A large freezer lies broken outside a shop on the deserted street of Atali village in Haryana’s Faridabad district, some 70 km from the national capital. The confectionery shop, vandalised and looted in communal violence, belongs to one Ahmed, who fled to a relative’s house at an undisclosed location after the fateful evening of 25 May.
In a way, the script departed from the usual lack of trust and rumour-mongering that sparked off riots between Hindu and Muslim communities in the last century. There was a surprising amount of interaction between the two – until that fateful night when a Hindu mob numbering around 2,000 decided to settle the issue once and for all. They allegedly attacked Muslims and set their houses on fire.
There is a striking resemblance to the events at Ayodhya, where too a mosque vied with a temple as a place of worship — except that here, a mosque was sought to be built besides an ancient temple with the sanction of a district court.
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The relief is that no death has been reported so far, although over 50 persons were left injured in the clashes. But the trauma has been life-changing, with the entire Muslim community along with some Hindu families fleeing the village, abandoning their houses.
Interestingly, this dispute too, dates back to the 1970s, reminding one of how a devastating chain of events spun out of the decision to allow Hindus to worship at the disputed site they called Ram Janmabhoomi. While the Hindus claim that the land belongs to the village panchayat, the Muslims say that it is the property of the Waqf Board and the court has allowed a construction of a mosque on that land. This issue has been simmering for over four decades.
According to Hindu villagers, there used to be a graveyard for Muslims on the land till the early 1970s. Since there was an ancient temple beside it, it was decided that the graveyard would be shifted to another location. Therefore, in 1972, a separate one-acre plot was allotted to the Muslims in the vicinity of the village to build the graveyard. (Hindus say the mosque too was supposed to be built there.) However, Muslims continued to offer prayers at the disputed site till date. Representations were made to the authorities by the Hindus over the years, but, the tension never escalated to a point where there would be clashes between the two communities.
“Why can’t they build the mosque at the plot which is much bigger than this?” complains Tilak Kumar, who is also hopeful of the safe return of Muslims to the village. It will be peaceful for us all. We don’t want any violence. We have been living together for ages. But they (Muslims) are still reluctant to build it on the disputed site. Some compromise has to be made.”
However, the Muslim version is different. They say that the separate plot was awarded only for the graveyard and not for the mosque. Moreover, the site is “very far” from the village. According to Muslims, they used to offer prayers at the disputed site under a temporary structure which was burnt down by Hindus in 1992. Later, a tin shed was built for Muslims to offer namaz, which went on till 2009.
“Why should we go to a far off place to offer namaz? That is our land and the mosque will be built there, the court has also ruled in our favour. They (Hindus) should follow court’s ruling,” says Suleiman, 50, who was also injured in the clashes.
On 31 March, a Faridabad court ruled in favour of Muslims and allowed the construction of the mosque. “We approached the Waqf Board of Haryana which gave us the go-ahead and also sanctioned Rs 2 lakh for building the mosque,” adds Suleiman.
It was only in 2009, that resentment began to arise in the minds of the Hindu community when Muslims attempted to draw the boundary and start the construction of the mosque. The Hindus protested against it and procured a stay order from the court on the construction of the mosque. According to the Hindu villagers, this was when village head Rajesh Chaudhary, who was contesting sarpanch polls then, had promised Muslims that he would help them in building the mosque if voted to power. There are over 500 Muslim voters in the village, which can prove to be a deciding factor in village-level polls, as compared to 3,000 Hindus, who get scattered among various Hindu clans. The timing of the court ruling was unfortunate — it comes uncomfortably close to the panchayat election due any time between August and September this year.