Its Muslim population second only to Malerkotla in Sangrur, tension is brewing in Fatehgarh Sahib over a burial ground. The land dispute erupted last month in Amloh town after huts of Muslim Gujjar families residing on the burial ground were allegedly burnt down by some people who claimed to have bought the land from the titleholders.
The FIR dated October 8, 2013 by complainant Mohammad Rafique, whose family resides there, has alleged that 200-300 people came with sticks, rods and rifles, attacked his parents, wife, daughter and sister. "They attacked us, tore off clothes of girls, took away our valuables -- gold, silver, cash and buffaloes -- and burnt copies of the Quran," it adds. Following the incident, kanungo Shingara Singh was arrested along with four others, while his wife, on whose name he had illegally transferred the land title, is absconding.
The inquiry into title of the common village pond, now a prime land worth Rs. 3 crore an acre in Amloh town on Malerkotla Road, was handed over to SDM Rajdeep Kaur, whose report to Fatehgarh Sahib deputy commissioner Arun Sekhri has stated that the land (khasra number 49) is gairmumkin johar (common village pond) as per the revenue records and therefore a property of the government. But the Muslim Welfare Committee of Amloh contends that the disputed land is continuation of the burial ground across the road marked as gairmumkin kabran (village burial ground) in the revenue records.
The matter being communally sensitive, the administration is willing to concede to the demand of the Muslim community if an application is moved by the Wakf Board. "We have asked the Wakf Board to clarify if the title of the said property is in their records. However, the Board has not yet replied. They have neither moved any application to demand more land which can be allotted if the population justifies such a need. As per my knowledge, there are just 15-20 Muslim families in Amloh and the community has enough space as burial ground," DC Sekhri said.
But JP Khan and Shadi Khan of Muslim Welfare Committee, Amloh, claim 84 villages in Fatehgarh Sahib district are Muslim-dominated. "The nature of land in revenue records for khasra numbers 45 to 49 was gairmumkin kabran. First, a part of the burial ground on other side of the road was encroached. Now, some people are trying to take away the remaining part. They burnt down huts and beat up women and children. Yet the police have not arrested some culprits whose anticipatory bail plea has been rejected by the Punjab and Haryana high court. One of the accused is a member of the block samiti and belongs to the Akali Dal. The incident could have flared communal tension but we asked our community to maintain harmony," JP Khan, who heads the minority cell of the BJP, Fatehgarh Sahib, said.
But the district administration says they are "communalising" the issue to take control of the government land. "The Gujjar families are encroachers and living there for the past many years. Still after their huts were burnt down, we gave them permission to build huts again. They have now built three huts where there was just one earlier. We will consider their demand if they require more land. We have recently given land for burial ground to Christians at Bassi Pathana though there are just 10 Christian families there as they were taking their dead to Kharar," he added.
The issue is also taking political overtones with Amloh MLA Randeep Nabha of the Congress accusing the government of a cover-up. "Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal gave me assurance on the floor of the house during the recently-concluded assembly session that all culprits would be arrested within 48 hours. First, the police took no action and now it is threatening the poor families. The DC can decide to hand over the land as per Muslim population of the area. So why are they not resolving the issue," he said.
Fatehgarh Sahib SSP Gurpreet Singh, when contacted, said it was a simple land dispute which was being given a different colour. "The Gujjar families staying there rear buffaloes and supply milk. We cannot arrest people without verifying if they were present on the spot. The investigation is on and we will file a chargesheet within 10 days," he said.
Amloh halqa in-charge Jagdeep Cheema, who lost the seat to Randeep Nabha, said, "Iqbal Singh Rai is our block samiti member but he was not on the spot and his call records can prove his location. I do not know the other person who has applied for anticipatory bail (Kamaljit Bajwa)."