Haryana village almost empties after communal violence

Atali (Haryana), July 9 (IANS) More than a month after a communal clash engulfed Atali village in Haryana, all its Muslims and most Hindu men have fled — either fearing more violence or the police.

Only a few hundred Hindus are still left in the village that once had a population of over 5,000, located 12 km from Ballabhgarh town in Faridabad district that borders Delhi. Elderly men, young boys and women make up for most of the Hindus still in the village, residents told an IANS correspondent.

As for some 300 Muslim residents of Atali, all have abandoned their homes and taken refuge in nearby villages to escape a communal conflagration the village had never seen.

Hindus still here complain of a “brutal police crackdown” following a spate of clashes between them and Muslims over the construction of a mosque. Muslims have said that the mosque was coming up on land belonging to a Muslim and Hindus should not have objected. Hindus insist the mosque was illegally located on a Hindu’s land.

Like in most parts of Haryana, Atali is a neatly laid out village, boasting of numerous two-storey brick-and-mortar houses, each house having electricity connection. Some houses have inverters too. The streets are cemented or laid with bricks — and clean.

Atali is primarily divided into three quarters — one for Dalits, another for Muslims and the larger area populated mainly by Jats.

Violence over the mosque first erupted in May. Tensions were rekindled when members of the two communities clashed again last week, around the same time as serious communal clashes erupted at Palwal in Haryana.

Amid criticism that Haryana’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was biased towards Hindus, police and paramilitary forces launched a crackdown on July 4, detaining many. Nine men were formally arrested.

All of them were Hindus. While the Muslim population had already fled, it was now the turn of Hindus to flee from Atali.

Villagers said those who have stayed back are staring at serious financial losses. Labourers refuse to come to Atali and work on their fields.

A farmer lamented that his and others’ yields were going waste as it had become difficult to find vehicles to transport the produce to the nearest towns.

All four private schools and two government schools here remain shut.

Hindus told IANS that the young feared being taken away.

“The policemen didn’t spare even the old and minors,” said a villager who did not want to be identified by name.

Sanni, a labourer, sounded desperate when he said that his 16-year-old son had run away. “I don’t know what to do to persuade him to come back.”

Rajwati, a sweeper, said she pleaded with the police not to take her 15-year-old-son away when they broke the door of their house.

Around 200 security personnel remain deployed in the village, a grim reminder of what Atali witnessed. The seniors among them declined to speak to IANS.

“This violence has finished off the village,” moaned Mangal Singh, 29, who recently started growing unseasonal vegetables after taking a bank loan of Rs.1 crore. He puts his losses at Rs.6-7 lakh.

Muslims too have suffered grave losses.

When Noor Mohammed, 65, fled the village with his extended family of over 35, they not only left behind their belongings and farm yield but also three buffaloes. “I have lost so much money,” he told IANS on telephone.

His six sons and two daughters and their families are now scattered in neighbouring villages.

The two communities still blame each other for stroking the violence. Village elders said they see no immediate end to the tensions.

Contractor Haji Shakir, 41, accused Hindus of boycotting Muslims. “If they don’t want to talk to us, what can we do?” Shakir told IANS.

Mohammed said the BJP was to blame for the unrest. “Some pandits (Hindus) think it is their government, so they can do anything.”

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