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One year on, Dadri lapses into silence

Nestled on the edge of the village, the mosque in Bishahra, Dadri, in western Uttar Pradesh, is a two-storey, semi-plastered structure.

There is nothing to tell the mosque apart from the buildings around it, except for the loudspeaker that announces the azaan, the Islamic call for prayer.

But there is no azaan from the mosque even though dusk has enveloped the village and it is time for maghrib, or prayers offered during sunset.

Residents of the village said the loudspeaker has fallen silent since September 28 last year, when Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi was lynched and his younger son Danish severely injured in a murderous attack by fellow villagers for allegedly eating and storing beef in their house.

The village muezzin, Mohammad Dawood, told The Hindu they had stopped the azaan as they feared it might provoke the right wing elements. “According to those who witnessed Akhlaq’s killing, the crowd had threatened to shut down the mosque. That did not happen but the mosque does not sound the azaan anymore,” he said.

Mr Dawood is new to Bishahra. His predecessor was so shaken by Akhlaq’s lynching that he left the village and never returned.

Ties wrecked

Much has changed in Bishahra in the year since the incident. Once a communal melting pot, this largely Hindu village with a miniscule Muslim population is no longer a picture of harmony.

Locals said the killing has driven such a wedge between the two communities that for the first time in living memory, there was no animal sacrifice on Eid-ul-Zuha earlier this month for fear of accusations of cow slaughter.

Even the customary exchange of greetings and kheer (rice pudding) was shunned. “It was the coldest Eid-ul-Zuha this time in my entire life. No goat was sacrificed and no greetings were exchanged between the two communities. We mostly kept to ourselves. It was very painful to see this,” said Mohammad Ali Jan, who irons clothes on the village road.

Sanjay Rana, a local BJP leader whose son Vishal is accused of leading the lynch mob, said Thakurs used to send milk to Muslim households on Eid to prepare kheer. But not this time.

Shared past forgotten

Ironically, Akhlaq’s family used to host the village celebrations. Located in the heart of a Thakur settlement, his Hindu neighbours would gather at his house to enjoy a non-vegetarian platter prepared from animals sacrificed for the festival.

But Akhlaq’s house today symbolises the shattered relationship between the two communities: a lock hangs on the door, its windows are shut and grass, at least a foot tall, surrounds it.

The divide has not spared even school children. Fifteen-year-old Mustafa Saifi alleged that he is regularly abused and taunted by boys in the school.

“Not everyone does but there are three or four boys who abuse me every time they see me. I guess they do it to provoke me,” said Mustafa, a student of Class VIII. “Initially I used to get angry but my father told me to ignore it and that is what I did,” said Mustafa, who lives next to the village mosque.

Another villager alleged conversations are laced with sarcasm. “It was as if they want to tell us that you belong to Akhlaq’s community. There is a stigma around us now,” he said.

Mutual recriminations

The feeling of betrayal is mutual. Om Kumar, whose two sons were arrested on charges of killing Akhlaq, said the entire village was being targeted by the media and the administration because one of their own had slaughtered their revered animal.

“First our mother cow was killed by a fellow villager who we trusted for decades. Then our boys were jailed and we were painted as murderers. But what about the murder of our mother?” he asked.

Gautam Budh Nagar District Magistrate Nagendra Pratap Singh was philosophical of the situation in the village. “As a follower of the Vedas, I believe that if you keep on trying and doing positive things, the situation changes for the better. It may take time for the wounds to heal but it will change.”

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