The violence may have lasted a little over an hour on Monday evening. But that was enough to make the Muslims residents of Atali village in Ballabgarh, Faridabad, flee for their lives. The mosque under dispute was burnt, homes were torched and belongings were abandoned. Most who fled the village agreed — a return simply didn’t seem possible.
The evidence of the hasty exodus could be seen everywhere. Almost no house was locked. Many still had fans running and policemen could seen going in to switch them off. Equally abundant were the signs of the carnage — streets littered with bricks, skeletons of torched vehicles and smoke-blackened house façades.
The lane that leads to the under-construction mosque in Atali village is lined with small shops and only one was owned by a Muslim. This shop alone was torched during the violence.
Muslims in the village claimed that this selective targeting of homes during the violence was the underlying trend. Surrounding the under-construction mosque are about 20 homes, 17 of them owned by Muslims. All 17 were torched on Monday. A godown owned by a Muslim farmer, almost a kilometre from the mosque, was burnt on Tuesday morning. It was the only structure in the area that was targeted.
Police said the village has been tense since the beginning of May, when the Muslims began construction of the mosque at the disputed site.
While the Muslims maintained that the court had given them permission to resume construction, after a near-six year stay was vacated, the Jats maintained that resuming the construction in the village was in clear violation of the court’s order.
The violence began a little before 5 pm on Monday. The Muslims had gathered at the residence of Isal a showroom owner, located directly opposite the under-construction mosque.
“We had just begun praying when the attacks started. They came in groups of 10 and attacked each house. Bricks and gas cylinders were thrown hurled inside the houses. They attacked us with baseball bats and sticks. We tried to escape by locking ourselves inside our homes.
That was when they started dousing our homes with petrol and setting them on fire,” he said.
The Muslims alleged that the violence was planned and claimed that even Jats from nearby villages were called in to attack them. They alleged that police deliberately delayed taking action. The Jats, in turn, alleged that the violence was instigated by the Muslims and two houses, owned by Jats, were also burnt.
Police arrived at the village around 6 pm on Monday evening. Officers said they took immediate action and had to use mild force to disperse the rioters.
“The injured people were sent to the civil hospital in a bus. A number of Jat villagers had also sustained injuries and they were also sent to the hospital,” an officer said. A heavy police contingent, including members of the Haryana Commando, is currently camping at the village to prevent further violence.
Police sources said the process of lodging complaints has begun. “Currently, we are taking down complaints that are being lodged. We are also identifying the houses that have been burnt, locating their owners and calculating the extent of loss,” the officer said.
While most people were discharged from the hospital by Tuesday morning, police said two who sustained serious burns are still at the hospital.
“We have lodged an FIR under sections pertaining to rioting. We are investigating the matter. Additional forces have been deployed in the village to prevent further violence. We haven’t made any arrest yet, but will do so soon,” Bhupinder Singh, DCP (Faridabad), said.
Protest outside police station
Many who fled from the village made their way to the Ballabgarh (city) police station. Those with minor injuries, after being discharged, also came to the police station. By Tuesday afternoon, the hundred-strong crowd began a protest outside the station accusing the police of inefficiency in investigating the matter and gross negligence. “Police have done nothing. Even 36 hours after the violence, they have not made a single arrest. They are giving time to those who have made us homeless to bury evidence and get away with it,” Sahil Ahmed, a protester, said.