Ballabhgarh Muslim families return: ‘Unbelievable, everything has been destroyed’

Ballabhgarh,Aniruddha Ghosal: At around 7 pm on Wednesday, silence descended on Atali as the first batch of the nearly 150 Muslims who had fled the village after the rioting nine days ago, finally returned. The silence was interrupted only by piercing wails, as they walked past the ruins of their homes.

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“Previously only the men had come and seen the village after the violence. They had told us that it was bad. But it’s unbelievable, everything has been destroyed. All the food, the furniture and even our clothes,” said Noor, whose husband was injured in the rioting on May 25.
Many had small bundles in their hands, filled with the paltry belongings they had fled with. And some had bananas, water and other supplies, not knowing what they’d find at the village.

Most of those who returned had taken refuge inside the Ballabhgarh City police station when the land upon which a mosque was being constructed became a flashpoint for violence that led to 15 people being injured and 20 houses being burnt, allegedly by members of the dominant Jat community. On Wednesday, as the first bus carrying the victims reached the village, the locality where most Muslim households were located had been cordoned off. A sizeable contingent of police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) watched tentatively as families stepped over broken doors, and entered their homes to survey the extent of the damage. None of the Jat villagers ventured out. While they maintained this had nothing to do with any lingering animosity, they said the issue of the mosque remained one of concern. “We don’t want to fight. It was a mistake and it has brought great shame to our village. But the mosque can lead to further tension and the two communities will have to proceed carefully,” said Sher Singh, a village elder. Then, a group of six men entered the mosque, which had been attacked during the riots, to survey the damage. “We have been assured that we will be allowed to rebuild the walls of the mosque and clear the area in time for Ramzan,” said Firoz Ali, one of them.

The district administration had cleared the way for the return by removing burnt vehicles that had blocked the road, fishing out bricks from the drain and reconnecting gas pipelines that were severed during the riots. Yet, there were some unforeseen problems. “There’s electricity but all the wires have melted and the bulbs have shattered,” Hasan, 65, informed district officials. Others said there was no food or utensils which they alleged had been looted. “I have asked the administration to provide electricians who’ll reconnect the electricity and we will make other arrangements,” said Amit Aggarwal, District Collector, Faridabad. “We are taking all possible measures to ensure that they are secure. We will also look after their immediate needs such as food and electricity,” Aggarwal added. “Our force will remain to ensure their security and we will be arresting the accused soon,” said Subhas Yadav, Commissioner of Police, Faridabad.

According to officials, the first step back was taken during a meeting of the Muslim community on Wednesday morning in Ballabhgarh, when members discussed whether it was safe to return home. They had previously refused, saying they should first be allowed to build the mosque, and that the accused be arrested. On Tuesday, they were assured by the administration and the Jat community that both conditions would be accepted in time, following which they promised to give an answer the next day. What helped them make up their minds, said one of them, was the “politicisation” of the issue.

Throughout the day, politicians from different parties – Congress, JDU, AAP, CPI(M) – kept pouring in at the police station to meet the riot-affected. Soon, another meeting followed between the two communities, this time led by BJP leaders, including Haryana Minister Ram Bilas Sharma, and it was finally decided that the Muslim community would return home. “Our initial fear was that the administration wouldn’t pay us heed, but now the issue is being politicised and we don’t want to become somebody else’s pawns,” said Rehman Khan, who was part of the meetings. At 6.30 pm, they began boarding the buses back.