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
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
Dilawar Singh, a Jat from the village and an RLD supporter, accused
the BJP of inciting the violence. "The BJP specialises in riot
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.