At the heart of the violence at Atali village stands a half-built mosque with scaffolding all around. This site has been under dispute for the past five years and lies adjacent to a temple.
While the Muslims maintained that the construction work began earlier this month after the court gave them permission to do so, the Jats alleged that the construction was a deliberate attempt to create communal tension in the village.
The Muslims had planned to lay the roof at the ‘Atali Jama Masjid’ on Tuesday. Eyewitnesses to the violence said the mosque too was targeted, with about 10 men entering it and dousing the scaffolding with petrol.
“They then brought in motorbikes that were parked on the street and doused those with petrol as well. They then burnt the structure down. One of them took a pickaxe and broke the nameplate of the mosque,” Asim Mohammad, an eyewitness, said.
A day after the violence, the mosque is heavily guarded. Police have set up a post in the courtyard next to the temple. An officer explained, “Whatever damage has been done to the mosque has been done. But we have been given specific instruction to ensure that neither the mosque nor the temple is disturbed in any way.”
Mumtaz Ali, a village elder, said the foundation of the mosque was laid five years ago. “The Jats went to court and said they didn’t want the mosque built. They built a temple in the adjacent plot while the case was still on. Finally, the court ruled in our favour and we started construction work earlier this month. But since then, the Jats have been opposing the construction and there has been tension,” he said.
Randeep Singh, who owns a grocery store near the disputed mosque, countered this. “They began construction of the mosque with the deliberate intention of beginning communal tension. The violence began because they instigated it,” he said.
Meanwhile, both the district administration and the police said they weren’t sure about the veracity of either claim. An administrative official said, “We are going through the records and we have contacted the court to know the status of the case,” he said.