Empty streets, gutted shops and closed shutters surround a mosque and a police station in Hathin city of Palwal, Haryana. The former is at the centre of a land dispute that has left the district simmering with communal tension.
On Thursday, curfew remained imposed in Hathin after a clash between two communities — Hindus and Meo Muslims — led to rioting and arson. Police said the clash took place after some locals, backed by the Ram Sena Sangathan, objected to Muslims praying at the mosque.
Many cars, including the official vehicle of the deputy commissioner, medical shops and a school were set on fire. While no injuries were reported, one person — identified as Naveen Kumar — has been arrested. At least 15 FIRs have been registered against 100 persons, while the police have approached community leaders to help form “Aman” (peace) committees.
At the centre of Hathin city is a mound, surrounded by the ruins of a medieval fort. Atop it are the two structures — the police station, said to have been built in the 1830s, and the mosque which, some locals claim, has been illegally expanded. Others refute the allegation, saying the mosque is as old as the station.
In terms of population, Hathin city has about 60 per cent Hindus and 35 per cent Meo Muslims.
IGP (South Range) Mamta Singh said the mosque, the police station and a nearby temple all date back to before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. She said according to local legends, investigating officers would make the accused swear the truth on religious texts at the mosque or the nearby temple as part of their investigation. “We have found FIRs in the station dating back to 1833. The mosque and the temple next to it are also a part of the Hathin’s cultural memory. They are as old as people’s memories of the place and it’s impossible to ascertain which came first,” she said.
Since the incident, the mosque has been locked up.
According to the police, tension has been brewing for the past month over the mosque’s alleged expansion. The police said on October 5, a day before Eid-al-Adha, a rumour spread that an attempt was made to burn down the mosque. Subsequently, a nearby Hanuman mandir was desecrated.
Baba Sewa Ram, a priest at the Hanuman Mandir, said, “The mosque was a small space where prayers could be read. But it was encroached upon and now there’s a wall around it and a proper structure. The previous Congress government allowed construction to go on even though it was illegal.”
Maulana Daud of the mosque said, “We should be allowed to pray there. But now that their government is in power, they think they can do anything.”
The police, meanwhile, said that the situation is now calm in the city. Sources said the Ram Sena Sangathan, which campaigns for issues such as cow protection, is currently under scanner.
A member of the group said on condition of anonymity, “We are a youth organisation which wants to form a strong Hindu state.”
Singh said the tension is relatively recent. “This seems to have started after the police station, which previously served as the main station for the city, was shifted,” the official said.