Overgrown weeds block the narrow path to an old two-storey house. Its blue door is locked. Furniture is strewn around in the courtyard. Children play nearby. But they don’t come close to the house. The barbaric attack on Mohammad Ikhlaq is still fresh in the memory of the residents of Bisada in western Uttar Pradesh.
Here, Ikhlaq was lynched by a mob last year after rumours spread that he had stocked beef in his house. His family left the village amid a nationwide uproar over the killing.
Six months on, HT went back to the village, barely an hour’s drive from the capital, and spoke to the families of the accused, the victims and Muslim residents.
Things seems normal. Merely the crumbling house speaks of the attack. But the lynching still haunts the villagers.
Adjacent to the village chief’s house is the lone mosque. Until recently, Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) men guarded the mosque round-the-clock. They resided in a deserted old building in the village. However, they left last month, saying peace has returned.
“Not one act of violence has been reported since that night,” a local police officer tells HT. “Our seniors decided there was no need for police protection now. At least 10-15 PAC men guarded the mosque earlier.”
No Muslim family left the village
Over 300 Muslims and around 20,000 Hindus live in Bisada. Contrary to reports, none of the Muslims have left the village.
Meat shops in the area that mostly sold mutton shut down for a few weeks after the attack. But they are now back in business.
Village head Sanjiv Rana blames the media for publishing stories on distrust between Hindus and Muslims. “You (media) misreported several things. You said Muslims were living in fear. Not a single resident has left. We are living peacefully. We all got together and funded the wedding of a Muslim girl some months ago,” he says.
Outside his house, Rana introduced us to Sharik, Mustaqim, Sammer and Javed, four Muslim youths from the village, who work at his washing powder factory. “They are working here peacefully with the Hindu youths,” he says.
...but villagers demand closure
The village is united in demanding that the Uttar Pradesh government make public the forensic science laboratory (FSL) report about the meat found at Ikhlaq’s house. “The government should be transparent,” says Rana.
“A peaceful village like ours gained notoriety. The accused youths are still in jail. None of them have got bail. Their parents have the right to know if the meat found in the fridge was mutton or beef. It will at least give us some sense of closure.”
Rana says everybody wants the case transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation for a fair investigation.
Ikhlaq’s family does not want to return
One October morning, about a week after the incident, Ikhlaq’s family left the village for Delhi. His elder son Sartaj is a corporal with the Indian Air Force. “We will not return. There is nothing in that house, except memories of that night,” says Sartaj.
Ikhlaq’s younger son Danish, who was injured that night and shifted to the RR hospital in Delhi was discharged a few months ago. “My brother has not recovered fully. He has to visit the doctor once in a while,” says Sartaj.
‘We will continue to live here’
Nineteen-year-old Reshma sits next to her cousin, stitching a dress, for delivery the next day.
Reshma’s family is into tailoring and has lived in Bisada for five generations. In October, the Hindu and Muslim residents joined hands to help her family at her wedding.
“I have faced no problems in the village. My husband is from Piyoli village, but I keep coming here. This is where I was born and my friends are here. I will never leave this village,” she says.
Leela Devi is an elderly widow, whose two sons, Hari Om and Sri Om, were arrested after the lynching.
She is illiterate, but asks neighbours to read the papers for her everyday and check if the FSL report is released. Hari Om was married for only six months, when the police picked him up. His son was born, while he was in jail.
“The villagers are helping us with food, but till when,” she says.
“I need to know if my two sons will ever return home. Imagine the life of a physically disabled mother, whose sons are in jail. I want to know if it was beef,” she says, adding that her sons are innocent.
‘It was a bad time’
Madan Kumar lives next to Akhlaq’s house. His nephew, Sandeep, was also arrested. Kumar wasn’t home that night and says Ikhlaq was always a friend. “We shared this boundary wall peacefully for generations. Barring that night, everything has been normal,” says Madan.
He refused to comment on Sandeep. About that night, he says, “Samay kharab tha (it was a bad time).”