It’s almost midnight but sleep doesn’t come easy to 150 Muslims at the Ballabhgarh City police station. Their homes burnt, their neighbours now foes, they have nowhere to go. The police station is the only shelter for these residents of Atali, a village in Ballabhgarh roiled by communal violence.
The violence in Atali began Monday evening, the flashpoint of a five-year dispute over the construction of a mosque. Adjacent to a temple, the mosque was torched and the Muslims of the village fled. They have since been camping at the police station.
One tent, four desert coolers, one carpet and two porta cabins — that’s the sum total of the facilities made available to them.
“We don’t have food. We don’t have clothes. We have to depend on people in the city. The children are falling sick in the heat. When we told members of the minority commission about this, they gave us the coolers,” said Nizam Ali who lived three houses away from the torched mosque.
The administration has provided food, but the Muslims camping at the police station say it is too little. “Much of the food is coming from well-wishers, local NGOs and relatives. Bananas, rice, some rotis and dal. That’s all we have eaten in the past few days,” said Mumtaz who has now run out of money to buy milk for her 5-year-old son.
A delegation of Muslims had returned to the village to check the extent of damage to their homes. But they hurried back. All agreed going back was not an option, not as of now.
Faridabad Police Commissioner Subhash Yadav said many families don’t want to go back home because they feel that it is unsafe. “They went back under police protection on Wednesday and realised that most of their homes have been completely burnt. They are staying at the police station and we’re trying to make other arrangements.”
At the police station, everyone has an ordeal to narrate and cellphone photographs to share. “All our money has been looted. The school books have been burnt. Our clothes are gone, our cars torched. We have nothing left. How can we go back?” asked Fakrudeen Haji who had a transport business.
“We kept calling police, but they didn’t come. They still haven’t arrested the accused and they are asking us to return home. How can we? We refuse to leave the police station until we are sure we will be safe,” Isak Lambardar said. His house was directly opposite the mosque and, at the time of the attack, men had gathered there for the evening prayers.
At the police station, children and women lie under the solitary tent. Most men have settled on mats near the trees at the police station. There is no breeze, and it is still hot at 1 am. The police station is quiet. But every now and then, wails break the stillness of the night.