“Bharat mere desh ka naam, mein iska rakhwala. Hai koi aisa jo mere saamne aane wala (Bharat is my country, I am its guardian. Is there anyone who can face me)?” an elderly Mohammed Yunus recites, chewing betel nut, gathered around a fire with a group of men his age on a chilly evening in village Amheda in Bijnor district. When he stops, Nafis Ahmed breaks into a song, “Bharat ke Tirange par meri jaan-nisaar hai (I dedicate my life to the Tricolour).”
The choice of the songs or poem during the course of a discussion on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and NRC is perhaps not incidental in a region where uncertainty runs high over the two, and where a police crackdown on protests has left the Muslim community on the edge.
Over 60 km from Amheda, at Jhal Chittoda village in Muzaffarnagar, where too a group is gathered around a fire, shopkeeper Abdul Gaffar points out that “otherwise, law and order is good now”. Kawaal village, that faced among the worst of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, is just next door.
Mohammed Faiyaz of village Manna Mazra on the Kairana-Shamli road, which saw allegations of a Hindu exodus by the BJP ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections, has good things to say about the Yogi Adityanath government too. “The ration supply is more regular and timely.”
However, while it was on such promises, surmised in the slogan of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, that two outstanding Lok Sabha wins of Prime Minister Narendra Modi rested, including in Uttar Pradesh, the events of the past few days are eroding that other assurance added to it, of ‘Sabka Vishwas’. Across Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Moradabad, Sambhal and Rampur, the Muslim community is battling both confusion and mounting anxiety.
What is exacerbating this are the various figures floating around, of documents going back to 1971, 1951, even 1947, that might be needed, and the contradictory statements coming right from the top. Villagers know of Modi’s December 22 claim that there are no plans of a nation-wide NRC, but also Home Minister Amit Shah’s assertions that it would be held, made in Parliament and elsewhere.
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“The PM is saying something, the Home Minister is telling something else,” says Zaheer Alam at Jhaal Chittoda. “Ek zubaan ho toh hisaab samajh aye. Do zuban ka koi kya samjhe (If they said one thing, one could understand. What does one make of this doublespeak)?”
“Under CAA, you are going to provide documents to those coming from outside, but under the NRC you are asking documents from everyone here. What for?” asks Mohammed Rizwan, a scrapdealer in his mid-30s, as others around him nod, at Manna Mazra.
While praising the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for benefiting Hindus and Muslims alike, Asgar Abbas of Sirsi in Sambhal district says the goodwill is depleting. “Whom to believe? Which documents do they need? 1970 or 1989?” asks Abbas.
Sirsi is about 10 km from Sambhal, where two protestors were killed during recent clashes with police.
A worried Mumtaz Jahan of Karula-Sir Syed Nagar in Moradabad says their area saw a peaceful protest recently. “How do we get documents of our ancestors? Where will I go searching when I have lived here on rent for decades now?” he says.
Masarat Alarm, a daily wager in his 30s at Sirsi, says he hasn’t got work in 15 days. “Those who have land can get documents. What about labourers like us?” he adds.
Raees Ahmed, a labourer at a woodwork shop near Karula-Sir Syed Nagar, admits he doesn’t know the exact details about CAA, adding, “Charcha kahe ki, kharcha nikalna mushkil ho raha hai (We don’t have time for all this, we can barely make ends meet).”
While the BJP claims opposition parties are spreading this confusion, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The only names of political leaders that come up are Modi and Shah; the rest appears to be gathered from different sources. Alam Ansari of Amheda village, who is in his mid-30s, says, “Those educated at Jamia Millia Islamia are protesting, they know better than us. The protests must have some substance.”
Less than 20 km away, at Nehtaur, at least two protestors died during protests and clashes with police, and news has travelled.
Ansari also asks why CAA makes provisions for almost all communities except Muslims. “The Home Minister says he will take in everyone but Muslims. Maybe no Muslim will apply under CAA, but they should be eligible.”
Nasir of Amheda village says the exclusion is “insulting”, and many see this as deliberate post the Ayodhya verdict. “It appears that when the Muslim community accepted the Babri judgment, they took us for granted,” says Nasir.
The stringent action against protesters, including the collection of damages from them, has added to this sentiment of discrimination. Mohammed Firoz of Amheda talks about a policeman making a video on his mobile phone in their village lanes after Friday payers.
Mehboob Ahmed of Amehda asks if BJP governments anywhere else — citing the Jat, Patel and Maratha protests (in Haryana, Gujarat and Maharashtra, respectively) — had similarly sought dues from protesters.
For now, the anger is restricted to the government and has not become communal. “Yeh masla Hindu aur Muslim ke beech ka nahin hai. Yeh masla prashashan ke khilaf hai (This is not an issue of Hindus and Muslims. It’s an issue with the government),” says Hanif, a mason in his mid-50s, at Saifkhan Sarai in Sambhal.
“We want Hindu-Muslim peace and amity,” adds a labourer, Riasat, in Islamnagar locality of Milak in Rampur district.