MK Siddiqui, a contractor from Muzaffarnagar, recalls a time around 1990 when late Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Mahendra Singh Tikait launched an 18-day agitation after a Muslim girl was kidnapped in the region. Jats as well as Muley Jats (Jat converts to Islam) took part.
More than two decades later, the communal peace of villages in this area has been shattered. About 40,000 people, mostly Muslims, have reportedly been displaced from their villages and are taking shelter in schools and mosques in Muslim-dominated villages.
Jats, too, allege that they were attacked by Muslims and their trolleys burnt on September 7 when they were heading for a panchayat. “Many people jumped into a canal to escape gunshots and some are untraced,” Meerut resident Amit Sandhu says. Dalits also claim their families have been driven out of Muslim-majority villages such as Bassi Kalan.
As violence simmers, people from both sides agree on one thing — the region had no history of Jat-Muslim rioting. Now, with bloodshed and displacement in villages, the displaced don’t want to return to their villages. “This can have long-lasting consequences as village disputes tend to last longer,” says Subhash Dev Bharti, a Muzaffarnagar resident.
Satish Prakash, a Meerut College teacher and social activist, accuses the Sangh Parivar of muddying the waters through a sustained campaign regarding “Love Jihad”, or Muslim boys trying to “lure” Hindu girls. This fitted well into the reported trigger for this riot: a Muslim boy allegedly harassing a Jat girl, leading to killings.
Fingers are also being pointed at the SP government. The charge: it allowed things to worsen, hoping to play upon Muslim insecurities. “This is not a social but a political problem. Politicians were preparing ground for 2014,” says social worker Hoti Lal Sharma.
“The administration and police were lenient on Muslims,” claims a Jat resident.
The present riot also marks the entry of khap (clan) panchayats, so far in the news for taking stands on love marriages, in the violence.
Observers also say that the Jats — the dominant caste in the region — were feeling marginalised under the SP government. “Mayawati’s cabinet secretary Shashank Shekhar was from here and dictated the transfers and postings of police and administration officers here. The Jats gained heavily. Now there has been a reversal, with Yadav officers being posted in many key posts, leaving the Jats discontented,” Prakash says.