Every day as evening settles into night, a feeling of dream slowly creeps up into the hearts of the citizens of Uttar Pradesh. “What will happen tonight?” is the unspoken fear among all, specially the Muslims, in towns like Muzaffarnagar.
Khatauli was the hotbed of Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 and the scars have still not faded. Six years later, the arson, looting and arrests are back with a vengeance.
It all started with a peaceful protest held at Veer Hamid chowk in Khatauli near Muzaffarnagar on December 13, in the presence of the city’s SDM and CO, which went off peacefully. The protesters were then called to the local police station at night, which they refused. After midnight, policemen reached the homes of the protesters, kicking and banging their gates, intimidating the residents inside. By the morning many terrified parents asked their sons to leave the town for fear of being picked up by the police.
On the afternoon of the 15th, the Imam of a masjid was picked up by the police after which the Muslim citizens became restive and collected in front of the police station. After being assured by respected local Muslim elders that they will take responsibility for future peaceful protests, all the Imams were called to the police station. Residents allege that they were told by the SHO that if they protested or took part in any public protests they would be beaten till “aapki cheekhein nikal jayengi” (you will start screaming).
Meanwhile in the neighbouring town of Muzaffarnagar, the situation was getting worse. A protest was held with a large crowd, and a large police presence at Meenakshi chowk at Muzaffarnagar. A local resident said that as the protesters were returning peacefully after the protest, the local BJP neta pressured the police to beat the crowd with batons. After that, the situation became violent. All Muslim shops between Meenakshi Chowk and Shiv Chowk were burnt. Fearing the volatile situation, the local shopkeepers closed their shops. They allege that they were told by the police to open them. The shopkeepers refused. In retaliation, the Muzaffarnagar police sealed 60 shops and stuck notices on each. Each notice said that unless the shopkeepers go to the police station and paid Rs 1 crore, their shops would not be unsealed.
However, the sealed shops were just the beginning of Muzaffarnagar trials. Local citizens say that as they slept, groups of men dressed in jackets and helmets broke into houses of Muslims in Khalapar, Sarwat and Laddawala. Armed with hammers and bags, they beat up the men, vandalised houses and looted jewellery of the women. They also broke into shops and looted them.
A local activist told this journalist that “they seemed to be coming to vandalise and loot and not to arrest people. They were in jackets and helmets but not dressed as policemen. From their language too — the religious abuses they spouted — they didn’t seem to be policemen. So, who were the looters of Muzaffarnagar’s Muslim families? (Photo above)
The horror did not end there. Residents say that children going to tuitions or high school were picked up by the police. About 80 residents were arrested or detained. One young man, Noor Mohammad, with a pregnant wife and a small child was killed though police claim that he was not killed in police firing.
Muslim residents of Muzaffarnagar remain terrified. “Poori tarah se bhay ki stithi hai” (People everywhere are just terrified) says a resident.
Though some videos of the police atrocities have filtered out to the social media, local journalists and residents are without internet or any other means of communication.
A Muzaffarnagar activist alleges that “Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Meerut are being targeted because the Muslims here are prosperous and stronger. They are also less fearful, unlike the rest of UP Muslims, and have lots of money. The government wants to break them economically and traumatise them psychologically.”