The Genesis of the Atali Madness

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Shattered shelter For the Muslims of Atali, the very idea of home has changed forever
Shattered shelter For the Muslims of Atali, the very idea of home has changed forever

During their visit to the village after the episode of communal violence, a photographer and a correspondent from the Tehelka team chanced upon a meeting being held inside a house, between RSS pracharaks and a few village men. The room was adorned with a poster of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We are soon planning to open an RSS shakha in the village to counter the growing menace of Muslim population,” said one of the RSS pracharaks. Later, it was learned that the RSS functionaries and the village men had met again on 2 June to formalise the opening of the ‘shakha’ and to stop the construction of the mosque in the village.

Another theory doing the rounds is that the impending panchayat elections to be held in the month of August could be a major reason for the violence. In the last election, a large number of Muslim votes went to Rajesh Choudhary, the current village sarpanch. According to some villagers, after the court judgement on the disputed land, Choudhary was at the forefront convincing the villagers to accept the verdict and allow the construction of the mosque. On the other hand, some believe that his political rivals — who would be testing their luck in the upcoming elections — instigated the majority community to not allow the construction of the mosque. By projecting themselves as champions of the Hindu cause, perhaps they want to polarise the Hindu votes in their favour by resisting the construction of the mosque.

It is learnt that Choudhary has been warned by the police to stay away from public eye, especially the media. However, the pressure on his family to prove their ‘Hindu’ credentials, echoing the majoritarian attitude, is apparent. A Jat panchayat presided over by Sher Singh Choudhary, the 72-year-old father of Chaudhary, was conducted in the village on 1 June. Though his son was always in favour of the mosque’s construction, Sher Singh said: “The Muslims have to understand that what has happened has happened. Now the only way for us to live peacefully is if they don’t build the mosque next to the temple and if they don’t pressurise the administration to make any arrests.” This sudden change of heart, on the part of Choudhary’s family resonates with what the rest of the Hindu majority in the village wants. “They are going around telling the world that we have been torturing them, and that the ‘Hindus are the majority’ and we don’t let them live in peace. If we are the majority, then we should have been consulted before they started constructing the mosque,” says Daya Ram, Choudhary’s elder brother.

It has been over a week since Atali witnessed its worst episode of communal tension but not one arrest has been made by the police in the village yet.

“There is a lot of pressure on us from the police and and the Jats residing in the village to take back the complaints against the rioters,” says a riot victim.

“It is unbelievable. They have burnt our homes, looted us and destroyed our lives. But it is being said that we should compromise. The court has already declared that the land belongs to us. Then why can’t we build the mosque?” asks Nizam Ali Majid, whose sister was injured in the violence.

While Atali still has to come back to normalcy, the condition in neighbouring western UP has yet again reached a communal tipping point. On 14 May in Agra, some Islamic clerics convened a meeting for the victims of the infamous ‘re-conversion’ of 8 December 2014, in order to force them to undergo nikah again with their wives. In Saharanpur, a section from the Muslim community is accusing the police of protecting the driver of a state transport bus that ran over a seven-year-old boy named Muzaquir, recently. Meanwhile in Aligarh, there is an order from the local administration to stop the expansion of a mosque as there is a Ramleela ground next to it. Some are bent on defying that order.

anurag@tehelka.com

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