Joli Neher, the stream that flows just next to Muzaffarnagar’s Joli village, is in full flow in the monsoon. It contributes hugely to Muzaffarnagar’s agriculture. But since 2013, the scenic Joli bridge has had a policeman posted. The “Neher road” has become known as the epicentre of the riots that hit the city.
It was rumours of “several” people being killed and pushed into the stream two years ago that led to the spiral of rioting. It was later found that six people had died in that incident, three Hindus and three Muslims.
Now, there is relative peace. But most residents will insist something is not quite right.
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It is with that in mind that V M Singh, a prominent farmer-activist and a former MLA currently with Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, has decided to hold a peace march Monday, meant to commemorate Independence Day, from that very point on where trouble started, through Joli village, to Maulana Azad School in Tewra village.
“This is not a political programme, but a Hindu-Muslim ekta meeting. K P S Gill, the archbishop of Delhi, the Madanis from Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and several other reputable persons, singers like Jassi and poets like Wasim Barelvi will address the meeting.” Singh believes just the build-up has done a lot to stir up peace, rather than trouble. “I attended so many small meetings in Muzaffarnagar and saw enthusiasm.
Even in the middle of the night, people gathered to hear about the need to acknowledge the breach in the social fabric and sew it back.”
Dr Irfan, a doctor among the organisers, had stopped going to Jat-populated villages, but has being doing so since a month ago. “I was welcomed heartily… There is nothing like keeping contact alive.”
There also are economic reasons for the concern. V M Singh is known in these parts for his numerous court interventions and PILs in Allahabad High Court on the problems sugarcane farmers face with mill owners. Peace, he says, is important for farmers, otherwise all their concerns can be overshadowed by a “Hindu-Muslim” situation.
Says Vikas Baliyan, a key organiser, “Land prices have fallen one-third at least, other businesses feel the dip, the mazdoor has run away. Farmers hesitate to go alone to their fields… A mediaeval mindset has come back.”
Dr Uday Beer Singh, a former principal associated with many Jat associations, says: “The knot of unease hasn’t been fully loosened. There is mistrust… must mend that.”
Iqbal Husain, who runs a security agency in Rourkeli, says, “Many small jobs are done traditionally by Muslims. They have disappeared or relocated.” Adds Baliya, “Sometimes small tractor repairs are not possible. A way of life has been affected.”
But talking peace aggressively worries the police. Says officer Pawar at Bhopa police station, “The trouble is healing slowly. Sometimes talking about it, even if talking about peace, can create trouble.”
Mehraj, 40, who lost her husband Nazar Mohammed that day and now does manual work to provide for her son and two daughters, is quiet when asked about the meeting. Looking at her son Mohsin, 15, training to be a maulvi, she says, “My neighbours, mostly Kumhars, are very good and kind to us.”