The barricades and the paramilitary forces have gone. Huge biryani vessels dot the roadside and the schools are alive with the gleeful chatter of children. The jollity at tea shacks is back, the hookah meetings of the locals have resumed, the portals of the Nalhar temple are open and trickling in of devotees continues uninterrupted.
Two months after communal clashes ripped through the southern Haryana city leaving six dead, it’s hard to miss a semblance of normalcy in Nuh. The roads, which wore a deserted look after the clashes that broke out on July 31 during a shobha yatra, are bustling with traffic, as the elderly keep a watch on life passing them by from the charpoys that are out in the open again.
Men who went into hiding fearing police action have returned home and the villages no longer have any houses with locked doors. Fear, it seems, has made way for the humdrum of everyday life and communal amity is the oft-repeated theme of any conversation. These are the positive and encouraging aspects. There are undercurrents of unease, though, over how the communal violence unfolded and the action that followed.
“The clashes could not damage the social fabric in our villages where Hindus and Muslims live in complete harmony. There was a serious attempt to create a wedge by outside forces but we take great pride in the fact that the attempt has been thwarted. Their nefarious designs stand defeated. Not for a single hour could these outsiders create any distrust between us,” says Azad Mohammad, sarpanch of Nalhar and Palhdi villages.
Trouble had started from the Nalhar temple during a shobha yatra taken out by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) when sloganeering turned into clashes between members of the Hindu and Muslim communities. Residents of Nuh insist that the mischief was the handiwork of “outsiders”, and that the locals had no role to play in the escalation of tension and subsequent arson.
In Ghasera village where the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, had come to appeal to the Meos to stay back in India instead of crossing over to Pakistan in 1947, Vakil Ahmed, in his 30s, vouches for the Meos’ commitment to a rising India. “It is very painful that Nuh is called ‘Mini Pakistan’. Those who wanted to go to Pakistan did so during Partition while we chose to stay back on the appeal from Gandhiji. We follow his ideology and are very proud that Hindus and Muslims live as one big community and nobody has been able to divide us along religious lines,” he says.
Even during the 1992 Babri mosque flare-up, he points out, there was no instance of violence and Muslim men took turns to guard the local temple for nearly six months.
The only damage the recent clashes could inflict upon Nuh, claims Asif Ali of the same village, was the monetary loss. He says the villagers pooled in resources to feed the families of daily-wagers who could not go to work. “With businesses shut, everyone suffered losses. That is all the damage the outsiders could do,” he insists, adding that the biggest grocery shop in the village is that of a Hindu and it wasn’t shut even for a single day.
Though most villages have very few Hindu families, Sukhwinder Singh of Akeda village says there was not an iota of fear in their minds before, during and after the communal clashes. “We have all grown up together and there is no element of mistrust between us. The thought of locking our homes to move to safer places never even crossed our mind. We feel safer in our villages with our Muslim brothers. The Muslim men who left their homes in other villages did so fearing false implication in police cases. It was never about any trust deficit,” he adds.
The village organised three panchayats immediately after the clashes to underline and reiterate that whatever happens elsewhere in the district will not be allowed to impact the congenial atmosphere of Akeda.
In nearby Kherla village, Khusheed Ahmed rues the reckless actions of the local administration in “destroying lives”. The police broke into homes and picked up youth, he claims, some of whom are still languishing in jails. “Houses were demolished in the name of illegal construction and there was a pronounced attempt to instill fear in us. They succeeded temporarily, but the spirit of Nuh is bigger than the fear they created,” he maintains.
The mounds of debris of “illegal” shops and homes razed in the aftermath of the clashes continue to dot the roadside near the Nalhar medical college and hospital, as also clearings in the less-inhabited areas in and around the city. These are reminders of how the clashes permanently altered the lives of those belonging to the lowest strata.
Living in makeshift tents after having lost everything in the demolitions, they are picking up the pieces of whatever little is left. “The administration came with policemen in tow and our house of 50 years was gone in the wink of an eye. We don’t know where to start and how to carry on,” says Asgari, who was living in Nalhar with her family of six.
The villagers believe that the debris has not been cleared deliberately to constantly remind the locals that the government is “powerful enough” to reduce their lives to rubble if they don’t fall in line. However, they maintain that they have never been out of line and the handiwork of outsiders is being thrust upon them to settle “political scores” of sending back Congress MLAs from all three seats to the Haryana Vidhan Sabha.
“The government had inputs about the escalating tension in Nuh but chose to ignore it, resulting in violence. Though normalcy has been restored, the faith of the people in the government machinery has been shaken. Nearly 75 per cent of those arrested by the police are innocent and the demolitions were carried out to punish the public. As if that was not enough, the government is resorting to witch-hunting and blaming the Congress to hide its own failure. The government stands totally exposed in the Nuh violence,” says Nuh MLA Aftab Ahmed.
Nangli villager Shakir, whose two sons were named in an FIR registered in connection with the clashes, has not been able to restart his business post July 31. “My cold drink shop, a temporary structure, was razed and my vehicle damaged as the paramilitary forces came charging. I don’t earn enough to make good my losses and get back on my feet,” he says.
In Moradbas village, Haji Ali is busy getting cattle fodder stocked. He says that the last two months have been difficult for the poorer sections but emphasises that the clashes have had no bearing on the Hindu-Muslim camaraderie. “The members of both the communities live together and there is no tension anywhere as normalcy returns. We never had a Hindu-Muslim problem in Nuh and we will never have it,” he remarks as he directs the women to pile up fodder.
Running the biggest grocery shop in Ghasera, Anil Goyal alias Babloo comes from Sohna everyday. “There was no disturbance at all in Nuh and we did not close our shop for one single day despite being surrounded by Muslims. There is no tension between the two communities here,” he emphasises.
Not one to mince words, the locals believe that the communal clashes had their roots in a “political conspiracy” ahead of the 2024 elections. Sitting outside their village in Unthka, they are reluctant to give their names or say anything on camera. “The entire game is to create unrest, polarise the public along religious lines and win the election. We can’t give our names because the government machinery is powerful enough to pick us up and implicate us in crimes we have not even done. It is best to keep quiet right now even though we are suffering. The point is that nobody will hear us,” a villager claims.
Nodding in agreement, another villager adds that the whole purpose of arresting Congress MLA Mamman Khan was to send out a message. “They want to convey that when our MLA can be booked, none of us is safe and they can pick up anybody. They have done that successfully, which is why there have been no protests. Everyone wants to be safe first before taking up somebody else’s cause,” he quips.
A BJP leader from Nuh, Zakir Hussain, terms the Nuh violence a “sponsored conspiracy” that resulted from challenges and counter-challenges over the last six months. “That vitiated the atmosphere and the indiscriminate arrests have caused heartburn. The police are now verifying the names in the FIRs before proceeding to arrest those named. An inquiry is being conducted into the demolitions,” he says.
In Kherla, Wali Mohammad says that Nuh’s economy is already very fragile and by creating disturbance, attempts are being made to weaken the residents’ economic condition. “Most of the population in Nuh is lower middle class. By creating a situation where we are forced to close shops and stay at home, the government wants to corner us to the extent of making beggars out of us. That is our real tragedy,” he rues.
While the charred vehicles, the damaged police cars and Haryana Roadways buses have been removed from the mandi where these were parked after the clashes, the cyber police station, one of the locations attacked by the miscreants, is fully functional.
Some senior officers dismiss the theory that the cyber police station was targeted with the idea of destroying the records after raids were carried out in particular areas. “Only 48 persons had been arrested for cyber fraud. In the Sadar and city police stations, there are cases against 500 persons on an average. If the intention was to destroy the records, the miscreants would have attacked these police stations rather than the cyber cell,” an officer maintains, adding that the “attack” must have happened given its location.
The villagers are also sore about the fact that the police have not verified the involvement of local boys who were picked up from their houses. The process to seek their release has been slow and the locals hope the government can fast-track it.
Stating that 340 arrests have been made so far in connection with the clashes and violence, Nuh SP Narendra Bijarniya says, “We have received over 40 representations about wrong arrests. We have verified their claims and discharged 10 persons who were found to be innocent. However, the arrests we have made are based on the CCTV footage. We have taken cognisance of hate speeches as well. As many as 30 accused were handed over by the village panchayats for their role during the violence of July 31.”
As the dust settles on the clashes and life falls into a familiar rut, the locals, in one voice, maintain that the clashes were a conspiracy to whip up trouble where none existed. Ashraf Khan of Ghasera village sums it up, “In Nuh, there are no Hindus and no Muslims. We are all Indians and the conspirators should never forget that.” Words well spoken. If only things were that simple.
Most Read In 24 Hours
Don't MissView All
PM Modi calls for maintaining balance between mitigation and...
The decision amounts to creating a parallel jurisdiction, ta...
No suspicious objects have been found yet, say police
Reservation was to be granted in all the cadres of Group A a...
‘Monthly rainfall is most likely to be above normal across t...