Post-Riot Tensions Linger in Village Near India’s Capital

By Rohit Wadhwaney

2015-06-15
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150615-IN-atali-620 Members of India’s Rapid Action Force keep the peace at the construction site of a controversial mosque in Atali, Haryana state, June 14, 2015.
BenarNews

An uneasy calm has settled over the narrow by-lanes of Atali, a village about 50 km (31 miles) from New Delhi, some three weeks after communal violence broke out and forced 500 Muslim residents to seek refuge in a local police station.

The village’s Jat and Muslim communities have lived here together for years. But Hindu anger over the construction of a mosque adjacent to a temple boiled over in a brief outburst of rioting on May 25.

Mobs torched 15 or so Muslim homes, and five people were injured in the violence.

“The houses can be rebuilt. But the trust that has been broken between the two communities cannot,” Salma Begum, whose house was burned down, told BenarNews.

“Worse still,” she added, “They set fire to the secular fabric of the village.”

The rioting lasted only two hours, but it was enough to force Atali’s Muslim population to take shelter at the police station.

A curfew has been enforced in this village in Haryana state since May 25.

Multiple checkpoints now block the entrance to Atali, and 1,000 police officers and members of the Rapid Action Force – a wing of India’s Central Reserve Police Force – guard local streets round the clock.

Gatherings of more than five people have been banned, and most shops have yet to reopen for business three weeks after the riot erupted.

Members of the Jat and Muslim communities now are reluctant even to make eye-contact with one another.

“Before the riot, people from both communities lived cordially. Now, leave aside talking, it’s hard to even cross each other’s paths,” said Begum, 43.

“How do you talk cordially to someone who was trying to kill you a few days ago?”

Muslims nervous

Atali’s 10,000-strong Jat community greatly outnumbers its 500 Muslims.

Although Muslim residents began trickling back to their homes on June 4, following efforts by local politicians to mediate a peace between the two sides, Muslims said they were “living under constant fear” of another bout of violence.

“There is a lot of security in the village at the moment. We feel somewhat safe,” Jamal Mehdi, 37, told BenarNews.

“But these armed police won’t remain here forever. What will happen when they leave?”

Following the riot, he spent 10 nights sleeping in a tent with his wife and two sons at the Ballabhgarh police station, about 12 km (7.4 miles) from Atali.

Mehdi and his wife returned to their Atali home on June 5, but left their sons – aged 12 and 10 – with relatives in a neighboring village.

“My wife and I wanted to return because this is our home. But we didn’t want to take a chance with our boys just in case the situation went out of control again,” Mehdi said.

The Mehdis, who have lived in Atali since 1999, are now thinking about moving elsewhere.

“I don’t want my family to live in fear,” he added. “We will see how the situation turns out for a few days and then take a decision.”

On Sunday, the 28 families that were victimized in the rioting rejected the government’s offer to compensate each of them with 100,000 rupees ($1,561), saying they were initially promised nearly four times that amount.

“The damage done to our homes and belongings is one thing. But we were also in a situation where we couldn’t return to our homes for almost two weeks,” the Indian Express quoted Atali resident Nizam Ali as saying.

“Farming has suffered and those with businesses have had to start from scratch.”

‘Under control’

And as far as the Jats are concerned, they remain opposed to the mosque construction project.

“We will not let them build a mosque next to the temple. If they attempt to do it again, we cannot guarantee (anything),” said Sanjay, a member of the village’s Jat community who declined to reveal his full name, told BenarNews.

The mosque is under construction.

Less than two months before the violence broke out, a court in Faridabad, the largest city in the surrounding state of Haryana, ruled that Hindu petitioners had “miserably failed” to establish that the mosque “stood on land owned by the gram panchayat,” according to the Indian Express.

“We have told them that they can build the mosque outside the village, and we have even offered to pay for its construction. But certainly not at the spot where they’re trying to build it,” said another senior Jat resident who identified himself as Gajraj.

Local police say they have identified and charged 65 people for inciting violence on May 25, but the cops have made no arrests.

Many of the suspects were on the run, said Assistant Commissioner of Police Vishnu Dayal.

“Things are under our control,” he told BenarNews.  “We have successfully managed to mediate a compromise between the two groups, and the two communities have now started talking to each other like before.”

The riot resulted from “emotions running high over a sensitive issue,” but with anger subsiding over the past few days both groups have realized that violence was not a solution, he said.

“We don’t want to disturb the situation, which is slowly getting back to normal. Making arrests at this time could flare up emotions,” he said.

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