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It’s festival time, but there will be no celebrations in Asthan village

RELIVING THE DAY: A woman recalls the horror that unfolded when a mob set upon several houses in Asthan village on June 23. Photo : Brijesh Jaiswal

RELIVING THE DAY: A woman recalls the horror that unfolded when a mob set upon several houses in Asthan village on June 23. Photo : Brijesh Jaiswal   | Photo Credit: Brijesh Jaiswal

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Houses belonging to weavers’ community were torched on June 23

A row of kuccha and pucca houses lie in a rubble of mud, stone and bricks. Those that stand have blackened walls, dismantled roofs and half-doors. Some have no doors. Ashes of hay and grains are strewn outside the granaries. The local mosque looks desolate; its gate is oddly locked. An eerie sense of calm surrounds the place.

This is the scene in Asthan village of Kunda Tehsil in Pratapgarh district, over 80 kilometres from Allahabad, a day before Id-ul-Fitr.

On Monday, Muslims worldwide will celebrate the festival, but here the day is going to be a quiet affair. “We have no reason or means to celebrate. We are still mourning our loss. What is Id without a home and family?” asks Ramzaan Ali, a weaver.

Around 46 homes belonging to the Ansari community of weavers were torched here on June 23 by a mob over the alleged gang rape and murder of an 11-year-old dalit girl. The State government announced a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to the girl’s family and Rs 4 lakh, to be paid in two instalments, for each house that was burned.

The villagers say they have not received the full amount yet. “Most of us received the first cheque on July 6 and the second on August 2. Some are waiting for the second payment. We cannot buy new clothes or spend for Id. We have to build our homes first,” says Mushtaq. He quit his job in a telecom agency after the incident.

The victims now live in their relatives’ homes or in rented huts in the neighbouring Nawabganj and Pariyava villages. Some have fled for good.

Wasila Bano, who was at home when the mob torched her hut, feels lucky to be alive. “We were crying to God to save us. They thought we were dead, so they did not come inside. I saw them torch my house. Nothing's left. Even my Quran sharif was burned,” she says, bursting into tears.

Planned attack

Eyewitnesses said police help did not reach the spot as the mob had barricaded the area. Villagers here say the attacks were well-planned and targets had been selected.

“They came with cans of kerosene and made sure our tube wells, taps and hand pumps were damaged to cut our water supply. They even destroyed our crops and set the shrine inside the mosque on fire,” says Imtiaz Ahmed (40). He is the brother of the village pradhan Nizam Ahmed, who was out of station on personal work. The charred remains of the pradhan’s motorbike and two cycles are all that is left in their uninhabited house.

Many houses have doors with large cracks, indicating that they were pounded with a heavy object like an axe.

The villagers also alleged that the situation had worsened due to careless reporting by the local print media.

After much hue and cry by the locals, four boys suspected of murdering the dalit girl had been taken into police custody. “No FIR was lodged. But some newspapers wrongly reported the next day that the boys had been freed without any charges. This angered some people, who went into frenzy and came for us. The boys were still in custody,” Imtiaz Ali says.

Peaceful

A Provincial Armed Constabulary outpost was built here in early July. The newly-appointed Circle Officer of Kunda, Zia-ul-Haque, says the area has been peaceful and rehabilitation of the victims was their prime concern.

“The namaz on Friday was peaceful. Fifty-two police personnel were in place for 105 persons. There have been no incidents since the initial violence,” said Mr. Haque.

The villagers, however, allege that eight half-burned houses were razed days before the visit of Vishwa Hindu Parishad international working president Praveen Togodia on July 24.

After assurances from the PAC, the villagers say, they had agreed to resettle in their homes. But after this incident, they vacated the village again. The clothes and quilts given to them by local welfare societies were also destroyed.

A small stretch of metalled road separates the hut of Sajjad Ali (80) from Asthan. “My goats were stolen and hens were charred. I had borrowed money to buy them. They even burned my bed. But we didn’t get any compensation,” Ali says. “ ‘Your hut was not burned, so why should you get compensation?’ they told me.”

At a recent meeting with the victims in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav assured them that he would visit the village soon.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 12:53:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/its-festival-time-but-there-will-be-no-celebrations-in-asthan-village/article3796256.ece

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