Residents highlight the trend of “extreme polarisation” of the populace, and its impact on inter-communal relationship in the region.

Over two months after being a witness to one of the worst bouts of communal violence that left 63 people dead and over 43,000 homeless, Muzaffarnagar is anything but peaceful. Among the incidents of violence which have kept the riot-torn district on boil, the new addition is the gang-rape of a 20-year-old girl who was staying at a relief camp in Jogya Kheri village.

The two accused in the case, Sunil and Sachin, are from Fugana village where the girl lived before her family was forced to take refuge at a relief camp a kilometre away. The local police have arrested the two youths after medical reports confirmed the rape, but Fugana, one of the worst-affected areas during the riots, continues to be tense.

Implication of riots

In the context of the implication of the communal riots on the people of the district, The Hindu spoke to a cross-section of residents of Muzaffarnagar. All of them highlighted the trend of “extreme polarisation” of the populace along communal lines, and its impact on inter-communal relationship in the region.

Shandar Gufran, who runs a girls school in Muzaffarnagar, is part of several peace committees. The general environment, argued Mr. Gufran, was one of rife with mutual distrust and suspicion brewing between Muslims and Hindus.

“Every time we try to bring the situation under control, another incident of communal violence occurs and we are back to square one. We tried organising peace meetings but the sad truth is that efforts to build peace have failed. People on both sides do not want to hear anything about peace,” Mr. Gufran added.

As a result of this, ghettoisation had entrenched itself further, especially in the minority community.

Mr. Gufran pointed out that until recently, in urban parts of Muzaffarnagar, Muslims could, at least, think of staying in a locality with a dominant Hindu population. This has become ‘unimaginable’ in the post-riot period, he stated.

As far as the riot-torn villages are concerned, Jats and Muslims do not want to see each other, he added.

Samarth Prakash from Prayatn, an NGO working on creating awareness about the Right to Information Act, argued: “Thanks to the bogey of ‘Muslim appeasement’, Jats and other Hindus who were earlier divided, realised that they needed to adopt the larger identity of being Hindu to counter the ruling party which was biased against them.”

When asked how the riot dented the ‘secular fabric’, Mr. Prakash replied, “Earlier people used to talk about the so-called ‘Muslim appeasement’ in hushed tones. Now, it is the overarching narrative dominating debates in drawing rooms.”

“The biggest casualty of the polarised discourse is that it matters if your name is a Muslim one or a Hindu one,” he added.

The isolation of Muslims from non-Muslims, both Jats and other castes, has increasingly been permeating all spheres, breaking the erstwhile closely knit social fabric. As a result, Muslim parents in some parts of Muzaffarnagar discontinued their children’s education in schools located in largely Hindu localities, pointed out by Mr. Gufran.

Abdul Rabbani, a cloth seller, alleged that after the riots, some cloth merchants stopped doing business with Muslim hawkers.

The final insight came from Srikant Kumar who runs the business enterprise of supplying iron gates not far from Khalapar, a Muslim locality of the town. He summed up the “political motivation” behind the communal polarisation.

Yeh sab chunao ke dange hain. Jo bhi ho raha hai, ye suniyojit tarike se karyawa ja raha hai aur rajneeti se prerit hai. Rajnitik log dango ki fasal ko chunao me katne ki poori tayyari kar chuke hain. Chunao ke baad dhruvikaran ka bhi ant ho jayega. (All these riots are related to elections. Whatever is happening is taking place in a pre-planned manner and is influenced by politics. Politicians have made all the preparations to harvest the crop of riots during the elections. After the elections, this polarisation will also come to an end).