A day after three persons were killed in clashes between two communities over a plot of land near a gurdwara in Saharanpur, in western Uttar Pradesh, the situation remained tense on Sunday. Curfew and shoot-at-sight orders remained in force for the second day even as 36 people were arrested.
Barricades have been put up outside their residential colonies, dividing the two communities. The Kutubsher police station, just 50 metres from the gurdwara, is at the centre, with the Muslim areas on one side, and the Sikh-Hindu areas on the other.
While both Muslims and Sikhs claim ownership of the plot of land, the clashes reportedly broke out as the gurdwara committee had begun construction on it.
“We are not allowed to go out of Dholi Khal. The police have given shoot-at-sight orders. We will not allow our children and our men to step out of this area. I have asked my husband to offer namaz at home. This city of Saharanpur, where I have lived for years, is now divided into two sections. While I cannot go to the other side, my friend from there cannot come here,” said a 32-year-old woman who did not want to be named.
“Yesterday, some men came to this area with the police and started firing rubber bullets… They smashed the window panes of the mosques, torched cars and damaged shops. I don’t know who they are and why they came here. I just know that this Eid is not going to be the same,” she said.
“Our women had to seek the help of the police to go over to the next road. Who are we scared of? The people we lived with for so many years?” she said.
On the other side of the divide, the Sikhs also point out that the two communities have co-existed peacefully for many years. “I do not know if it is politically motivated or not. But I saw that the maximum violence was being done by outsiders, not the locals. They came from Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar and Deoli and went on a rampage. I do not remember seeing any known Muslim face among the people who were torching vehicles and burning down shops. It seems that it was all pre-planned,” said Gursharan Kaur, 58.
Quazi Nadeem Akhtar, a community leader, said they went to the city magistrate after coming to know that the gurdwara committee had started construction on the disputed land. “Our protest was peaceful. We kept asking the police to stop them from carrying out the construction but no action was taken. We went there for dialogue. But instead of stopping them, the police started firing in the air to disperse the crowd,” he said.
“The mob then got angry and thought the police and the administration had connived with the Sikhs… It was difficult to stop the angry mob, though we tried our best to control the situation,” he said.
“The situation could have been averted if the authorities had taken timely action and stopped the construction. It is a clear failure of the local intelligence unit that they did not even know that the Sikhs had started construction on the disputed land. We have a stay order from the city magistrate and any construction on that land is illegal,” he added.
Daljeet Singh Kochar, lawyer for the gurdwara committee, however, claimed the Muslims came in large numbers and surrounded the Kutubsher police station. He alleged that the mob was armed. Citing an order of the city court, he claimed the gurdwara has full rights over the land.
Blaming the Congress, BJP MP from Saharanpur, Raghav Lakhan Pal, said, “I feel all this is happening because the by-polls are approaching. The same thing happened in Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar and now in Saharanpur.”
Meanwhile, District Magistrate Sandhya Tiwari said the situation was under control. “The situation is under control, but we are not lifting the curfew. The situation is being assessed regularly,” she said. She added that they have asked media persons to give them footage of the violence so that the culprits can be identified and brought to book.