Mixed feelings in Kutba village as former neighbours arrive

The veil on Ruksana’s face could not hide her fear as she got down from a tractor trolley. Escorted by a bunch of policemen, she hurriedly entered the premises of the primary school in Kutba village and queued up, along with other women, outside the polling booth. Clutching her voter identity card, she said: “It’s my right to vote. Why shouldn’t I?”

But soon her determination gave way as reality sank in. “We are here just to vote and want to quickly return. We feel insecure here,” said the mother of five.

Last year’s violence in Muzaffarnagar displaced thousands of people and threatened to permanently scar the region’s social fabric. But on Thursday, around 60 riot victims, including Ruksana, who spent the last seven months at the Bassi Kalan relief camp, rose above their fears and returned to their village Kutba to cast their votes. The moment was emotional for some. Salim, 55, was teary-eyed after exercising his franchise. “The sight of my own village terrifies me today. There is no way I am returning to it,” he said.

A few yards away from the polling booth, a group of Jats sat on a large cot smoking a hukkah and observing the proceedings. “It’s their right to vote. We don’t mind even if they return,” said Jagbir Singh. His words betrayed an underlying bitterness.

But there were signs of camaraderie too, as some Jats assisted the polling officials in recognising their former neighbours in the voters’ queue.

Overall, the polling in Kutba, where eight persons were killed last year, was peaceful. The administration, however, took no chances. The police convoy that transported the displaced persons to their villages and back, circumvented populated areas and took the forest route.

Kutba, which boasts around 800 Muslim voters, has not a single Muslim inhabitant today. Most of them have rehabilitated to the Bassi Kalan camp, where around 200 riot victims cast their votes at the adjoining Palra polling centre under the watchful eyes of the Central paramilitary forces.

Mohsim Ali, a labourer displaced from Kutba, said his vote was to send a message to the riot mongers that he “won’t bow.”

Among the riot victims, there is contempt for the BJP and anger against BSP candidate and sitting MP Kadir Rana, who they say deserted them after the violence.

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