Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Muzaffarnagar echo in Bijnor

Pedda (Bijnor), Sept. 20: Violence last week in Pedda, a tiny hamlet on the fringes of Bijnor city about 150km from Delhi, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Muzaffarnagar riots. So do the circumstances.

The riots in 2013 that left 50 people dead and displaced more than 60,000 had come months before the Lok Sabha elections. Now, Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are months away.
In Pedda, Zareen Khatoon shivers as she recounts how 50-60 people raided her one-storey house on Friday morning, armed with revolvers, iron rods and swords. They ran amok, killing three members of her family - her husband Anisuddin, 48, brother-in-law Ehsan, 30, and niece Sarfraz, 17 - and injuring eight.

"They pumped bullets into their bodies in front of my eyes. We still do not know what our fault was," cried Zareen, pointing at the brick walls bearing several bullet holes.

That morning, some Hindu boys had allegedly harassed a Muslim girl from the village, a Class VIII student who was on way to her school in Bijnor with her cousin Talib. A clash erupted between groups of boys near Bijnor bus stand, and later snowballed into a Hindu-Muslim clash.

Pedda is a village of about 3,000 people, having an equal number of Muslims and Jats. As in Muzaffarnagar, most of the Muslims here are day labourers and work in the fields owned by Jats, and some work in Bijnor city as barbers, masons and carpenters.

Friday's violence has ripped years of communal harmony - even during the riots in Muzaffarnagar, which is only 65-70km away, Bijnor had remained peaceful.

Muslim villagers smell a conspiracy behind the violence. "Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are round the corner and the violence was a deliberate act to drive a wedge between the two communities that have always lived in complete harmony in Bijnor. What we see here is the repeat of Muzaffarnagar," said Mohmmed Hanif, 60.

Muzaffarnagar in September 2013 had witnessed the same pattern - a girl was allegedly harassed, triggering the riots. The BJP swept the state's Lok Sabha seats in the poll held in the summer of 2014. For the first time, Uttar Pradesh - where Muslims account for nearly 19 per cent of the voters - failed to send even one candidate from the community to the Lok Sabha.

Polarisation ahead of the Assembly elections is likely to put the BJP in a win-win situation, because it would get the party the bulk of Hindu votes that would otherwise be split between different parties. In the absence of polarisation, Jat votes in western Uttar Pradesh would be divided mainly among Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress and the BJP while Muslim votes would be shared by the Samajwadi Party, the Congress and the BSP.

Irrespective of polarisation, Dalit votes go to the BSP and Yadav votes to the Samajwadi Party. "If Muslim-Dalits come together, it will be winning combine. Our leader is working on it," said Rajinder Singh, the BSP district chief.

Jamil Ahmed, 65, a cousin of the slain Anisuddin, accused the BJP of poisoning the atmosphere in Pedda.
"Politicians belonging to the BJP have become master craftsmen in polarising communities along religious lines. Ahead of any elections in Uttar Pradesh, there is always an apprehension of another riot breaking out. We have been living in fear after the horrific attack and hardly slept since Friday," he said.

Jamil's fear finds resonance across several Muslim settlements in the district.
Several Muslims in the area said passions had been building up over the past couple of months after the visit of some BJP politicians to the district, including the controversial Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath.
Bijnor's superintendent of police Umesh Kumar Srivastava said seven persons were arrested for the violence.

Most Jat men have fled the village fearing arrest, leaving the women and kids behind.
"Often Muslim boys harass our girls when they go to school. We do not know what happened on Friday. The attackers were outsiders but Muslims gave the names of men in our families to police," said Bireshi, whose husband Tigam Singh has fled with his two sons.

Several policemen are now deployed in the village. "They visit our home 3-4 times a day in search of my husband and sons. They have been doing the same in other Hindu homes. We had always lived in amity," said Auradha Singh.

Dilawar Singh, a Jat from the village and an RLD supporter, accused the BJP of inciting the violence. "The BJP specialises in riot politics."
Local BJP leader Ramender Singh rubbished the allegations. "Our Prime Minister is working for the development of all. We want welfare of all the weaker sections of the society, be it Dalits or Muslims," he said.

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