In the remote village of Thanapada, nearly seven km from Harsul, one of the minarets of the local Sunni Jama Masjid is now a watch tower with youths keeping an eye on the hillocks surrounding the mosque. On Thursday, a little after the afternoon azaan, a youth runs down the stairway, shouting. Policemen outside take positions, some tear gas shells are lobbed and it’s not long before a tense silence returns.
Two days have passed since violence broke out in Harsul, about 30 km from Trimbakeshwar where the Kumbh is underway. But the area is still simmering. Twenty-odd Muslim men have taken refuge in the mosque. Their wives and children are among the 125-odd families which fled to Nashik after the violence.
Toufik Shaikh (31) is among the ones who has taken shelter in the mosque. “They ransacked my home, stole a refrigerator and a television. We found faeces in sacks of grains,” he said. Toufik’s family is now at a community hall in Nashik that’s turned into a refuge for these villagers. He doesn’t think he will see them this Eid.
The mood in the community hall is equally desolate. Abu Saeed Jagirdar (35), whose shops were set ablaze in the violence, said, “We want to return to Harsul but we don’t have faith in the police”.
Back in Paripada, the village of 22-year-old Bhagirath Choudhari whose death sparked the violence, villagers gathered around his hut Thursday to express condolences. The youth had recently bagged a teaching job and returned home. He was scheduled to report to work on July 16. On July 7, he and his grandfather went to graze cattle.
While his grandfather returned, he did not. Hours later, his body was fished out of a well in the field of Rizwan Sheikh, their neighbour. The family believes that Bhagirath, who they said was a good swimmer, could not have drowned. They suspect he was killed and thrown into the well.
His uncle, Devdas Choudhari, said, “His neck was swollen, it looked like somebody had throttled him. There was a cut on his lower lip and abrasions near his ears.”