Nearly 100 kilometre away from Delhi is Haryana’s Mewat district, also known as Nuh. In contrast to the fast-paced development Delhi and Gurugram have witnessed, this district of Haryana has largely remained backward and underdeveloped – suffering the neglect of successive governments.
On January 18, a news item from this district became the talking point of social media conversations. Leading Hindi daily Navbharat Times reported that a Dalit family in Mewat’s Mohlaka village had been attacked by goons for not converting to Islam. The headline read, “Dharam parivartan na karne par Dalit parivaar par hamla (Dalit family attacked for refusing to convert).”
A day earlier, Dainik Jagran had also carried a report detailing that a Dalit family was being tormented by one Mohammad Islam – a local goon of sorts who possessed illegal weapons. The report also emphasised that the village has a majority of Muslims with just seven Dalit families.
When Newslaundry spoke to local police officials, we were told that the issue was a fight, “a result of personal dispute”. This correspondent later travelled to the village to ascertain the facts in the incident.
A road passes through Mohlaka that serves as a connecting lane to the nearby state of Rajasthan. It is a typical Mewat village with over 300 families, five mosques in the locality and one government school. Except for seven Jatav-Dalit families who live here, all families belong to the Muslim Meo community.
Around 700 metre away from the main settlement of the village is the BPL colony where a few below-poverty-line families have been allotted plots. Shri Kishan, who lives here in a two-room house, stated that he and his wife were beaten up by Islam and four others on January 15.
“It was 6 in the morning when I saw Islam taking away three-four of my cow-dung cakes. When I objected, he hurled abuse and passed casteist slurs at me,” said 44-year-old Kishan.
As the argument escalated, Islam, who owns four under-construction shops 30 metre away, called his family members. “He called me by names and they attacked us with lathis,” Kishan’s wife Shakuntala said. The 35-year-old added: “Ever since this Islam has shifted here, he has been creating trouble over some issue or the other.”
While Kishan sustained a minor injury on the palm of his right hand, his 55-year-old sister-in-law Bishan Devi said she too was beaten by attackers.
Kishan’s is a poor family, Islam is among the rich of the village who runs a dairy business. He along with his two brothers have built houses away from the village’s main settlement and live nearly 200 metre away from the BPL colony.
When asked about the allegations of being pressured to convert to Islam, Kishan said: “It’s only one person who has been putting pressure on us.” He added that, “It started four-five days before the incident happened. He used to ask me to become a Muslim. I told him not to bother me like this.”
Kishan and his family had approached the police on January 15 itself. The police station’s entry for the day mentions that a fight between Islam and Kishan was reported. “His family requested us not to file a police complaint. We told them – let’s call the panchayat and let them decide the matter. When he didn’t pay heed, we filed the FIR on January 17,” said Kishan’s elder brother, Ram Kishan, who too was present during the incident. “We would have still ignored the casteist abuses but how can we ignore the pressure to convert?” added Ram Kishan.
Shri Kishan in his statement, in the FIR, has alleged conversion charges against Islam. The police have filed the FIR under six sections – SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, IPC sections 148 (armed with deadly weapon) and 149 (offence committed by unlawful assembly), 323 (causing hurt), 452 (trespass) and 506 (criminal intimidation).
Interestingly, both brothers state that had Islam accepted his mistake and apologised in front of the panchayat, they would have forgiven him.
They, however, were careful about not presenting this incident as one where Dalits were being forced en masse to convert in a Muslim-dominated village. Kishan and his brother Ram both kept on emphasising that the entire village stood with them.
“Gaon ka support hai aur iss ghatna mein ek aadmi ke alawa (Islam), kisi ka koi hanth nahi hai (the entire village is standing with us. Besides one person, no one has any role in the incident),” they said.
It is important to note the power dynamics in the village. Except for the seven Jatav families, the entire village comprises the Muslim community – even so no one stood with Islam.
Sitting inside a small, temporary hut-like structure made of rice-straw, Ram Kishan, his angered son Rajesh Kumar and Shri Kishan narrated the incident and the behaviour of other villagers. When asked whether such incidents have happened in the past, 25-year-old Kumar responded: “Humara gaon accha hai, warna hum itne saalon se gaon mein kaise reh rahe hote? Ab tak to gaon chhod ke ja chuke hote (those in our village are nice, else how would we have lived here for so long? We would have left the village years ago).” Inside the same hut, Sabir Khan, the son of one of the accused in the FIR, Atru, had come to meet Kishan’s family.
It is important to note the details of three of the five accused in the case.
Atru is an old man in his late 80s, who was present in the neighbourhood. “We don’t have any fight with Atru. He had come to stop the fight but slapped two of our married daughters who had come to celebrate Sankranti festival,” Ram Kishan and Shri Kishan told this correspondent. Atru’s son Sabir too agreed and said he has apologised on behalf of his father.
Islam’s wife Asmeena and younger son Mausim, 13, are named in the FIR. Facing SC/ST atrocity charges, while Islam, his elder son Tareef and Asmeena are on the run, Mausim is waiting for their return at home.
Interestingly, the Navbharat Times’ story did not mention the age of these accused. Reading Dainik Jagran’s report it appears that the entire issue was one of forced conversion. Kishan, however, has said it was only Islam who pressured him. Also, in what capacity can a minor pressure someone for religious conversion?
Mausim, a Class 9 student, doesn’t even understand the charges lodged against him. “My sister told me about the scuffle. I informed my mother and brother Tareef about it and rushed to the spot,” he said.
According to him, both parties resorted to abuse and were fighting. The family members said that even though the police have visited after the incident was reported, they have not interrogated Mausim so far.
Islam’s 13-year-old son Mausim is one of the accused in the case.
Interestingly, Mausim was friends with Kishan’s 15-year-old son Manoj Kumar until the incident took place. “After returning from school, we used to play cricket together,” Manoj said. But now the friendship is over, he claimed, as “that day he slapped me”. Kishan’s family claimed Mausim too tried to pelt stones at them.
This correspondent spoke to other Dalit families in the village as well as other residents to find out whether such incidents have been reported in the past. All fingers pointed at Islam. “He (Islam) commented that why do you dress up so much, wear saree and put bindis. He insisted, why don’t you people become Meo?” said Parvesh, 30, who lives with three other families inside the village.
Another Dalit family accused that Islam didn’t pay their wages due for the construction of his shops. “Three to four days before Sankranti, when we went to ask for our dues of Rs 2,500, he called me a prostitute and pelted stones at us,” said Shankutala Devi. Similarly, another family claimed they didn’t shift to the BPL colony fearing Islam’s attitude. “We didn’t shift to the plot allotted to us in the BPL colony because of him,” said Rakesh Kumar, 19, who lives with his family along with three other Dalit families inside the village.
Muslims in the village too reported Islam has a reputation of being a troublemaker. Mohammad Saabeer, a truck driver, said: “Islam and I are not on good terms because of his attitude. He abuses and his conduct is foul. While everyone is standing with Kishan’s family, we can hardly trust the allegation of forced conversion.”
Station house officer of Nagina police station Vipin Kadiyan told Newslaundry: “There has been no attempt of forced conversion. Besides one person (Islam) against whom an FIR has been filed, no one in the village has been reported of putting pressure on the family.”
Kadiyan met the Dalit family after the incident was reported. Repeated calls and text message to DSP Sajeev Balara, now in charge of the case, went unanswered. (The story will be updated as and when he responds.)
Speaking about ensuring the safety of the Dalits in the village, 90-year-old Mohammad Munaar said: “Our fathers assured that they (Dalits) remained safe in the village even during the turmoil that gripped the country after Partition. Unlike Hindus, the Muslims in this village have never discriminated against them on the basis of their caste. Now we are hearing of such allegations, it is dangerous for the village.”
Mohammad Yunus, a government employee, pointed at the danger looming over them. “These days news channels twist such stories and they are widely circulated on WhatsApp. I saw on the internet that this news is spreading like a forest fire and bringing bad repute to the village. It will work against our community and harmony of the society,” he pointed out.