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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014

Sikhs make Eid sweeter for their Muslim workers

S.Raju, Hindustan Times  Saharanpur, July 29, 2014
First Published: 19:58 IST(29/7/2014) | Last Updated: 01:19 IST(30/7/2014)

Eid passed off peacefully in this riot-hit town famous for its woodwork, and perhaps the likes of Raghubeer Singh and Prabhjot Singh had something to do with it.

The uncle-nephew duo, which owns two wood-carving businesses and employs 40 Muslim artisans, made the Meethi Eid (Sweet Eid) — as Eid-ul-Fitr has come to be known for the spread of desserts that accompany the celebrations — sweeter for their workers.

A day after violent clashes between Sikhs and Muslim groups left three dead and 33 injured, the two men used the four-hour curfew window on Sunday to get in touch with workers, reach their showrooms  and pay the men ahead "of their biggest festival".

For the last 40 years, the Singhs have been running two wood-carving units from the town’s furniture market dominated by Muslim-owned businesses. Majority of carvers are Muslims and the Singhs’ units are among the only four owned by Sikhs.

As riots broke out Saturday morning, work came to a grinding halt. Shutters were downed in furniture market in a hurry and curfew clamped in the old city, where most of the Muslim workers lived.

"The city was tense and all my efforts to get in touch with my workers failed," Raghubeer said.

On Sunday, he managed to get through to some of them over the phone and asked them to reach the furniture showroom during the curfew break and inform others. As banks were closed and ATMs were out of money, Raghubeer asked his friends for money.

"Fortunately, my nephew had some cash. We somehow managed to reach the showroom and made the payments," he said.

He and his friends were worried as they had not been paid and Eid was just two days away, said Mohd Azim. But, that was before the phone call came, he said. "We couldn’t have celebrated Eid had our employers not taken the risk and come to the showroom to pay us."

"Many of us enjoy a bond of over 40 years. We understand each other," Raghubeer said.

The bond is strong – it withstood the communal frenzy that followed the Babri Mosque demolition in 1991.

He said the land dispute that triggered the violence was between the Guru Singh Sabha and former councillor Moharram Ali Pappu, and not a Sikh-Muslim conflict.

The local Handicraft Artisans and Exporters Association has more than 2,100 units as its members. The wood industry had an annual turnover of Rs. 300 crore and employed more than 30,000 people, general secretary Abdul Rehman said.


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