Tension was palpable in Naya Bans area in the heart of Muzaffarnagar city on Friday. A day after nine people were arrested following a brief period of stone-throwing between members of two communities, police presence had been raised in the town.
The clashes were sparked by an alleged case of harassment of a Hindu college-going woman by a few Muslim youths.
The Muslim residents, however, deny the allegation of harassment. “One group claimed there was a scuffle over an incident of balloon-throwing; the other said a woman was harassed. Stones were pelted by both groups for a few minutes before the police reached and brought the situation under control,” said Muzaffarnagar SSP K B Singh. “No one was seriously injured. A case of rioting has been registered and nine were arrested.”
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Residents of the colony and the local BJP MLA alleged that alongside the accused the police also arrested family members of the woman, who had gone to the police to get an FIR registered. The woman’s relatives, and the brother of the main accused, were picked up on Thursday and let off Friday morning, they said.
Muzaffarnagar MLA Kapil Dev told The Indian Express on Friday that after the police detained the woman’s kin, many locals, including several women, went to the police station and demanded their release. “Instead of listening to their demands, the police lathicharged them,” he alleged. “We want the administration to take strict action against policemen responsible for the lathicharge.”
According to the woman’s younger brother, a group of Muslim youths from the colony used to harass her regularly. “On Wednesday morning, she called up and said she was being harassed again. I went and confronted them — there was a scuffle but the matter did not escalate,” he claimed. “Yesterday, a fight broke out between us (main accused and him) and our friends joined in. A few rounds were fired by them. They started throwing bricks at us, we retaliated.”
The brother said he was among those picked up by the police on Thursday and released early Friday.
Family members of the main accused, however, claimed that a ruckus broke out over some children throwing water balloons at people in the colony. The accused person’s uncle said: “There was a wedding in the colony and most of us were there. We learnt there that some young men had accused my nephew of harassing a woman from the Hindu community. These are false charges. These boys seem to have been instigated by others.”
On Friday afternoon, small piles of broken bricks could still be seen along the narrow lanes. Apart from two lanes where nearly 500 Muslims reside, the entire colony houses Hindu families. Muslim residents maintained that they have lived in the colony peacefully for generations, in the midst of Hindu households. “There must be around 10,000 Hindus here and their houses surrounded ours; some even share common boundary walls. We have never faced any trouble or had problems with them. The young generation, influenced by some elements, are giving communal colour to small incidents,” said Anees Ahmed, a resident.
But several Hindu residents tell a different tale. Pointing to a brick wall hiding a two-storey house, Anurag Pandey said, “We had to make this wall high so that Muslims living on the other side do not bother us. This wall was constructed last August. How else are we supposed to feel safe?”