More than 50 Muslims were holed up in a house at the dead end of a burning alley mostly women and young children. The only way out of Kutba was by the one-way street lined with shops that were burning while armed men moved from rooftop to rooftop after burning down the mosque.
The way the Army handled the situation is one of the success stories of the central forces sent to Muzaffarnagar. The Army column that reached Kutba dispersed men who were firing in the air and pelting stones and cleared the narrow street to enable the entry of a fire wagon.
If we had reached an hour later,it would have been carnage. Several houses were on fire and the flames were spreading quickly. More than 50 people who had taken shelter in one of the houses were in danger, says Col AK Yadav,an artillery officer who led his troops from Meerut.
The house at the dead end had come under attack. The Army identified the source of a thick column of smoke,leading to the rescue.
Law enforcers so far have been reluctant about getting into sensitive zones,especially villages such as Kutba where firing was on. The presence of the Army over the past two days has now had a profound calming effect. Rather than force,its strategy has involved flag marches,foot patrols and area-domination exercises.
What we have been doing is basically a show of force. The nine columns we have on the ground (some 550 troops) are carrying out area-domination in sensitive villages to give confidence to the local population. And,since yesterday,no major communal incident has been reported, says Brig Jagdeep Singh who,as in charge of the army effort in Muzaffarnagar,has been on the road for two days,with a map of the district with sensitive villages and areas of responsibility marked. After it was moved in on Sunday,the Army drew up a profile of villages based on inputs from the administration and also a large population of ex-servicemen.
The police were no use. There was even a newspaper photograph of a constable firing with the mob. It was only when we saw the Army that we felt things would not get worse, says Md Irshad of Basikala.