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Friday, September 17, 2021

A night of violence that changed a village

Gopalgarh had never known communal violence,it is now the focus of political attention and under constant police watch.

Written by Apurva | Jaipur |
September 27, 2011 12:35:47 am

Till September 14,all that villagers of Gopalgarh,Bharatpur,knew of communal tension was what they saw on television. Then a simmering feud over a piece of land erupted,giving them a first-hand experience. In the violence that lasted just one night,and which saw clashes between Gurjjars and Meo Muslims and police firing,nine Meo Muslims were killed and 22 others injured.

None of the villagers,Gurjjar or Meo,can recall anything similar in their lifetimes. Gopal Gurjjar,76,recalls watching accounts of the violence after the Babri Masjid demolition and the Godhra train burning. “We used to watch it on TV,wonder how countrymen could kill each other,and give thanks for the peace here. Now we have witnessed it first-hand; the memory will never fade,” he said.

A few houses down the road,Rashid,26,said,“We have always lived in harmony,inter-dependent and always respectful of each other. But now there is a blame game,political parties forcing us to align with them and constant police deployment,” he said.

The clashes

The land in question is being claimed by both sides,the Meos calling it a burial ground and the Gurjjars insisting it is a watering-hole for cattle. The Gurjjars had four months ago petitioned the district administration to declare the land a community pond.

On September 13,a day ahead of the administration’s scheduled verdict,a maulvi,Abdul Rashid,47,was attacked. “I was returning home when a group of Gurjjars beat me up. I managed to escape by running into a cluster of Meo houses.” He and his brother Ali have been campaigning for the burial ground for months now,making them targets. “The attack angered Meos in the region and they decided to gather in Gopalgarh the next day,” Ali said.

Gopalgarh sarpanch Sher Singh Gurjjar called a meeting between leaders of the two communities on September 14. “We met at the Gopalgarh police station and after a lengthy dialogue,decided to settle it peacefully. I apologised to the Meo community for the assault and the matter was settled,” he said.

Police officials said chaos followed minutes later. “There were reports that some Meos had fired into a Gurjjar group,killing many,and vice-versa. A police riot control vehicle went to the village masjid,where the firing had originated,and opened fire at the Meo crowd to disperse the groups,” an official said. He said the vehicle made two passes around the masjid and returned.

Officials say that after firing twice near the masjid,the police did not return to the area for around 40 minutes. It was during this time,authorities believe,that a group of rioters ransacked the masjid and killed at least four Meo Muslims. According to a People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) report,the charred remains of three bodies were found dumped in a well a short distance from the masjid. Post-mortem reports show that of the nine killed,three had rifle bullet wounds and the others had injuries caused by sharp weapons.

The land

The dispute over the land,measuring 1.1 hectares,goes as long back as 1972. BJP MLA from the neighbouring Nagar constituency Anita Singh — who had attended the peace meeting that was held before the firing took place — claims it was in 1972 that Gopalgarh got its first Meo Muslim patwari. “This patwari registered the land with the Meo community. Then in the early ’90s,another patwari registered the land as a burial ground for Meo Muslims,” Singh said.

According to Rajasthan additional chief secretary,home,P K Deb,a delegation of Gurjjars petitioned the Bharatpur district collector stating that the land was a watering-hole and not a burial ground. “The collector ordered the sub-divisional officer to look into the issue. The SDO registered a suo motu case in connection with this land and was to pronounce a verdict on the day of the clashes,” Deb said.

District officials said the SDO had found that the registration of the land with the Meos was possibly dubious,since there were no accompanying documents to authenticate it. “The SDO found there was some mistake in registering the land as a burial ground for Meos. The Gurjjars claim the land is actually a pokhar,or pond land,which the Supreme Court had ruled cannot be owned by any individual or group,” he said.

Sources in the government believe the SDO would probably rule that the land actually belonged to the government. However,following the violence and controversy,the district administration has decided to hold back an order until peace is restored.

The politics

Every major party has rushed teams to Gopalgarh on fact-finding missions,while the Congress government has constituted a commission headed by a retired judge and ordered a CBI inquiry. District collector Krishan Kunal and superintendent of police Hinglajdhan have been shunted out,while the entire staff of the Gopalgarh police station have been transferred to the Police Lines.

The BJP alleges the issues involve more than just land. MLA Singh alleged the Meo Muslims were involved in cow-slaughter and illegal transportation of beef,and said the Gurjjars had been keeping the police informed about this.

The PUCL team’s report alleged that VHP,RSS and Bajrang Dal activists had put pressure on the police to open fire only on the Meos. “There are many aspects that point to a collusion between the local police,an aggressive section of the Gujjar community and some local RSS,Bajrang Dal and VHP leaders,” it said.

Meena community strongman Dr K L Meena,the Dausa MP,has been touring Gopalgarh for a week now. According to Meena,the state government and the BJP has never been sympathetic to the cause of the Meos in the region,but with his support and that of the powerful Meenas,they could become politically stronger.

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