Muslims Mark Eid in Riot-hit Indian Village

Rohit Wadhwaney

150925-IN-atali-1000 Muslim residents hug after Eid-ul-Adha prayers at a school in Atali village, in India’s Haryana state, Sept. 25, 2015.

Aside from a massive security deployment, the Indian village of Atali on Friday bore no signs of a communal clash that tore its social fabric apart four months ago.

Many Muslim residents of the curfew-bound Haryana state village, about 50 km (31 miles) from New Delhi, trickled back home to celebrate Eid-ul-Adha amid renewed hope for peace.

Atali’s nearly 400 Muslim families had locked up their homes and left about a month after Hindu majority Jats rioted over the construction of a mosque next-door to a local temple on May 25. The violence destroyed about 25 Muslim houses and seriously injured five people.

They blamed the exodus on a combination of a social boycott against the minority and fears of another round of violence.

But on Friday, a host of local politicians and senior police officials lined up to greet the returning Muslims, all set to mediate a compromise between the two communities.

“We are getting the two groups together for a meeting this weekend and are confident of reaching an amicable solution to the problem,” local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Baldev Ahlawat, who has formed a peace committee to settle the issue, told BenarNews.

He said the committee had been in talks with Atali’s Jat residents for weeks, trying to chalk out terms for a “permanent compromise.”

“We will make sure that there is no repeat of the May 25 incident, and assure the Muslim population of Atali that they are safe here,” Ahlawat said.

A Veggie Eid Feast

Several Jat residents, who belong to the village’s 10,000-strong Hindu majority, also dropped in to their Muslim neighbors’ homes, where they were greeted with warm hugs and a spread of date rice and rice pudding.

Until last year, Atali’s Muslim families sacrificed goats after offering Eid-ul-Adha prayers. But this time, they ensured that their feasts were vegetarian so as not to anger their Hindu neighbors.

“The entire point of this festival is to be together in your home with your friends and neighbors. Sacrificing a goat is important as per rituals, but not as important as sacrificing your craving for the sake of peace,” said Muslim resident Sabir Ali, 28.

Ali, who has been staying in a rented accommodation in Ballabhgarh, some 15 km (9 miles) away, since early July, returned with his 15-member family to his Atali home on Friday to celebrate Eid.

The family went back to Ballabhgarh after the festivities.

“We want to return (to Atali). This is where our happiness lies. But we don’t want to live in fear. We will attend the meeting with the other group this weekend and take a decision after,” said Ali, who wants all 96 accused of perpetrating the violence arrested.

As of Friday, only 15 of them had been nabbed, area Assistant Commissioner of Police Vishnu Dayal told BenarNews. “The others are at large, but will be arrested sooner or later,” he said.

‘I will risk it all’

About half of the village’s Muslim population returned on Friday, with the rest, who have taken up accommodation in faraway towns, to follow soon depending on the outcome of the weekend meet.

“I am happy the Muslims have returned. Atali is as much their home as it is ours,” said 59-year-old Jat resident Mukesh Kumar.

“The May incident was a sad day in the history of our village, where Hindus and Muslims have lived together for centuries. It was a brief moment of anger that passed. It’s time we buried the hatchet,” Kumar said.

The under-construction mosque had been a source of tension between the village’s Muslim minority and Jat majority since construction began in 2009. The project was interrupted later that year, when a local court admitted a petition lodged by Jats to block further construction.

But the anger of local Hindus boiled over when construction resumed in early May, after the court ruled that the land belonged to the Muslims.

Naseem Khan, 39, who returned to Atali on Friday with his wife and two sons, said he did not want to leave.

“I have a house here that my father built with his own hands. It is ridiculous to live on rent somewhere else. I have lived here my entire life. And this is where I want my children to grow up,” Khan, who had been staying in one-room apartment for the last two months, told BenarNews.

“I hope both sides reach a compromise this weekend and we can live happily like we used to. But if there is no compromise, I will risk it all to live here,” he said.

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