Zahid is in class X at Rajakiya High School in Kutbi village of Muzaffarnagar, the only Muslim student to have returned to a class that had 36 of them last year, and which now has 110 students.
The twin villages of Kutba and Kutbi were among the worst hit by last year’s riots, with eight murders and over 50 other cases registered. None of the 200-odd Muslim families who stayed there have returned.
Zahid walks to school with 30 Hindu students from his village, Dhindawli, but has not yet dared speak with his classmates from Kutbi, especially the Jats. “I keep to myself and always sit next to Hindus from my village, especially my friend Akshay,” Zahid says. “Village students don’t talk to me and I don’t talk to them either. It’s safer that way.”
Teachers say they keep an eye open for possible fights because of Zahid since “it’s a board year”. Students say friendships, earlier defined along caste lines, have since been redefined by religion. Akshay, the topper, says he is frequently ridiculed for their friendship. “All of us were friends, but the Jats hung out with Jats, the Kurmis with Kurmis, the Dheemers with Dheemers. But now when Zahid does poorly in a test and the teacher tells me to help him, they jeer,” he says.
The Jat boys say it was silly of Zahid to have returned. “Many of our brothers and uncles are in jail, others have cases on them and have been shamed because of false complaints filed by Muslims. If we had to kill them, why would we have stayed together all these years?” says Mahender, a student.
Out of one village…
At Kutbi’s government primary, junior high and high schools, not one other Muslim student has returned, including those from neighbouring villages. At the boys’ junior high school in Kutbi, the number of students has fallen from 104 to 51; at the girls’ school, it has fallen from 50 to 34. In one primary school, the count has dropped from 80 to 47, and in another, from 75 to 38. Teachers say the four government schools and single private school in Kutbi have together lost at least 200 Muslim students. In neighbouring Kankra, which suffered ripple effects of the violence in Kutba-Kutbi, primary school one has lost 150 students, primary school two 125, the high school 50, and the junior high school 50.
Kutbi’s primary school 2, the one with 47 students, has two of its four rooms empty, with one of the two in use accommodating students of four classes — anganwadi, I, II, and III — and the other one those of IV and V. “The dropout numbers have continued…