About 400 Muslims of Atali village, who were attacked by a Hindu mob four days ago, continue to be stranded Friday in the compound of the Ballabgarh police station.
Despite the sweltering heat and inadequate food and water, the displaced persons have refused to return to their homes, seeking the arrest of the attackers and compensation for their burnt houses. On the evening of May 25, a violent mob attacked the community with bricks, swords, and petrol bombs. The assailants broke into their homes and set about 20 houses on fire.
The cause of the confrontation, locals say, is a dispute over a 30-year-old mosque. In 2009 the Hindus of the village claimed that it was the property of the village Panchayat. The Muslims said the land belonged to the WAKF board.
In March this year, the Faridabad court ruled in favour of the Muslim community. The Hindus however, continued to raise objections, with some advocating the demolition of the mosque because it stood adjacent to a temple.
“We begged our sarpanch that they (the Hindus) should let us renovate the mosque,” said Sabir Ali, who suffered injuries on his head in Monday’s attack. “The sarpanch held a few meetings with the villagers and told us that we should start the construction.”
According to a police offer, tensions between the communities worsened as the renovation began.
Panchayat polls worsen tensions
A political turf war exacerbated tensions over a disputed mosque in Atali village here, resulting in about 400 Muslims being forced out of their homes following attacks and arson on May 25 by a violent mob of Hindus. The assailants broke into their homes and set about 20 houses on fire.
“The Panchayat elections are around the corner,” a police officer investigating the case told The Hindu. “The current Sarpanch won the previous elections because Hindu votes were divided among various parties; the Muslim vote became a deciding factor. He (the sarpanch) had canvassed support from Muslims, promising them that he would allow renovation of the mosque if they voted for him.”
Sarpanch Rajesh Choudhry’s victory with the help of Muslim votes proved to be a game changer. Following a court verdict earlier this year in favour of the Muslim community, Choudhry convinced the villagers to accept the mosque, the officer said.
“Choudhry’s political opponents who are planning to participate in the upcoming elections are trying to polarise the vote bank so that everyone votes for their candidate who has been against the mosque for long,” the officer said.
But as the renovation began, the officer said, tensions between the communities rose. There was vicious rumour-mongering — that Muslims are planning an attack on Hindus and their men are catcalling Hindu women near the temple.
To most of the Muslims, the attack came as a surprise. “We never thought this would happen,” said Shakir Ali, 40, a resident of Atali.
“It looked like they had planned it for weeks. They had swords, guns, sickles, a tractor full of stones, buckets full of kerosene. They used cars to bring in Hindus from other villages,” said Ali who was hit with a brick on his face.
Preet Pal, the Station House Officer of Atali, told The Hindu that things were back to normal.
“It’s peaceful now,” he said. “The only issue is that both sides are refusing to compromise. Muslims want to renovate the mosque and Hindus don’t want it. That’s why it’s getting hard to strike a peace deal.”