“These people victimise us. We keep meeting with their elders but they aren’t listening. The police are also pressuring us. If they keep targeting us, how will we live here? So we are leaving,” said Shakeel Ahmed of Mawi Meera in Daurala area of Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. His is one of about 20 Muslim families that have decided to abandon the village, putting up notices on their doors that declare, “This house is for sale. We are leaving.”
By “these people” Shakeel meant some fellow Hindu villagers from the Gurjar community who vandalised Muslim houses and shot at them last month, and continue to harass them.
It all started on December 23. Sundar Singh had bought cigarettes on credit from a Muslim shopkeeper on Muhammad Tayyab’s guarantee. That day, when Tayyab asked him to pay, Sundar got violent. People standing nearby broke up the fight, and Sundar left. Sometime later, he returned with a mob of about 20 men and attacked the Muslims. CCTV footage from cameras installed on a couple of houses shows the Gurjar mob vandalising Muslim homes and firing countrymade guns.
The Muslims went to the Daurala police station, about 5 km away on the highway to Muzaffarnagar, and made a written complaint. Instead of taking action against the attackers the police pressured the Muslims to “compromise” with them, Tayyab’s uncle, Muhammad Yunus, claimed. The police have refused to file an FIR so far and the village’s pradhan is also siding with the accused, he added. Instead, the police have left the assailants free to harass the Muslims, leaving them with no option but to abandon their homes.
A lane in Mawi Meera.
Mawi Meera is a seemingly prosperous village of about 3,000 people, 40 percent of them Muslim. It has metalled roads and several big houses with electricity and CCTV cameras and is surrounded by sugarcane fields, the main source of livelihood for the villagers. A temple stands on either side of the road leading to the village from the highway. Some way in is the Dalit hamlet and adjacent to it the Muslim neighbourhood. The Hindu Gurjars live further inside.
A day before New Year’s Eve, Yunus, 60, showed us the bullet marks on the walls of his house and the smashed window panes. “Tayyab was sitting at a local shop. The Gurjar boy, Sundar, asked the shopkeeper for cigarettes on credit, but he refused. Sundar asked Tayyab to tell the shopkeeper to give him cigarettes and he would pay in three-four days. Tayyab did. Later, when he asked for the money, Sundar started a fight. Our kid made noise, and people gathered and broke up the fight. We reprimanded him and told him to let it go,” Yunus recalled. “We had barely reached home after the reconciliation when about 20 men, armed with countrymade guns and sticks, attacked us. They vandalised our houses and fired at us. See, the marks are still there.”
They went to the police and made a complaint. “If we call you in the morning, come to the station,” Yunus recalled a police official telling them, “otherwise sort this out between yourselves.”
“We came back dejected.”
A Muslim villager shows bullet marks on the walls of his house.
In the morning, Yunus claimed, they were threatened by some of the Gurjars. “We will see you,” Yunus claimed the Gurjars told him and a few other Muslims.
That’s when he decided to put his house up for sale. His Muslim neighbours followed suit.
“See, either the authorities take action or we are leaving,” he said. “We have lived here all our lives and our love for the village was stopping us from leaving. But now we have suffered enough.”
Yunus emphasised that it was only some of the Gurjars who were forcing them out, not the Hindu community as a whole. “Other Hindu brethren and some Gurjars live with us in fraternity and affection. It isn’t a Hindu-Muslim issue. Only this specific set of people harass us.”
Shakeel Ahmed, a tailor, however, pointed out that communal tension has been simmering in the village since 2013. That year, Muzaffarnagar, about 15 km away, witnessed .
"There was a quarrel about a graveyard wall, and it has been tense ever since,” said Shakeel, who serves as the graveyard’s caretaker. “There’s a group of Gurjars who harass us in every way possible, even assault us. If we complain to the police they turn on us. We gave an application to the police when a wall of the graveyard collapsed. The inspector called us to the station for ‘discussion’. When we got there, they confiscated our phones and beat us up the whole night. Then they put us behind bars under section 151.”
Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code punishes “unlawful assembly” of five or more people.
Mehraj Salmani, 50, who works in the cloth business in Dehradun and was visiting home, claimed that the same graveyard wall had earlier been felled by “the mischievous elements”. Then, too, the police had beaten up the Muslims.
Sharif Malik, 55, who runs a flour mill in the village, said there’s a “committee of five people from each side” to resolve any disputes between members of the two communities. “When we told them about this fight, but they didn’t know what to do,” he added, meaning the elders. “These people have fired at us before, once hitting a woman. They shoot at us, and if we complain the police pressure us to settle the matter. This time we have decided to just leave the village after selling our houses. If we don’t find a place somewhere else, we’ll drown ourselves in canals, rivers, drains. It has got to the point where we don’t want to live in this village any longer.”
The shop where the fight first broke out.
In the Gurjar neighbourhood, the villagers insisted that the Muslims putting up notices and announcing their intention to leave was just a “drama”.
“Three-four of our boys were returning from Modipuram, and they were a bit inebriated. They went to the shop and asked for cigarettes and paid for them,” said Veer Singh, Sundar’s father. “The shopkeeper reminded my son he owed Rs 20 from the other day. This led to a round of cursing and Sundar also slapped a guy, after which they started pelting stones. Had I been there I wouldn’t have let anything happen. At night, it was agreed that it was a fight between children and both sides had suffered damages. Our car was damaged and my son was beaten up as well, but it was decided that neither side would file a police complaint. They have blown it out of proportion. Some are putting up posters about leaving their homes. It is nothing, they are just playing politics.”
He continued, “We are imploring them to remove the posters. All this vitiates the environment of the village. I have said that if our fault is established we will accept our mistake in front of the village’s elders. It’s just for show anyway, it’s not like they are actually leaving.”
Asked about the Gurjar men shooting at Muslims, he said, “They weren’t shooting but they were named in the complaint, although some bullets were fired. And they threw bricks at us. Today, we went there once more and told them that we won’t make mistakes again, we won’t let anything happen later. I hope the matter is sorted. He’s also a good man, it’s others who are deliberately creating unrest.” He was referring to Yunus.
The village pradhan Sushil Kumar, left, is accused of siding with the assailants.
The Muslims accuse the pradhan, Sushil Kumar, himself a Gurjar, of siding with their assailants. When we visited him, the village headman agreed to speak about the incident and the allegations levelled against him, but not on camera.
He offered a version of the fight that differed from that of both the Muslims and the Gurjars. “It was merely a matter of 20 rupees that caused it. Because this one used a word like aukaat, the other one slapped him,” he claimed, meaning that it was the Muslim boy who had slapped the Gurjar man, not the other way round. “There was another quarrel but the matter was settled peacefully.”
“Some people are playing politics by provoking them. They are not going anywhere,” he added, referring to the Muslims. “This matter will die down in a day or two.”
As we were speaking with the villagers we learned that an inspector from the Daurala police station, Raj Kumar, was in the village and talking to members of both communities. We went to meet him, but when he saw us approaching he got on the phone, and then quickly drove away. One of the men he had been speaking with later told us on the condition of anonymity that the police officer wanted them to “settle the matter” and get the sale notices removed.
At Daurala police station we were told the SHO, Kiranpal Singh, was out in the field and could only speak over the phone. When we asked him about the allegation that the police were pressuring the Muslims to settle the matter, he replied, “Why would we settle it? What’s our concern? Even though they are vitiating the environment of the village by putting up those posters. They are making the whole administration look bad. Is it right to do this? Tell me if anybody else has left this place like this?”
He continued, “Nobody went anywhere. They want to cause a fight, they are advertising daily in newspapers, putting up Facebook posts. Let them do what they want.”
What about the firing? “No FIR has been made. Is anyone injured? Has anyone broken their hands or legs? Nobody has any injury, it’s just about vitiating the environment, nothing else,” he said.
The SHO seemed to suggest that the Muslims had damaged their own homes. “When they pelt stones, the glass will break,” he said, adding, “Our police are canvassing in every direction. There is peace, I’ll take action against anyone who tries to disturb it. We have convinced both sides that whatever happened happened. If something else happens in the future then strict action would be taken.”
Pictures by Mohammad Tahir Shabbir.
Translated by Shardool Katyayan.
A version of this story was first published on .