Since Monday, 400 Muslims in Atali village in Haryana have been living in the small compound of the Ballabgarh police station. There's a climate of fear among the locals, who were attacked by a Hindu mob on May 25, and refuse to return to their homes now, according to reports.
As temperatures touched 45 degrees over the week, these locals continued to camp at the police station, demanding the arrest of the men who attacked them with bricks, swords, and petrol bombs, setting about 20 homes on fire, reported The Hindu.
Dispute Over A Mosque
It all started — as it too often does — with a mosque. The half-built mosque was constructed over property belonging to the village Panchayat, claimed some Hindu members of the community in 2009. The Muslims claimed it was under the WAKF board. A protracted court battle resulted in it being ruled in the Muslim's favour in March this year.
Predictably, it didn't end there. While the court case was on, a temple was built adjacent to the mosque, and it continued to stoke tensions. When the Muslims in the area decided to renovate the mosque after consulting with the sarpanch, Rajesh Choudhury, matters grew worse. Choudhury had agreed to the renovation in the last elections so it would help him get the Muslim vote in the area, and the next elections are around the corner. He gave them a green signal to start renovations.
Finally on May 25, an angry Hindu mob broke into Muslim homes, leading to vandalism and arson.
Selective Targeting Of Muslim Homes
Seventeen Muslim homes surrounding the mosque were torched, reported The Indian Express, and even on streets lined with Hindu shops, a solitary Muslim-owned establishment was burnt down.
Part of the mosque was burnt too, and now remains heavily guarded by police.
A police officer told The Hindu that Choudhury's political opponents were trying to polarise the vote bank. This could be one reason for the sudden violence against the Muslims. The Hindu report claimed there was "vicious rumour-mongering" at the village, suggesting Muslims would attack Hindus or that they had been "catcalling" Hindu women near the temple.
The Muslims, on the other hand, were completely taken by surprise by the assault. “We never thought this would happen,” said Shakir Ali, 40. “It looked like they had planned it for weeks. They had swords, guns, sickles, a tractor full of stones, buckets full of kerosene. They used cars to bring in Hindus from other villages.”
Police station in-charge Preet Pal told The Hindu that though the violence has ended, it was difficult to broker peace as the Hindus were not ready to let the Muslims renovate the mosque.