As one walks from Singh Sabha Gurdwara in the new city to the Jama Masjid in the old city of Saharanpur, a stone-strewn road lined with gutted shops and charred vehicles leads to decorated streets welcoming Eid shoppers. However, there were only a few people outside in both the areas despite relaxation of curfew as uneasy calm prevailed in the town after Saturday’s communal clashes, marring the Eid festivities.
On Monday, the curfew was relaxed in phases from 10 am to 2 pm in the new city, populated by Sikhs, and from 3 pm to 7 pm in the Muslim-dominated old city. While shops were allowed to open, most remained shut as only a few people came outside, buying daily need items. The two communities on Saturday had clashed over fresh construction on a disputed plot, leading to the deaths of three and injuries to 24.
Heavily armed security officials kept a tight vigil as the guarded empty streets to prevent any untoward incident. District Magistrate Sandhya Tiwari said that all precautions were being taken to ensure a speedy return to normalcy. “After examining the situation today, we will take a call on whether or not we relax the curfew tomorrow,” she said.
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Even on the eve of Eid, the fervour was missing in the Muslim-dominated localities. “We haven’t been able to buy anything in the past two days – no milk or dates or sewai. We don’t know if the curfew will be relaxed again,” said M Showkeen, who runs a small tailoring shop.
Rameez, who had come to buy sewai, said, “People simply don’t feel like celebrating. The sense of fear that everyone feels has completely changed Eid.”
Sikhs too were troubled by the curfew. Harpreet Singh, one of the few who came out of his house to buy essential items, said: “I have been living in the city for years, but never has something like this happened. It’s unthinkable that I am not being able to leave my own home, to go buy milk in my own mohalla.”
Meanwhile, Saharanpur SP Rajesh Pandey said that a person who had “instigated” the violence has been identified, but not arrested yet. The official said he was “hopeful that we will catch hold of him very soon”.
Back at the old city, shops only along a narrow stretch between the arterial Chowki Sarai and the Jama Masjid were allowed to open. However several of them remained shut. “We have been working in this market for years, side by side, without ever missing a day. Today so many of my Hindu brothers haven’t come. Perhaps it’s because they had curfews imposed near their homes, or perhaps they were sad,” said Abdul, who runs a grocery store.
As evening drew closer and the curfew relaxation ended, the last minute bargains quickly made, shops were hastily shut down, people rushed to their homes, and with this a brief return to a pale semblance of normalcy also disappeared.