‘Some of the perpetrator were my neighbours whom I had known for years’
Now that the violence in Muzaffarnagar has largely subsided, police are sifting through the hundreds of complaints received from the relief camps, including those of murder, loot and rapes. On the basis of the complaints, five FIRs of gangrapes have been registered in Muzaffarnagar and the adjoining Shamli district.
Soni (name changed), a 38-year-old woman who was raped during the riots, told TEHELKA that the rape was too “shameful”, so much so that she initially didn’t even tell her husband about it.
On 7 September, a Jat convoy returning from a mahapanchayat was attacked at Ganga canal in Jauli village. As the communal fire spread throughout Muzaffarnagar district, nearly 50 men attacked Soni’s house at Fugana village at 1:30 PM. According to the police FIR, the perpetrators were from the same village. “Some of them were my neighbours whom I had known for years,” she says.
Even as her husband and in-laws ran for safety, she couldn’t. “There was mayhem. Family members ran in whichever direction they could. Soni was in the toilet when the attack happened and got trapped,” says her husband. “What followed was a nightmare. Luckily my mobile phone was with her. But she wasn’t taking my repeated calls. Finally when she did, it was 9 PM. She was in a sugarcane field about a kilometer away from our home to which she had somehow managed to walk after the rioters set our home on fire. Her voice trembled over the phone and she initially failed to recognize even my voice. We took her to Jogiya Khera village pradhan’s home where she told me about the rape the next day,” he says. “She was too terrified. She feared her photographs would appear in newspapers.”
“Six men took turns to rape me,” Soni says in a feeble voice. “They beat me up badly after that and set our home on fire.”
According to her husband and fellow homeless victims who have taken refuge at the Jogiya Khera camp, she has not been keeping well since the incident and hardly speaks to anybody.
On 20 September, her husband gave a written complaint to the police in the Jogiya Khera shelter. “We didn’t dare go to a police station all this time. On 17 September, the District Magistrate came to us and said that the police would come to take our complaints in the shelter itself. The police came on 20 September.”
Fugana bore the worst of the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar. 16 people were killed in the area and all houses of the minority community were set on fire.
‘I fear my granddaughter was burnt alive in our house’
Nearly 4,500 homeless victims from nearby villages like Fugana, Lisarh and Bahawadi have taken refuge at Loi village, located nearly 90 minutes from Muzaffarnagar district headquarters.
Here a family of five has been living in a 8×10 feet tarpaulin tent since 8 September. 50-year-old Sagiran is attending to her daughter-in-law Sameena (22) who is in the eighth month of her pregnancy. The family is barely able to get medicines and a nutritious diet for Sameena in the camp.
But that is not the end of their worries. While escaping from rioters in their village in Fugana police station area, Sagiran lost hold of her five-year-old granddaughter, Sania’s hand. Since then, the child has been missing.
The family, however, fears the worst. “We fled towards a village mosque to take shelter. Sania was holding my hands. But in the chaos, she was left behind. From a distance, when I turned back to look for her, I saw her being taken away by the men who had attacked us. I fear she was thrown inside our house which was set on fire. We registered a case in Fugana police station, but she is still missing,” a sobbing Sagiran says.
‘I hope my Muslim neighbours return to live here again’
Amidst a bunch of abandoned Muslim houses at Dhanauri Patti Mohalla of Lisarh village, Shamli district is the five-bedroom house of Qasim Masterji. It is partially burnt, unlike other houses that suffered more damage at the hands of rioters.
The house’s kitchen slab is littered with rotis, rotten potato curry and turmeric. In one of the bedrooms, ironed shirts and colorful ladies’ suits are neatly stacked in a steel almirah whose door has been left open – either by the family while fleeing or by the looting mob. In the house’s living room, pages of a local Hindi newspaper dated 8 September – when the family fled the village – lie scattered on a brown sofa.
The house has been left untouched as the jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been put on guard in the area. “We don’t let anyone go inside the abandoned houses. We ourselves don’t go inside as we are supposed to guard them from outside,” said Bhagirath Singh, a CRPF jawan on duty at Dhanauri Mohalla.
Nobody, including the area police, knows the whereabouts of the family. His neighbour Satpal Sharma, a retired school teacher, says, “Qasim was also a retired school teacher. He was educated and peaceful. He must be in his late 70s. The house was shared by four generations of the family. He had a great grandson too. He would send jalebis to my house during Eid while we would return the gesture by sending halwa-poori during Holi.”
Qasim’s neighbours claim that neither he nor any member of his family asked for shelter from them. “I don’t know who the attackers were and who set the houses on fire. But it wasn’t any of us (neighbours). I wish he comes back and lives here again,” says Sharma.
Nevertheless, the 50,000 riot victims living in shelters and at their relatives’ houses in different parts of Muzaffarnagar have refused to go back to their homes as they fear they would not be safe there.
Lisarh and its three adjoining villages – Hasanpur, Badshahpur and Khidarpur – have a population of about 23,000 – 1000 Muslims and the rest Hindus. More than 500 men from the area have been booked in different cases of rioting that include murder and looting.