Lok Sabha elections 2019: Uneasy calm in Muzaffarnagar village marked by 2013 riots
Kawal, a village in Muzaffarnagar that was the scene of the murders that triggered the 2013 riots in the district, went to the polls peacefully in the first phase of the national polls on Thursday. Peace has prevailed here since the riots though at a heavy cost.
The riots left 60 people dead and nearly 50,000 displaced. In August 2013, members of the Jat community of nearby Malikpura village, around 4 km from Kawal, allegedly killed Shahnawaz, a Muslim youth, after an altercation. In retaliation, a mob from Kawal killed two Jats – Sachin and his cousin, Gaurav. This sparked the violence.
In February, a local court sentenced all seven accused from Shahnawaz’s family to life in prison for murdering the two. On the other hand, Shahnawaz’s murder case involving six accused has made little headway. The police are yet to file charges against the six accused despite several judicial interventions, including non-bailable warrants and summons.
Mohammad Saleem, 65, Shahnawaz’s father, said he has lost everything. “The Jats came and killed my son. None of my children was here except Shahnawaz. They had left for Chennai, where we had a small cloth business, when they got a call that my son has been killed,’’ he said.
He added eight men killed his son. “A mob killed two of their men while the others fled. Our boys have been sentenced for life. They include my own sons and the rest are my nephews. Meanwhile, nothing has happened to them. First, the court issued warrants then non-bailable warrants after which they were asked to be summoned. The police do not do anything.”
Residents said there were other reasons for the altercation. “There were rumours that Shahnawaz was involved in teasing the sister of [one of the slain Jats] which led to the altercation. No one would tolerate this. They… were at fault,’’ said Kirshanpal Saini, a local businessman.
Several leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Muzaffarnagar Parliament member Sanjeev Balyan, were named in 125 cases during the riots.
Muslims account for Muzaffarnagar’s 41% population while 57% are Hindus mostly from Other Backward Classes, Dalits, Kashyaps, Brahmins and Thakur communities.
Saleem said there has been a lot of political pressure on the police since the beginning. “There is pressure on the police by Sanjeev Balyan and other BJP leaders. They are violating the court orders.”
After the riots, Saleem said many Muslim families fled to nearby villages some of whom returned later. Kawal still has a sizeable Muslim population.
Saleem said there has been political pressure on the police.
“They looted Muslim families’ homes. Some houses were even destroyed the day they did the last rites of the two Jat boys. The government put so much pressure on us, Sarkar ki takkar nahi li jaati kisi se. Sarkar ki takkar toh Sarkar hi le sake.( No one can challenge the government),” he says.
BJP’s Dr Sanjiv Balyan, who had won by a large margin in 2014, remains confident of the support of the dominant Jat population in the region. The community, however, is likely to split its vote with RJD chief Ajit Singh, former union minister and Jat leader. Balyan, on Thursday, also raked a controversy by alleging that the identities of “burqa-clad” voters was not being verified by Election Commission officials.
Though Kawal comes under the jurisdiction of Muzaffarnagar district, its Lok Sabha constituency remains Bijnor. As per the official census of 2011 and population data from 2019, Muslims, who form a significant 43.04% of the total population of Bijnor, play an important electoral roll.
In Bijnor, Congress fielded Nasimuddin Siddiqui, the former BSP MLA who was expelled by BSP chief Mayawati in 2017. Siddiqui is contesting against BSP’s Malook Nagar and sitting BJP MP from the region Kunwar Bharatendra Singh.
Saleem says the Muslims of the village will support the Gathbandan’s candidate instead of Siddique.
“Muslim and Hindu vote will go to the Gathbandhan. We suffered a lot under this government. Businesses were shut after demonetisation. No one is happy. I am an old man, I have seen life and have some experience. If this country has to be saved then the government must be changed. It is not about every household, this is not a fight of yours or mine, it is about the country. If this country has to be saved, Modi has to go,” he says.
“I was born here,” he says with tears welling in his eyes.
“My father, and brother were born here, my children will live here, and their children will be too. Is this not our country? If we will not love it then who will? What is Pakistan to us? What relationship do we have with them? No, this is our country, we have to die here and live here. We will sacrifice everything including our life for it, but will not let any misfortune come to it,” he says.
Saleem has a little over a month to file an appeal against the district court’s order.