The storm after the calm

Mewat was an island of harmony before manufactured communal polarisation came to be seen as a shortcut to political power

June 27, 2014 02:03 am | Updated May 24, 2016 02:40 pm IST

Everyone in Mewat predicts that the subtarranean chasms sought to be created in this fragile society will grow in the coming days. Picture shows the Rapid Action Force on patrol in Mewat.

Everyone in Mewat predicts that the subtarranean chasms sought to be created in this fragile society will grow in the coming days. Picture shows the Rapid Action Force on patrol in Mewat.

It’s late in the evening and I am at the house of the local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh head, a respected doctor, in Tauru town of Mewat district in Haryana. The market outside is shut, even though curfew has been lifted. Scattered huddles of men sitting outside closed shutters talk softly among themselves. The town has been wracked by communal violence and Hindu shopkeepers are unwilling to open the market until the administration apprehends the culprits and seizes the weapons with which they were attacked on June 8. A clutch of RSS supporters explain their point of view as I wait for the doctor to come. Slowly, they leave one by one; the doctor has still not come. “You won’t get anymore than what we have told you,” one man says. I realise that the good doctor will remain elusive.

The next communal flashpoint?

Earlier, in another part of the town, a group of Muslims, worrying over the rabble-rousing activities of their Muslim leaders, said that this is the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections as the Meo-Muslim belt of Haryana voted en masse on religious lines. “The Indian National Lok Dal’s Muslim candidate, who polled more than two lakh votes from the three Muslim-dominated Assembly segments of Gurgaon parliamentary constituency, is now instigating Muslims in the villages by telling them that they are wearing bangles like women,” says Ramzan Chaudhary, a social activist.

Even when the worst of communal conflagrations rocked the country, Mewat (or the land of Meos), spreading across Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, remained an island of harmony. But that was before manufactured communal polarisation came to be seen as a shortcut to political power.

A few days ago, a routine road accident in which a Hindu boy was killed led to a riot. The unrest was further fuelled by false rumours of the deaths of two Muslims, who were beaten up in retaliatory action. In the ensuing mayhem, a mosque was burnt and shops were broken and looted. Muslims fired upon Hindus in Tauru market, which remained shut for more than a week. Those who were taken aback by the fury and speed with which the communal hatred spread are beginning to understand why an end to the tension is not likely anytime soon. Indeed, as Assembly elections approach in Haryana, this area — densely populated by Sunni Muslims — has become particularly vulnerable, leading to speculation about how this could be the next communal flashpoint after Muzaffarnagar. Two things took place immediately after the clashes. First, as soon as curfew was imposed, the Deputy Commissioner forbade any elected MLA or MP from visiting Tauru town and imposed Section 144.

Second, when leaders arranged to meet the affected people in villages around the town, they only met with people of their own community. Just as Gurgaon MP and Union Minister Rao Inderjit and State BJP president Ram Bilas Sharma met a group of Hindus in Pathrehri village some seven kilometres from the town, Zakir Hussain of the INLD and other Mulsim leaders are visiting only people from their community. A comment reportedly made by a BJP leader to Hindus — “ Tension lene ka nahin, tension dene ka waqt aa gaya hai ” (It’s not time to be tensed, it is time to spread tension) — is being repeated in both Muslim and Hindu circles of the area.

Aam Aadmi Party party leader Yogendra Yadav, who lost the election from Gurgaon, is the only politician who could be seen moving from house to house in Tauru, meeting members of both the communities. “It is a sad commentary on the nature of politics today that politicians are seen as part of the problem and are being asked to stay away,” Mr. Yadav says. “What faith can the elected representatives inspire when they are not reaching out to members of both the communities?”

Tauru town is largely Hindu-dominated, but is surrounded by Muslim villages. Scratch the hatred on the surface and Muslims proudly point at Hindu women from the town walking to Muslim villages to get their daily quota of milk. “We have always co-existed in peace; even the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 did not affect our ties,” says Mr. Chaudhary. Hindus and Muslims fought together against the British during the revolt of 1857. There was no communal violence during the Partition either. The region has a common cultural legacy. Till a few years ago, Meos used to celebrate festivals like Dussehra, Holi and Diwali. Some of the older people in the town can still sing folk songs associated with these Hindu festivals. Mr. Chaudhary points out, “We are all converts. Meos, like the Hindus, follow the gotra system while fixing matrimonial alliances.”

Deployment of forces

Advocate Hashim Khan is categorical when he says that the “violence has been orchestrated by Hindutva elements to polarise the situation in the run-up to the Assembly election.” However, Tek Chand Saini, a trader, points to the sense of security provided to them by central forces, deployed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. “It is only because of the BJP government at the Centre that we have some security now. The local administration has no answer as to how the Muslim villagers were in possession of hundreds of illegal weapons. Crime has gone up manifold. The police never registers a case when we complain of thefts by unemployed Muslims.”

The Deputy Commissioner of Mewat district that has six Muslim-dominated blocks has sought permanent deployment of central forces in the district in view of the coming Assembly elections. While that may have a salutary effect on the troublemakers and help prevent overt violence, everyone is unanimous in predicting that the subterranean chasms sought to be created in this fragile society will widen in the coming days.

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