New Delhi: Muslims who saw armed gangs drag out innocents and slaughter them in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh are refusing to go back to their villages, a Muslim leader said Sunday.
Zafar Islam Khan, president of the All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat, also said that the horrendous communal riots were the work of Hindutva forces but the Uttar Pradesh government was also to blame for inaction.
Khan told a news agency that after his second visit to Muzaffarnagar in a week that those Muslims in refugee camps who witnessed their own neighbours indulge in cold blooded killings were adamantly refusing to return to their villages.
"There are two types of Muslims in the refugee centres," he said. "One is those who saw people being killed or burnt. They are so traumatized that they have said they won`t go back (to their homes), come what may."
Such people, he said, belong primarily to four villages including Lakh, Lasadh and Pataudi.
"The others basically fled their villages out of fear. They have started going back," said Khan, 64.
The Sep 7-9 conflagration shattered the myth that only urban communities are prone to communal violence. Much of the violence in farm-rich Muzaffarnagar district, 130 from New Delhi, occurred in villages where Hindus and Muslims have lived mostly in peace for generations.
The riots, officials say, claimed 48 lives, injured scores and forced more than 40,000 people to flee their homes, a scenario that forced the government to deploy the Army.
Police officials admit most of those killed were Muslims.
Khan, one of the Muslim leaders who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the latter`s visit to Muzaffarnagar, said rightwing Hindu groups allied to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lit the communal fire.
"It will be wrong to call what happened in Muzaffarnagar as a Hindu-Muslim riot. Only Jats were involved and, that too, those aligned to the BJP," he said. "Gujjars, Baniyas and Brahmins were not involved. And Jats who tried to restore sanity were told to shut up. This was a Jat-Muslim clash."
He denied that the alleged harassment of a Hindu girl by a Muslim thug led to the violence.
"Like so much else, this is propaganda. There have already been some 100 small and big riots in UP since the Samajwadi Party took office (last year).
"What really happened in Muzaffarnagar was a fight between a Jat youth and two Muslim youths last month after their motorcycles were involved in an accident," he said, his account based on numerous conversions in the region.
"The Jat boy went to his village and brought a gang which killed the two Muslims. Then the two Jat boys were killed in retaliation.
"Had police arrested the killers in both cases, there would have been no explosion."
But tensions did simmer, leading to a mass gathering of Jat villagers Sep 7. When some of them came under attack from Muslims, all hell broke loose.
"Police did not act," Khan said. "Not only this, when Muslims were targeted, the police were either spectators or, in some cases, colluded with the killers."
According to Khan, Hindutva groups - which deny the allegation - have been trying to polarize Hindus for some months in Uttar Pradesh in a bid to create a wave in their favour ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Will there be long-term consequences of these riots?
Khan told a news agency, "This will depend on the government. If it does not act against the killers, then the virus will spread. But if the guilty are punished, then a strong message will go out that this is not acceptable."
But despite the violence, Muslims in Uttar Pradesh may not dump the ruling Samajwadi Party, he said.
"This is because Muslims don`t have too many options outside of the SP and BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party). The Congress has no structure in UP."