For Saharanpur, it was an Eid without the usual celebrations and festivities. While curfew — imposed after three persons were killed in communal clashes over a plot of land on Saturday — was relaxed from 7 am to 11 am in the old city area, people rushed home after offering prayers at the Jama Masjid.
Among those who gathered at the mosque was three-year-old Mohammad Asif. “I want to go home quickly, I want to have kheer,” he told his father after the morning prayers. He didn’t have to worry, as haste was a key ingredient of the Eid celebrations on Tuesday.
Even as people prayed at the Jama Masjid, the surrounding streets remained empty. Just half the area prepared for praying was utilised. A group broke away from the mosque and headed to the Eidgah, wearing black arm bands and carrying black flags. “This black ribbon is in protest of having to celebrate Eid under curfew. A month of fasting was supposed to end in joy, not this,” said Mohammad Nadeem, among those in the group.
At the Eidgah, the ‘Shaher Kazi’, Nadeem Akhtar, called for “peace and restraint”. The decision to allow people to pray at the Eidgah was taken late on Monday night. The district administration claimed there were over 50,000 people at the Eidgah. But it was the absences that were most noticeable — the colourful balloons, stores lined with bright bangles and clothes, vendors selling kebabs and sweets. Instead of the usual bustle, there were only two carts selling pulao and daal.
The curfew was not relaxed in the Ambala Road area — the main access road to the Eidgah — where the violence took place on Saturday. The situation remained tense as the barricades stayed in place, security personnel patrolled the roads, and a nervous district administration kept watch.
After the prayers ended, an announcement was made — “Jidhar se aaye the, usi raste se wapas jaiye”. With curfew set to begin soon, people quickly started making their way home.
“It doesn’t feel like Eid. This terrible violence has ruined it. There are no new toys for children, no biryani has been made at home. We are running out of milk,” said Shoukeen Ali, a resident of Shahid Bagh in the old city.
The frustration at having to celebrate Eid indoors was clear. People stood restlessly at their doors, or peered out of their windows, waiting for return to normalcy. “We are going home. My wife has made some kheer. I tried going to the main city to get some fresh groceries, but the police didn’t let me,” said Mohammad Abu, a resident.
“Why should people be roaming around in the streets. The curfews are in place for their own good,” countered District Magistrate Sandhya Tiwari.
In the evening, curfew was relaxed in the new city area, which has a majority population of Sikhs and Hindus, from 3 pm to 7 pm. Near the gurdwara, located next to the disputed plot, plumes of smoke still rose from the house that was gutted along with 165 shops and 42 vehicles.
With the bigger markets opening for the first time since Saturday, residents rushed out to buy essential commodities. But as the relaxation in curfew ended, the city retreated back into itself and the security drills — the barricading, picketing and checking — began.