Atali: A village divided

A half-constructed mosque, broken homes and shattered friendships- this is the legacy of the riot in Atali.

WrittenBy:Ishan Kukreti
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Last year, communal clashes in Atali, Haryana, scoured the village. When the local mosque had to be renovated, a dispute followed about who owned the land – the Hindus or the Muslims. On May 25, a Hindu mob attacked Muslim residents of the village that is 64 kilometres from Delhi. Muslim houses surrounding the disputed territory were burnt, residents were injured and fled in panic; their cattle either killed or stolen.

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More than a year later, Atali is yet to recover. Approximately 25 policemen are stationed in the village to maintain law and order, according to Ballabgarh Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Parth Gupta. Hindus and Muslims remain separated by paranoia and each community has misgivings about the other. Many of the families that were torn apart by the violence last year are struggling to regroup. Children live with grandparents while their parents live in nearby villages, afraid to come home

And for good reason. On the night of Diwali, this year, two men,  Haryana Mohammad Ali and his uncle Waseem Khan were attacked by the Jats of the village.They tied them to the trolley of a tractor and dragged them to the bypass area outside the village,” Ali Sher, Ali’s father said. The police arrested three people under the Indian Penal Code Sections 147 (rioting), 148 (armed with deadly weapons), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) 341 (wrongful assistance) and 506 (criminal intimidation).

The broken homes of Atali

“The riot has parted our families. I don’t know when will we reunite again,” bemoaned Kameeruddin Khan, whose family –mother, father, wife, three children, three brothers and their families – used to live in Atali. They fled after the attack. For a few hours, Kameeruddin didn’t know where his wife and children were, if they were alive or had been killed by the rampaging mob. Today, Kameeruddin has tentatively returned to Atali – but only after he was unable to make a living in Fatehpur Taga, his wife’s village in Faridabad district of Haryana. His wife, Sitara, has refused to live in Atali. “Why should I go back? I do not trust the people there,” Sitara, said.

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Kameeruddin has been struggling to earn a living in Atali. Image Credit: Ishan Kukreti 

Before May 2015, 250 Muslim families lived in Atali. Locals like Kameeruddin say there was peace between them and the 800 Hindu families.  “Not all have returned,” said SDM Gupta. “Actually, everyone will not return until the main issue of the mosque is resolved.”

The mosque in question is currently a mere skeletal structure made of scaffolding, cordoned off by a 5 feet high brick wall.

Had the riot not occurred, there’d have been a hall instead of the scaffolding. Now, there are two policemen outside the mosque. A heap of gravel lies in front of the mosque’s gate. The houses around the mosque still have their doors either unhinged or broken.

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A broken home of Atali. Image Credit: Ishan Kukreti

In fact the renovation of the mosque was what sparked the violence. While the Muslims claim that the land is Waqf Board’s property, the Hindu’s claim that it belongs to the village panchayat.  

In March last year, the Muslim community got Faridabad court’s order to renovate the tin structure. They also earned the resentment of a few of the Hindus of the village along with it.

“After the riot, the Hindus filed a case in Faridabad district court and got an order to leave things as they were on the land, Atali sarpanch Prahlad Singh told Newslaundry. Immediately after this order, the Waqf board became a party to the district court case. “Then the Hindus filed a case in the High Court for which hearing is now going on. The court will decide whether the land belongs to the Waqf board or the village panchayat,” he adds. The hearing is set for November 18.

“Before the riot I had many Hindu friends, now they don’t talk to me,” said Sahil Malik, a teenager who recently came back to Atali and lives with his grandparents. He was in class 10 when the violence forced his family leave the village and move to the nearby town of Ballabgarh. For Malik, this has meant abandoning his education. “When we reached Ballabgarh, the admission process was over,” he said. “I don’t want to go to school here in Atali, because I am alone here with no friends.”

Like Malik’s parents, the displaced Muslim families of Atali have moved to nearby villages and towns like Ballabhgarh, Fatehpur Tega, Palwal, or the suburbs of Delhi. They’d left Atali out of fear and what’s standing in their way of returning to the village are work opportunities.

The majority of the Muslims in Atali used to work as daily wage labourers in Hindu Jat-owned fields. “Earlier they [Jats] used to hire us in their field, but now I can hardly get any work,” said Hazi Sakir Ali, a local resident who now works at a factory in Faridabad. “We have gone back 20 years economically,” he said.

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An elderly man from Atali. Image Credit: Ishan Kukreti

The Mosque

Meanwhile the criminal case hearing is also on. “FIR was filed against 100 people and 2,500 people were mentioned as others,” said Rishi Pal, one of those arrested. “The police arrested 78 of us, but none of the people with FIRs against them have been arrested,” he adds. For him, political connections have played an important role in the whole Atali affair –from its inception to the current status quo.   

On the evening of October 23, around ten Muslims offer the evening namaz in the barely constructed Zama masjid of Atali. From the look of things, this will be the case for some time to come. “This issue can only be solved if the villagers of both the communities understand and listen to each other,” sarpanch Singh said.

That understanding, though, depends on being able to read beyond the religious lines that carve up the village.

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Jama masjid, Atali. Image Credit: Ishan Kukreti

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