In a corner of Meerut’s Old City, lanes little wider than two people standing close together lead to a mosque, a Jain temple and a Hindu mandir, located within 100 metres of each other. The area has seen arguments over a common well dug in 1982, even a protracted legal battle, but no violence.
Saturday’s clash leaving a dozen injured, one of them critically, in fact, was the first communal violence Gudri Bazaar has ever seen.
Says 66-year-old Inder Jain, who lives in the area, “This well has little water but it is a matter of pride for the Jains, Hindus and Muslims. The Muslims have always tried to usurp it. On Saturday, they were putting a fence around it. When the Hindus objected, there was an argument, and somebody set fire to a motorcycle. Many here have illegal weapons, and soon there was firing.”
According to Jain, “Some of the firing was in front of the police, which failed to calm things down for over two hours.”
Local BJP corporator Vijay Anand, who claims he was attacked by a mob at Gudri Bazaar, seconds Jain. “Since there was a dispute between the Hindus and Muslims over the well, court had been approached. It ordered status quo. We will not allow anyone to disrespect the courts.”
On the other side of a demarcating drain, the Muslims say they were “only making everyone’s lives simpler”.
“We were installing a water cooler so people could have water conveniently. We were not staking a claim. But the other group began shouting slogans. They say only their side was shot at, but some of us have bullet injuries too,” says Syed Ahmed.
While more than 10 people are reported to have suffered blunt force injuries, two have bullet wounds. One of them, identified as Shivam Rastogi, is on ventilator support, doctors at the Meerut Government Hospital said.
Meanwhile, rumours abound. Some speak of an eveteasing incident on Friday, but no one has specifics. Others see a conspiracy, of guns being distributed, and of the violence being a bid to loot traders. But while some shopkeepers point to broken locks, nobody has actually seen weapons being handed around.
Said SSP Omkar Singh, “There has been no fresh violence. We will take action against those who spread rumours and those directly involved. An FIR has been registered against 200 persons.”
A kilometre away from the site of the clash, there are few signs of trouble, and people speak of a larger problem — the proliferation of weapons. Says Bhisham Singh, a fruitseller, “This is not a problem of religion. It is a problem of guns. Every argument turns into a gunfight. Log kehte hain bandook nahin hai, toh mard nahin ho (People say that if you don’t own a gun, you aren’t a man). Very rarely is it a religious issue that people are fighting about. This was about a well, was it not?”