Muslims have taken refuge in nearby villages and refused to return home
With at least six small colonies of houses being built in the rural areas of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh for settling the riot-hit Muslims who have left their villages for good, fearing the Jats, ghettoisation, hitherto confined to cities, is becoming a new phenomenon in this agrarian belt.
While 70-odd houses, with two rooms each, have been handed over to the affected villagers at Khampur, similar colonies of 60-70 houses are being built in such Muslim-dominated villages as Bassi Kalan, Malukpura, Loi, Dadhedu and Jaula, all within 30 km from the district headquarters. This trend is also seen in neighbouring Shamli district, where the riots spread from Muzaffarnagar in August-September this year.
“Muslims who took refuge in nearby villages, mostly dominated by their community, have refused to return home. Now, with relief camps being wound up as distribution of compensation is coming to an end, people of these villages have come forward to give them land at a minimal cost, so that the affected people can leave the camps and build their new homes,” social activist Shandar Gufran told The Hindu.
It is the residents of villages worst affected by riots who have refused to return, fearing another backlash from their “influential” Jat neighbours. They include Kutba-Kutbi, Tavli, Budhana, Lisad, Phugana, Kakra, Mundvar, Hussainpur and Lakh Bardi. Initially, religious organisations built houses for the displaced people in Khampur; but the State government announced Rs.5 lakh in grant for building houses to those unwilling to return.
No displaced Muslim wants to leave his home and property and live in another place, but the riot-affected people allege that the Jats have threatened them with dire consequences if they returned. “My house has been occupied by an influential Jat family and is being used as a cow shed. I do not have the courage to go back… If I take police protection and return, it will only create more problems for me. I am now getting a small house constructed at Bassi Kalan for my family to settle there,” said Mursalim, a resident of Kutba-Kutbi, now living in a relief camp.
Akbari of the same village has left behind a house and six ‘bighas’ of land. “With two kids, I have nowhere to go. I got the Rs.5-lakh compensation, which is not enough to build a proper house like the one I had, or to buy a piece of farmland to make a living. I have lost all my property… I feel cheated by my own people,” she rues.
Similar stories of desperation can be heard in other camps as well.
Acknowledging the fact that some affected Muslims are not willing to return, District Magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma said it was a choice made by them. “They told the government that they would never return to their villages and sought Rs. 5 lakh each to build houses…Their demand was conceded, and over 90 per cent of those who demanded money for building houses have already been given the amount.”
He, however, pointed that this happened in only a few villages. Residents of almost 150 villages who had fled their homes have returned. “In the last three months, we have not seen any kind of violence or tension resurfacing. Even today, if these people want to return, we will provide them security and other logistics support, but they will have to return the money they have taken to build houses.”
Pointing to the social, economic and political impacts of this ghettoisation, Mr. Gufran notes: “The entire demography of the region is changing as Muslims are moving towards areas dominated by their community… It will drastically change political equations, especially during Assembly and local bodies elections. The rift is growing between Muslims and Jats as social contact is minimising.”
“Similarly, on the economic front, both communities are bound to suffer as landlord Jats will struggle to find skilled and farm labourers, mostly Muslims, while Muslims will find it hard to earn a living as there will be a shortage of jobs. It will take a couple of years before the real impact of the riots is felt on the ground,” Mr. Gufran said.