Nine days after the communal violence in Atali village forced Muslims to abandon homes and flee for their lives, they returned on Wednesday — to burnt and vandalised houses, broken utensils and debris strewn about.
There was no power in any of the houses — all cables having melted when the houses were torched. Essential items like water, milk, food and clothes were all in short supply.
What began as a dispute over land, where the Muslims where constructing a mosque, turned into violence on May 25 with over 2,000 heavily armed men allegedly selectively targeting Muslim homes.
The district administration did what they could. A day after the violence, they began cleaning the streets of the debris left behind — brickbats were swept away and soot from petrol bombs was mopped up. But despite their efforts, the tension in people’s minds could not be wiped away.
As the Muslim families walked home, the sheer size of the repair work, which needed to be done in order for life to return to some semblance of normality, hit them. “The doors have been broken. Everything has been looted. The fridge and the cooler have been burnt. We have returned home, but to what?” Mohammad Ehsaan, a student, asked.
Hours before they returned, the district administration had ensured that electricity connections and gas connections, that had in some cases been severed during the attack, were restored. But it became obvious that this wasn’t enough.
“What is the point of having electricity when all bulbs have been smashed and the wires have melted,” Firoz Ali asked. Amit Aggarwal, DC Faridabad, responded by asking the administration to provide an electrician and the required material to repair the homes.
But other problems will not be so easily solved. “The entire supply of cattle feed these families had has been destroyed. Also, the buffaloes are nowhere to be found. We are not sure if they were stolen. Most of us depend on livestock for livelihood. Without them, we are dead,” Shan Mohammad said.
Meanwhile, many Jats in the village continued to be hostile, despite the best efforts of the administration and politicians. “The mosque can’t be built there. We are the majority and if they want to build something next to our temple, they need to consult the entire village,” Sanjay Chaudhury, a villager, said.
Others welcomed the returning families. “I am going around from house to house, apologising and helping them. I don’t want this violence to continue and I want things to return to how they were,” Pankaj Aggarwal, who runs a grocery store, said. But the question on everybody’s mind was, “Can things truly return to how they were?”
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