other hand, accuse right-wing chauvinistic Hindu outfits, like the VHP, of planting fears about Muslim youths on a spree to covert Hindu women. Politics, therefore, is deeply embedded in this strife.
“Young boys everywhere go after girls. But if a Muslim were to bring home a Hindu bride, will he not be driven out?” asks Maulana Shafi, a cleric. RTI activist Ashraful Huda said Muslims had to suffer because Muslims they are poorly represented in UP police. Just 4% of the force deployed in police stations were Muslims, he said.
Earlier in the afternoon in Kankera, villagers gathered to mourn the killing of two Jat men by Muslims. In speech after speech, village leaders spoke about giving peace a chance. “Whatever happened has happened. If Muslims are leaving they should be made to come back. We have to leave in peace,” Radhe Shyam Choudhury said.
Wiping a tear, Dharamvir Balian, a former minister, too made an appeal for peace: “We need them (Muslims) just as they need us. Let’s not take make matters worse.”