|A boy buys milk and sprints back home when curfew was relaxed for two hours in Muzaffarnagar town on Tuesday afternoon. Picture by Prem Singh
Muzaffarnagar, Sept. 10: Dilshad still feels a shiver remembering how “50-60 people” raided his village on Saturday evening, armed with revolvers, petrol bombs and swords.
But his eyes shine when he speaks of the man who saved the 200 Muslim families in Dulhare village, about 2km from Muzaffarnagar town, in an area where clashes have killed dozens over the past two weeks.
Gram pradhan Sanjeev Balia “fought off members of his own community and spent the entire night guarding our homes”, said Dilshad, a 45-year-old day labourer who, like other Muslims from the village, has now taken shelter in a madarsa at Shahpur, 3km away.
“There would have been no killings had every village had a gram pradhan like Baliaji,” said Dilshad’s wife Ameena Begum, wiping her tears with the pallu of her sari.
Dilshad said Balia confronted the intruders as they rode in on four tractors and began beating up some young Muslim men. Soon fisticuffs broke out between the raiders and Balia’s Jat supporters from the village.
The gram pradhan quickly marshalled Jats from nearby villages too, swelling his ranks to about 200 and scaring the intruders off.
“Next morning, Baliaji and other sane members of the community arranged for several tractors to take us to the Muslim locality of Shahpur. We are thankful to him for saving our lives,” Dilshad said.
But since then, Dilshad has heard that armed goons have looted and torched some of the houses in Dulhare.
“We are praying peace returns and we can go back home. Never before in my life have I seen such communal strife here; we lived in peace and helped each other,” Dilshad said.
Hundreds of Muslim and Jat families have fled to relatives’ homes in other parts of the state. Many, like small-time Muzaffarnagar trader Anuj Singh, have lost their earnings to the curfew.
“If the curfew is not lifted, common people will suffer. The poor are more concerned about their livelihood than anything else,” Singh said.
Curfew was relaxed for two hours in the town in the afternoon.
“The police were clueless — they had no idea that passions were building up since the last week of August and that local politicians were inflaming emotions. Where was their (police’s) intelligence?” Singh said.
Contractor Habib Saifi of Kutba village too accused the political parties of inciting the violence and said criminals from either side of the divide had joined in the rioting.
Saifi had fled to a relative’s place in Shahpur with his wife and three daughters on Friday — a day before the worst violence — after his house was attacked and looted. “Considering the volatile situation, I had anticipated something bad. I was right,” he said.
Saifi said some “sane” people from both communities had tried to prevent the looming bloodshed but the local politicians defeated the effort by making inflammatory speeches.
“Politicians were quick to exploit the situation. Every political party wants riots in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the general election,” Saifi said.
The epicentre of the violence was Koral village, about 20km from Muzaffarnagar town. A mob gathered for a meeting on Saturday afternoon. Bricks, stones and petrol bombs were thrown, and the killings continued till Monday.
Curfew-bound Muzaffarnagar resembled a ghost town today, its streets empty except for the police who are at every corner, clutching their guns.
“Policemen, journalists and stray dogs are the only ones moving in the town,” an army jawan said.