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Muzaffarnagar comes to a standstill

Devesh K. Pandey
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Shaken by the spate of violence, residents accuse politicians of flaring up communal passions in view of 2014 general elections

EXODUS:As communal clashes escalate in the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, residents of Muzaffarnagar move to safer places on Sunday.— Photo: PTI
EXODUS:As communal clashes escalate in the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, residents of Muzaffarnagar move to safer places on Sunday.— Photo: PTI

Streets that on a usual day remain crowded with heavy traffic are deserted on Sunday. A busy market in the heart of the city that seldom shuts shop is closed down. And the residents for whom an evening cup of tea with friends is a favourite timepass are forced to remain behind the closed doors. The entire city has come to a standstill, virtually turning into a fortress with security personnel deployed at its every nook and cranny.

The eerie calm prevailing in the city and the surrounding rural pockets is occasionally shattered by the sound of intermittent gunshots and sirens of police vehicles, with ambulances and fire brigades rushing through the streets. For several kilometres, the otherwise busy eateries along the adjoining highway have been abandoned fearing further escalation of violence. The main entrance to the city in turmoil has been sealed and a large contingent of police personnel stationed.

With the number of injured in the clashes increasing by the day, the city hospital has made special arrangements to accommodate the victims. “We were going toward Shahpur in a vehicle when we were attacked by a group armed with iron rods,” said seven-year-old Tauhid, whose two younger brothers were lying in an unconscious state with serious head injuries. On the adjoining bed lay his comatose mother who too had been hit in the head. His father, who went missing in the commotion, is suspected to have been killed.

A doctor at the city hospital said: “We have allocated the entire ophthalmology ward for the riot victims. Seven persons with stab and blunt injuries have been admitted so far,” he said. Among the injured was 20-year-old Jahid, who was attacked with knives in Shahpur village on Saturday. Najim and his relatives were on their way to attend a marriage when they were ambushed.

Thirty-year-old Sumit, a truck driver, recounted the horror: “I was outside my house in South Krishnapuri along with some area residents when a mob came charging at us. They opened fire indiscriminately. I sustained a gunshot wound in the leg, following which I was rushed to hospital.”

“The last time curfew in the city was imposed over a decade ago after a political leader along with his supporters attacked the Kotwali police station. For the past two decades, we had not witnessed any communal riots. This is the first time that prohibitory orders have been clamped on all the three [Civil Lines, Kotwali and Mandi] police station jurisdictions,” said Anurag Jain.

“Criminal elements on both sides take advantage of the situation to foment hostility for their own selfish gains. However, we have over the years witnessed both the communities living in peace and harmony. About a dozen Muslim families have been living in our neighbourhood for the past several generations and we never had any issues with them. We are told that even during the Partition, no major incidents of communal clashes were reported in the city,” he added.

Even as the police maintained that the situation was under control, the simmering hatred surfaced with the neighbours of IBN 7 reporter Rajesh Verma, who was shot dead near Khalapar on Saturday, accusing members of the other community of triggering violence. Amid an emotionally charged atmosphere, his body was cremated on Sunday afternoon, following a post-mortem at a local mortuary.

Although shaken by the spate of violence that erupted in different parts of the city on Saturday, some Muslim neighbours of Mr. Jain accused politicians of flaring up communal passions in view of the 2014 general elections. “They can go to any extent to grab power. However, all this negativity has badly affected the life of a common man and taken a toll on our businesses. We hope the administration responds swiftly and contains this mindless violence” said one of them



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