A dusty, bumpy road that stretches almost 12 km from NH-2, abutting Ballabhgarh in Haryana, leads to Atali village. The population of the village is around 11,000. Atali has had no recorded history of communal violence for several decades. It was a village where life went on in its own somnolent pace and where the muddy lanes between the rows of thatched roof houses were never a dividing line between the followers of different faiths.
Hitherto unknown and ignored by successive state governments, Atali, is in the news these days for all the wrong reasons. On 25 May, the village had its first brush with communal violence; this seems to have left gaping scars on a particular community, altering the secular way of coexistence practiced in the village, forever. The incidents of violence have also made Atali, the first village in Haryana near to western Uttar Pradesh, to have witnessed such communal tension. The village appears to be turning into one more hotbed of extremism and polarisation just like the western UP towns of Muzzafarnagar, Meerut, Aligarh, Shamli, Mathura and Agra. Unfortunately, the village seems to have become another victim of the ‘politics of hate’, practiced by political parties so frequently these days.
Tehelka, in its in-depth investigation, chanced upon many startling facts establishing that whatever happened on 25 May in Atali was pre-planned.
Tensions between the two communities were at their peak during the week preceding the violence: Manohar Lal Khattar, the Haryana chief minister and a hardcore Rashtriya Sawayamsewak Sangh (RSS) supporter, had visited the village to inaugurate an electricity supply station. Stray incidents of violence occured right after the chief minister’s visit. Though village elders informally reported these incidents to the nearest police station, all the complaints were ignored.
On 31 March, a Faridabad court had ruled in favour of the Muslim community of Atali regarding the construction of a mosque. Having perceived a tension between the village communities with regard to the court order, the local administration had deployed a few policemen at the construction site, where apart from the hired labourers, some local Muslims were also lending a hand to build the mosque.
Sources in the state intelligence told Tehelka that as the situation grew worse, it was felt by the local authorities that more police force would be required at the site, until the construction was over. But the administration conveniently turned down their requests for the same.
According to eyewitness accounts, when some of the Jats attacked the Muslims of the village on the evening of 25 May, more than five policemen were present on the spot. However, none of them made any effort to intervene. Armed with kerosene filled containers, LPG cylinders, axes, iron rods, swords, machetes and petrol bombs, a mob of more than 2,000 Hindus unleashed their fury on the Muslim community and their household in the village. The mayhem continued for more than 90 minutes. The nearest police chowki at Chainsa is around 5 km from the spot of violence and the Ballabhgarh police station, where the displaced Muslim families have now taken shelter, is only 15 km away. Yet, it is quite baffling that it took almost two hours for the police to reach the spot to bring things under control. “I heard a policeman, deployed at the under-construction mosque, calling the nearest police station for help just minutes after the violence began. But help arrived only after considerable time had passed,” says an eyewitness.
A riot victim, Isak Lambardar, tells Tehelka, “We kept calling the police, but they did not come. They still haven’t arrested the accused and they are asking us to return home. How can we? We refuse to leave the police station until we are sure of our safety.” According to a senior officer of the Haryana Police, it was clear that the mayhem was planned well in advance. “The idea was to drive the Muslim population away from the village. Why else would the police, which ordinarily take not more than 20 minutes to reach the village, arrive more than an hour late on the day of the violence?”
The night after the violence, some of the evicted villagers returned to the village only to find the police contingent deployed in the village uncooperative. “I was told by senior policemen that it was not safe for me and my family in the village despite having more than 500 policemen deployed in the village,” said a riot affected villager. “Anyway, my house was burnt down beyond recognition, so I returned to Ballabhgarh police station,” he added.
Another factor to be taken into account, right from the build up of the tension, to the day of the riot and after, is the movement of the rss and its pracharaks in the village, once the Faridabad court gave its decision on the construction of the mosque. In the last oneand- a-half months, many rss pracharaks have visited Atali. According to sources, a secret meeting of the rss functionaries with more than 100 members of the Jat community of the village was held on the intervening night of 20-21 May. “We were told that the RSS is planning to open its ‘shakha’ in Atali and for that purpose, it has been influencing the people of the village,” says a local intelligence officer. It must also be noted that the violence that shook the village of Atali, took place within a week of this meeting.