Around 60 km away from the national capital, Bisara, a small hamlet in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri district presently remains enveloped with fear where mob lynching led to the death of a 50-year-old man over rumours of beef eating last week.
What is ironical is that this is the same hamlet where people of two different communities have been staying peacefully for the past five decades celebrating their festivals together. “A Muslim would celebrate Diwali with same fervour as a Hindu would,” shares Village Pradhan Sanjay Rana.
A week after Mohammad Akhlaq's death, an uncanny silence has dawned on the villagers who are not too pleased with the political leaders and scribes frequenting Bisara these days. Young children and women can be seen staring out of the windows but they don't want to talk.
Akhlaq's next-door neighbour avoids a television reporter trying to question him about what happened that fateful night. His wife quickly intervenes, ‘Tum chup raho, pata lage kal ko log humme hi marne lag jaye.” (Stay mum, you never know when the same mob attack on us for speaking something against them), she is heard saying.
The villagers don't want to revisit the horror of witnessing two of their neighbours getting mercilessly beaten by frenzied mob.
“We want peace to return”
With a population of roughly around 15,000 people, Bisara is home to 300 Muslims, while Thakurs or Rajputs constitute of 70 percent of the total populace.
Confessing that the hamlet has never experienced an incident like this ever before, Rana, who arranged immediate financial and medical help for Akhlaq’s family says their village's reputation has been stained forever. “It was an unfortunate incident and shouldn’t have happened. Few people have disturbed harmony of the village. We only hope that peace returns soon,” he shares.
While speaking to iamin, Rajender Singh, one of Akhlaq’s neighbours, shared that they still haven't recovered from the shock. “We lived like a family. When their daughter was getting married, we became a part of the ceremonies as if there was a marriage in our own house. We all sat and ate together in the veranda in my house,” he recalls.
It took the infuriated mob just 15 minutes to unleash their fury on the family and rob the village of its peace, recalls a 45-year-old Moolchand, owner of departmental store in the area. “We couldn’t clearly make out the announcement made on the loudspeaker as we were watching television. Suddenly, the entire lane was filled with angry villagers. Hundreds of them were shouting in rage. Some people pleaded them to stop beating the family members fearing they might die. But the mob didn’t stop. It was a barbaric sight,” the shop-owner says.
“Communal cauldron had been simmering for sometime”
As iamin spoke to Pradhans of neighbouring hamlets, they confided that communal cauldron had been simmering for quite sometime in these cluster of villagers.
“For the past five to six months, fringe groups have been organising camps and meetings in Bisara, Jarcha and Virpura and other villagers polarising people on sectarian lines,” a village chief points out to iamin on conditions of anonymity.
One such group is Samadhan Sena, set up by Govind Chaudhary, a resident of Virpura village. A wave of communal disharmony has ruptured the social fabric in the villages since Samadhan Sena set up its offices, according to Ehsaan Ilahi, Pradhan of Jarcha, a Hindu-dominated village .
“The Sena would hold meetings in Jarcha and nearby villages, and rope in youth in the age group of 16-20 years. They would organise bike rallies holding black flags shouting 'Muslims go back to Pakistan',” he stresses.
Around four months back, Jarcha witnessed its first communal incident. “My son was attacked in the school by fellow students who called him 'Pakistani'. When I complained it to the police, a mob came to my house and warned me. Now, I drop my son to school and pick him myself,” shares the village chief.
Ehsaan, who has been heading the village for past five years, further shares, “Five years is a lot of time and my Hindu brothers have always voted for me. I used to donate money to organise programmes in Diwali and Holi. These are all planned attacks to disrupt harmony.”
Groups like Rashtravadi Pratap Sena (RPS) and Chaudhary Charan Singh Sena are other similar groups, as per villagers, that recruit men, mainly young boys, to carry out violent attacks against other community.
Is unemployment compelling youth to join fringe groups?
“It is not about being a Hindu or a Muslim. These young men who are being roped in don’t have any work neither any land to earn their livelihood. Political leaders are influencing them and they are mindlessly indulging into behaviours they should refrain from,” insists Hasmat Thakur, Pradhan of Kalunda village.
According to him, it is because of unemployment and lack of opportunities that the youth are joining these fringe groups. “We are afraid that the future of the present generation is in peril if they continue to indulge in such activities,” Hasmat adds.
Politicos are acting irresponsibly, say villagers
Meanwhile, irresponsible comments by politicians have further upsetted the villagers. Union cultural Minister Mahesh Sharma, immediately after the incident tried to justify what happened saying, ‘Consuming Cow Meat is Wrong, Excitement of Kids led to the Attack’. Another BJP leader and former MLA Nawab Singh Nagar also added fuel to the fire saying, “Police Did Not Take the Meat Samples Seriously.”
On Sunday, BJP MLA Sangeet Som, accused of making inflammatory speeches during the 2013 Muzaffarnaga riots, organised a Mahapanchayat where he was quoted saying,“The Akhlaq family members were taken by the Uttar Pradesh government (to Lucknow) in an airplane. How they treated the accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, they are treating those who have slaughtered a cow the same way.”
“We are trying to contain the situation here. We can't do that unless political parties continue to visit the hamlet only to polarise the two communities further,” sums up one of the villagers.
A thought to ponder upon:
"I have long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus"
-Mahatma Gandhi, during a prayer discourse on cow slaughter.