Mohammad Sarfaraz stood in front of his burned-down store on Sunday, almost reduced to tears as he spoke of the communal violence that tore apart his town on Friday, claiming four lives and destroying hundreds, including his own. “I had invested my life in this shop, which was turned into ashes,” the scrap dealer said. “I do not have a single penny to start my life again.”
The store in front of Mr. Sarfaraz's business, also burned down, belonged to a Hindu —testimony to the close ties which bound together the life of Hindus and Muslims in Kosi Kalan.
But two days after communal canards sparked Friday's murderous riots, fresh rumours about imminent attacks and hidden massacres are continuing to sweep through this small Mathura-district town, raising fears of further violence.
Local residents' accounts of the violence point to deep divisions between the town's religious communities.
Baldev Chowk resident Kuldeep Singh, a member of the Gujjar community, accused the administration of playing a partisan role in the violence. “Had it not been for our brothers from the nearby villages whom we called to save us, we would have been dead by now.”
Mr. Singh said a large number of people were mobilised from the nearby Jat-dominated villages after rumours were spread that seven girls belonging to one community had been raped by members of another community and that two of them had been killed. No factual basis exists for the rumours, authorities say, and none has so far been put forward by any independent group.
Members of the minority community also accused the administration of being a “mute spectator” of the violence. Local social activist Maqsood said the minority community was afraid and did not trust the local administration. Three of the four killed were Muslim, according to local authorities.
District authorities relaxed curfew for two hours on Sunday, for the first time since it was imposed in the wake of the June 1 violence, which claimed four lives and left 25 injured —the first large communal riots in the town's recent history. The break in curfew passed off peacefully.
Mathura district magistrate Sanjay Kumar told The Hindu that “rumours had a tremendous role to play in aggravating the already communally charged situation.” He claimed the problem began with a petty fight on Friday afternoon, when a Hindu boy was slapped by some local Muslims for washing his hands from the water drum kept outside the local mosque after he used a nearby urinal. The two communities were pacified after Senior Superintendent of Police Dharamvir Yadav reached the spot at 2 p.m.
However, rumours about the supposedly-kidnapped girls soon led to mobilisation of mobs from the adjoining countryside.
“The real problem,” Mr. Kumar said, “started when we had to face a large armed mob from outside the town. We did not have sufficient force to fight it. So we tried to convince the mob that the rumour about cases of rape and murders of girls of the majority community were not true. But before we could do anything, the rioting mob had created havoc.”
An official in the administration said the riots were politically motivated with an eye on the coming Assembly by-election and the local municipal elections. In the recent Assembly elections, Muslim and Jat voters had jointly backed the successful Lok Dal candidate, Tej Pal Singh. The riots, he argued, would help Mr. Singh's opponents in coming elections to local bodies.
Police have made several arrests related to rioting, but there is still no clear account of precisely who spread the lethal rumours — and why Kosi Kalan's residents proved so willing to believe them.