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Between one Id and next, an invitation test

A Muslim family at Tikri Brahman village in Haryana. Picture by Prem Singh

Noor Nessa fears that for the first time, her Hindu neighbours may not visit her home during Id.

"Till last year, they used to offer me fruit and milk during Ramazan. Now they have even stopped talking," the resident of Tikri Brahman village says. "I shall invite them for Id though I know they might not come this time...."

Between two summers, Nessa's world has changed. So has that of Karamveer Chowdhury, resident of Palwal town in Haryana, 8km from Tikri Brahman and 60km from Delhi. Except that to Karamveer, the world has only got better.

"I used to have some Muslim friends but not any more," says the 40-year-old dhaba owner, who has become a regular at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's programmes in the district.

He dates the change from Narendra Modi's election victory in mid-May last year. "Modiji's victory has instilled a sense of fear among them. They know they cannot dictate terms any more," Karamveer says.

He hasn't asked this correspondent's name.

"Modiji se woh kafi darte hain. Ab woh khud hi bolte hain ke paanch saal chup rahna hogai (They are very scared of Modi. They themselves now say that they have to lie low for the next five years)."

Forty-five people were injured in communal clashes in Tikri Brahman on July 5, causing many of the village's Muslim males to flee. Those who have stayed back speak in hushed tones.

Atali, barely 20km away, had seen an exodus by all its 100 Muslim families in May after the construction of a mosque next to a temple led to torching of homes and attacks with swords. Those families have returned but Atali's air remains thick with tension.

Tikri Brahman's streets look deserted on July 7 afternoon. The doors are locked in some Muslim homes and bolted from inside in some others, the women fearful of stepping out. Most of the 200 Muslim households in the village are labourers; many of the 550 Hindu families are well-to-do landowners.

Rahman, 50, longs for the days when "we always participated in each other's festivals", and when the village held its peace amid the madness unleashed by the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992.

"Now we seem to live in two separate enclaves in the same village," he says. "Our Hindu neighbours have stopped talking to Muslims over the past few months. Whenever I try to speak to them, they ignore me."

"Even their children no longer play with ours," says Khurshid Alam, who fled after July 5 and is now living with a relative in Faridabad, 30km from Delhi.

First signs

The first signs of the change came in the days immediately following the general election results.

"Several RSS people from outside turned up here to celebrate. The refrain among them and some residents was, ' Ab hamari sarkar hai, Musalmanon ko ab chup rahna hoga (Now that we have our own government, the Muslims have to keep their mouths shut)'," says Shabana, a mother of six whose husband, a day labourer, has fled the village.

Rahman, who corroborates Shabana, says he had never heard anything like that before. "There was polarisation in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections but nobody spoke so brazenly. Now these Right-wing groups visit our village quite often. Their visits increased after the BJP formed the government in Haryana (in October). Many of them come in khaki shorts."

Elders in the Hindu community blame the Muslims for the communal tension and the atmosphere of distrust.

"We always lived in peace but Muslim youths are creating problems for Hindus. They routinely taunt our girls; they have no respect for Hindu women," says retired government employee Gyanchand Bharadwaj, 61. "We can't tolerate it any more."

What triggered the Hindus' hardening of stand?

Gyanchand explains that the Muslims "had got away with all these things under Congress rule".

"The Congress never took any action against Muslims as they were its vote bank. But things have changed. Hindus have realised they need to be assertive to protect their women and daughters. Now the Hindus have the upper hand under Modiji's government."

The Hindus say the July 5 violence was triggered when Muslim youths harassed a Hindu girl who was washing clothes at a tube well. To the Muslims, the trigger was a fight between young men over fishing in a canal.

A whisper campaign seems to have set the stage for the clash. Karamveer claims that a "code expression" - "Salaam 2031" - used to figure regularly in local Muslims' conversations among themselves. It meant, he claims, that the community would become the majority in India by that year.

The 2001 census found Muslims making up just 13.4 per cent of India's population (the religion-wise break-up of the 2011 census data has not yet been published).

Karamveer stresses that the Sangh has formed committees in every district of Haryana "to keep an eye on Muslims".

The boss

If the committees are the "eyes", a stocky man with a moustache and an assertive manner is the "head".

Sundar Bhardwaj, 50, who claims to have headed the local Sangh for the past 10 to 12 years, sits in the Sangh office at Palwal town. He blames Muslims for all the violence.

"They need to be shown their place. They are the root cause of communal clashes. But enough is enough. They need to learn to live in peace," he says.

There's not a trace of embarrassment in his voice. Like Karamveer and Gyanchand, he doesn't ask this correspondent's name.

Nearly 50 Sangh volunteers gather at Bhardwaj's office every day at 7am. They sit in a large room adorned with a portrait of former Sangh chief M.S. Golwalkar. The one-storey office has several small rooms with beds, air coolers and attached toilets.

"The number of our volunteers in Palwal district has grown from 2,000 to 8,000 in the past one year. And it keeps growing daily," Bhardwaj says.

One villager, though, believes that things have not changed enough.

Yes, the atmosphere has been "poisoned", agrees Tejpal Kaushik, a Dalit who runs a grocery.

"Hindus and Muslims seem to have become enemies. The seeds of hatred were sown during the run-up to last year's Lok Sabha elections."

Kaushik says he voted for Modi.

"I had hoped he would do something special for Hindus, especially the poor. But the achchhe din (good days) are yet to come," he adds.

" Kuchh fark nahin hua hai (Nothing has improved). Lagta hai ye to UPA ki hi sarkar hai (Looks as though the UPA is in power still)."

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