The Jats of western Uttar Pradesh have admitted that the communal division between them and their Muslim neighbours should not have occurred. They have laid the blame for it at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s feet. With this admission of error, differences between the two communities have healed, . However, this raises questions about the process of healing, whether a panchayat meeting is enough to paper over the cracks that have developed. What about monetary compensation and, more importantly, the judicial process of holding people accountable?
I worked in the region from 2014 to 2016 with Muslim families displaced during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar carnage. I was part of a group of activists and non-profit organisations that came together to create a model for rehabilitation for them. We hoped that a modicum of dignity and control over their lives would begin to heal the scars of violent displacement. I could write about the generosity of these families, their courage, or their perseverance. But I want to take a moment to dwell on their pain because I believe it’s being swept under the rug at the moment.
Several families I came across had stories of loss and betrayal. K told me the village sarpanch, a Jat landowner, reassured his family of their safety when trouble began. Then the sarpanch’s brother and his sons led the mob that cut down K’s father.
R missed the trees in her courtyard and her vegetable garden, more than a year after the carnage. She dug the foundations of her new house despite blisters on her hands. She carried bricks, sand, and mortar on her head. She rebuilt her house. She painted it the same colour as the one she couldn’t return to and put up shiny paper streamers for Eid.
Chacha wanted the tallest house in the neighbourhood. I reasoned it would cost him money that he could ill-afford. He told me how he and other men had climbed on top of his chaubara and pelted the approaching mob with stones to keep them at bay. A tall house wasn’t for this old man’s pride, it was to secure a fighting chance.
M didn’t want a courtyard at all. I reasoned with him that you need to let some natural light in. He argued he would add more lights. I reminded him electricity could be patchy, but he was adamant. You see, bullets and sunlight come in through the same openings, he replied. What would you choose between life and quality of life?
I walked a fine line between nudging the families to build better and honouring their wishes. I reasoned. I cajoled. That argument with M I didn’t win. Other times, I used their fear. If they wanted to cut costs by “building the toilet later”, I would remind them that women would have to use the fields to relieve themselves. You know what can happen in the fields? I didn’t need to tell them. I told myself it was the right move, but I still feel guilty about it.
When the riots are reported, it’s about 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus who lost their lives. We forget that over 52,000 people were displaced at the height of the carnage. The Samajwadi Party government at the time recognised 10 of the worst affected villages. Every family from these villages was compensated for displacement. Even the state couldn’t pretend that things could “go back to normal” for them.
Jat-dominated villages in the region have declared that they will not allow BJP leaders and party workers to enter. Many of them had proudly declared the names of their riot-accused and dared the police to arrest them back then.
I haven’t been a part of recent conversations between Jats and Muslims in UP. But it is worth asking what the nature of this purported healing is. Will the Jat families now submit to the due process of law? Or is this a peace where the landowners do the forgetting and the landless have no choice but to forgive?