For the last 25 years, Umarddin has offered prayers five times a day during Ramzan at the only mosque in Ballabhgarh’s Atali village. This year, following riots in the village on May 26, he has decided to offer prayers at his home, where he feels safe.
“Everything has changed. Ramzan used to be a joyous occasion but now everyone is worried. I cannot risk offering namaz at the mosque for an hour and-a-half. They burnt it down and hurt us once; how do we know it won’t happen again?” he says.
About 2,000 armed men had allegedly set the mosque, along with several Muslim homes and shops, on fire during an hour-long rampage on May 26. Fifteen people were injured and about 150 Muslims fled the village, camping at Ballabhgarh police station before returning on June 3.
When they eventually returned, a section of Jats approached the Faridabad district court seeking a stay on the construction at the mosque, claiming that it was built on gram panchayat land. The stay on construction was extend till the first week of July.
Now, with 500 police officers patrolling the village, Muslims are reminded of the riots constantly. Before the riots, over 100 Muslims offered prayers at the mosque every day during Ramzan. Now, barely 40 are seen inside the burnt down structure.
Guarding them are three police officers and a hastily constructed brick wall. The sun shines on their face; their concentration is broken only when they need to wipe the sweat. Two portable fans put up at the mosque were removed after the Jats objected.
But it wasn’t always like this. “People used to gather inside the mosque, break their fast and offer prayers. We would sit together, eat and stay till late, chatting and enjoying ourselves. There is no possibility of that now. We finish our prayers and rush home,” says Ali Mohammad, 40.
Saiuddin, whose father was injured in the violence, claims those who turn up for the prayers are constantly disturbed. “They throw water and even bricks at us when we are praying. It’s impossible to pray like this,” he claims.
Faced with increasing hostility, some have turned their back on a place they once called home. Arif, who runs a small ration shop in the village, locked his house Saturday evening, put his belongings in a tempo and left for a Muslim colony in Ballabhgarh city.
“I was surviving on whatever little money I had saved. But that’s over now and the Jats aren’t buying anything from my ration shop. I need to provide for my family. I didn’t want to leave, but I have no option,” he says. Jat elders in the village, however, argue that the fears are exaggerated.
Village sarpanch Rajesh Choudhury says, “Everything is peaceful now. Some people are opposed to the construction of the mosque, but we’ll solve it peacefully. There are some young men on both sides whose actions led to initial arguments, but that has been resolved.”
In the midst of all this, the police have their work cut out for them. “Things are peaceful at Atali. But we have deployed additional forces, keeping in mind that the month of Ramzan is a sensitive period,” Faridabad police commissioner Subhash Yadav said.