An hour apart and 10 km away from each other, two panchayats were called on Monday at riot-torn Ballabhgarh — one each by the Muslim and Jat communities. And it wasn’t just time or distance separating the two, but also a seemingly insurmountable wall of distrust.
In one panchayat, held inside the police station at Ballabhgarh City, the Muslims said they wanted those accused in the rioting last week to be arrested and for them to be allowed to build their mosque on the disputed stretch of land near a temple in Atali village.
In the other held inside Atali, the Jats offered to allow the Muslims to build their mosque outside the village, saying they would bear the cost of construction.
Both positions were summarily rejected by rival sides.
The Muslims had taken refuge inside the police station exactly a week ago when the land upon which the mosque was being constructed became a flashpoint for violence that led to 15 people being injured and 20 houses being burnt within an hour.
On Monday, with opposition parties alleging inaction on part of the BJP government, BJP MLA Moolchand Sharma and BSP MLA Tek Chand Sharma met members of the Muslim community at the police station.
“The proposal they gave us was the same as before. They said they will arrest the accused and allow us to build the mosque, but not now. They are also talking about giving us compensation and are giving us assurances,” said Isak Lambardar, a villager who has taken refuge at the station.
He added that the same proposal had been put forward by the administration in three meetings on the issue over the last week, all of which failed to break the deadlock.
“It’s unbelievable. They have burnt our homes, looted us and destroyed our lives. But it is being said that we should compromise. The court has already said the land belongs to us, then why can’t we build the mosque?” asked Nizam Ali.
Majid, whose sister was injured in the violence, said, “Then we won’t go back.”
The meeting at the station ended at 3.20 pm after which the first panchayat – by the Muslim community – began.
The court order, that Ali quoted, was discussed again inside the village an hour later, during the Jat panchayat. With the village’s sarpanch, Rajesh Chaudhury, busy working with the administration on further peace talks, the meeting was presided over by his 72-year-old father Sher Singh.
“The Muslims have to understand that what’s happened has happened and now the one way for us to live peacefully is if they don’t build the mosque next to the temple and if they don’t pressure the administration to make arrests,” said Sher Singh, after the panchayat that was held near the sarpanch’s house.
“They are going around telling the world that we’ve been torturing them, and that the Hindus are the majority and we don’t let them live in peace. If we are the majority, then we should have been consulted before they started constructing the mosque,” said Daya Ram, Rajesh’s elder brother.
With no end in sight to the dispute, Atali village remains heavily guarded, with prohibitory orders still in place. On one side of the village, Muslim homes lie charred and abandoned. On the other side, where most of the Jats live, life goes on seemingly unchanged.
Villagers admit that things will never be the same again.
“If they do return and if there is a mosque next to a temple, it will be unnatural. It will definitely lead to further violence. How can that be good for the village? The village has changed forever,” said Sudhir Singh Chaudhury, a Jat farmer.