The Epicentre of the 2013 communal riots, Kawal in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district has barely managed to put the cracks forced open by the violence behind. Now, the village is viewing with trepidation the offer by its MLA, Vikram Saini, to facilitate settlement of 25 Hindu Pakistani refugee families in the village as a counter to the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Sitting in the courtyard of his two-storey home — one of the biggest in Kawal — Saini, the BJP MLA from Khatauli, who also faces an attempt-to-murder charge in the 2013 riots case, says, “I want to do this in national interest. The 25 families include seven who are already living in Muzaffarnagar. I want five bighas where these families can be settled. If such land cannot be found, I’ll donate own. We are planning to build two-bedroom houses with a toilet.”
While the CAA rules are yet to be framed, UP has begun preparing a tentative list of refugees in the state who will be entitled for citizenship under the Act, subject to verification of documents. At least 32,000 refugees have been identified by the government across 21 districts, including Muzaffarnagar.
Most of the houses in Kawal, a village of about 10,800 people as per the 2011 Census, are brick-and-tile structures.
Pankaj Saini, who has been a shiksha mitra for the last few years and hopes to be appointed a permanent government teacher “one day”, voices the concern of most in the village when he says, “How does the government plan to provide livelihood to the refugees? The next violence in the state will be due to joblessness and the government’s faulty employment generation policies.”
With no factories in the vicinity, a majority of Kawal’s residents are engaged in agriculture, mainly sugarcane farming. There is a government school, till Class 8, with more than 360 students squeezed into six rooms. Since 2013, two of the rooms have been taken up by security personnel who are posted round the clock here. There are nine teachers.
To complete schooling, children must travel at least 6 km to Jansath tehsil, the administrative block town. At 70.61 per cent though, Kawal’s literacy rate is higher than that of the state (67.68 per cent).
Ashwini Kumar, a PhD in Environmental Sciences and Engineering, is a role model for most in Kawal. Home on leave, Ashwini says he doesn’t see a problem with the CAA per se; “we must only allow legal residents in the country”. However, he adds, “The government is not even able to provide us employment, how will it give jobs to the refugees? I work at a university in Dhanbad. I want to return. But what option do I have?”
The MLA’s proposal has also caused the lingering animosity since 2013 to resurface. Muslims comprise approximately 59.77 per cent of the population of Jansath tehsil, and are in a majority in Kawal too. Although the incident that led to the 2013 riots is still debated, one of the versions is that it was set off by a Hindu Jat girl being harassed by a Muslim youth at Kawal.
With thousands displaced in the riots, including from Kawal, Muslims are concentrated in ghettos in the village. They mostly work as farm labourers or run small shops.
Savita Rani, the in-charge of the primary section of the government school, says, “Our village has never witnessed Hindu-Muslim violence except in 2013. We have no problem if refugees are settled here.”
Pankaj dismisses protests against the CAA. “It’s good that Muslims are out (of the Act). They are not in a minority in Pakistan and Bangladesh (the government reasons the Act is about persecuted minorities in the two countries, plus Afghanistan). And more importantly, it’s not only about being in a minority. The Parsis and Jains are also minority groups, look how developed their communities are.”
Ashwini butts in to argue that Muslims are responsible for their own plight. “They only want to increase population and support Pakistan in cricket matches. But then, if you tell them to go to Pakistan, they won’t.”
About a minute’s walk from the primary school, the rumours and allegations have had their effect. Muslims have been lining up at the shop of 35-year-old Pradeep Kumar, which offers services such as filling up of online forms for domicile and caste certificates, application for Aadhaar and ration cards etc. “Since the citizenship law was passed, my work has increased over 90 per cent,” Pradeep says, showing the affidavit of a 65-year-old man who has applied for a birth certificate. “From where will the authorities find the birth certificate of someone born on December 10, 1955?”
Soaking in the sun outside his small shop that sells everything from charpoys to cookers on the main Jansath Road, Rahis Ahmad Siddique, 52, who has lived all his life in Kawal, admits they are worried. “We welcome the statement of our MLA. We will help the Hindu refugees who will be settled here however we can. But there was no need for a new citizenship law. There is no need for anyone to go to Pakistan. Some people are residing illegally, but to throw them out, why hassle all of us? The government has issued us Aadhaar, PAN and ration cards and has all our details. Yet, it asks us for proof. We had no problems with notebandi, GST or any other policies. But was a new citizenship law needed?”
Sitting beside him, old friend Mausam Ali, a land-owning farmer, says he too has all the necessary documents such as Aadhaar, land deeds. “I will be able to prove my citizenship. But many Muslims don’t have such documents, like my younger brother. That doesn’t mean he is not Indian. He was born in front of my eyes.”
As a result, “fear” doesn’t leave them, the friends admit. “We don’t know what will happen.”A few metres from Pradeep’s shop, labourer Rajpal Singh is bitter about being forced to work as a labourer even at the age of 45. “A good pension is what I need. A man becomes minister for a day and gets pension for life. I have been working decades.” However, he welcomes Pakistani Hindus settling in Kawal. “Many people say the influx will be a burden. Par kuchch toh yahan se bhi jayenge. Ek ayega toh dus jayenge bhi (However, some illegal immigrants will leave from here too. If one refugee comes, 10 will go too).”
He quickly adds, “But I don’t want Muslims to leave, only those who do not belong to this land.”
But what is the evidence of one belonging to this land, Siddique wonders. Going inside his shop to cater to customers, the 52-year-old stops to narrate all the times he has saved cows injured in road accidents. “Like yesterday morning. I saw a cow on the edge of the road bleeding. I pulled it aside and called a doctor. I bore the cost of the treatment,” Siddique says.
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