“90 per cent Muslims are involved in jaggery-making and 90 per cent Hindus are traders; they are the two hands of the business in Muzaffarnagar”
Rickshawwallah Sonu pedals fast, carrying his first rider of the day to Naveen Mandi Sthal or Nayee Mandi from Shiv Chowk, the heart of Muzaffarnagar, where communal riots killed 49 people last month.
Nayee Mandi is one of the biggest jaggery markets in Western Uttar Pradesh as well as in India.
But now, other than a few lorries and a couple of pushcarts stranded here and there, the Mandi is empty. Some traders are gossiping at a corner.
Sir-ji, Log dahashat mein hain, mandi anekey liey dar paida ho gaya hai [People are in fear. They fear coming to market],” Mohammad Shakir told this correspondent. He was sitting with Choudari Fateh Singh, Anil Sharma, Pappu and others, who are all wholesalers.
“Here, 90 per cent Muslims are involved in jaggery-making and 90 per cent Hindus are traders; they are the two hands of the business. We cannot run the show separately,” snaps Choudari Fateh Singh.
“In this market, people come from various castes and creeds; we have never felt any difference. But today, farmers from villages are scared of visiting the mandi. Worse, they account for the majority of the people coming here,” says Shakir.
“The market was transacting business worth at least Rs.1 crore every day. It is suffering now and will continue to suffer, unless the State government punishes the real culprits who perpetrated the violence and are hiding behind the scene.” This is the unanimous view of all of them.
Soon after sugar cane harvest in the district, the market will throb with life next month. But traders are afraid that there won’t be many labourers for harvest this time because most of them are Muslim. What is more, daily wagers, who come from different places to earn more during the peak season, will stay away.
On other hand, life in Muzaffarnagar has returned to normal. Shops, schools and offices are open, people go about their work and security personnel mount vigil from junctions.
Kuldeep Singh, 55, is running a mobile phone repair shop at Gol Market in Shiv Chowk, a retail hub. He says the retail market depends mainly on customers from villages. The violence has resulted in an unannounced ‘bandh’ for over a month now, crippling the business there.
Viswadeep Goel, who owns Tip Top readymade garment shop at Gol Market, puts down the violence to bad politics over trivial issues. “We are just one month away from the major festive season — Navratri, Eid and Deepavali. If things are not normal by then, we all will suffer badly,” he says.
Sonu leaves after a round of at least five km. When I ask what his full name is, he keeps mum.
After I pay him the fare, he salutes me and discloses that he is a Muslim, struggling to support a family of six with his earnings of Rs. 150 a day.