Atali Muslims refuse to go back to their homes until their demands are met

Muslim villagers say they will return only after their four main demands are met: allowing them to build mosque at the site; arresting the prime accused in the assault; suspension of the SHO, whom they accuse of letting rioters unleash violence; and adequate compensation to those injured as well as for the damages of properties and other belongings.

M Reyaz,,

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Ballabhgarh, Haryana: A week after the May 25 incident when Hindus attacked the Muslim homes in Atali village, around 12 kilometers from Ballabgarh Tehsil in Faridabad district of Haryana, about 500 men, women and children from 150 odd families are forced to live under tent at the Ballabgarh Police Station in the scorching heat as there has been no breakthrough even after several rounds of negotiations mediated by local leaders and community representatives.

Muslims who fled from the village, say they will return only after their four main demands are met: allowing them build mosque at the site, arresting the prime accused in the assault, suspension of the SHO Babulal, whom they accuse of letting rioters unleash violence and adequate compensation to those injured as well as for the damages of properties and other belongings.

Women from Atali village sitting under a tent at Ballabgarh PS

On Sunday afternoon, Union Minister of state for Social Justice and Empowerment Krishna Pal Singh Gurjar, who hails from Haryana came to meet the representatives from both sides and had an hour long meeting with them at the Police Station itself. Also present on the occasion was Prithla MLA Tek Chand Sharma – Atali village comes under this constituency – as well as Ballabgarh MLA Mool Chand Sharma, besides senior police officers. Tek Chand contested the Assembly election on BSP ticket, but has extended support to the BJP government. Ballabgarh MLA is also from BJP.

Half an hour into the meeting, few young men who had gone inside came out angry that they are being “coerced” into accepting terms. They alleged that the majority community is forcing them to withdraw cases, only after that they could be allowed to rebuild the mosque. Also, even when they rebuild the mosque, there would be conditions such as they will not use loud-speakers in the mosque, have Imam from outside and not let the Tablighi Jamat camp there ever.

Half an hour later, other representatives of the villages came out urging the Muslim victims to maintain calm and announcing that they have put forward their four main demands, and the leaders asked for another day to negotiate with the representatives of the Hindus from the village. At the time of filing of this story on Monday evening, there has been no breakthrough yet.

Men sat huddled at the Ballabgarh Police station on Sunday .

Living under Tent:

Meanwhile, at the Ballabgarh police station, two tents – one for men and another for women – have been put up by the villagers, with the help of their relatives and well wishers from Ballabgarh and surrounding areas. Maulana Jamaluddin, who runs the Minority Welfare Foundation, was on the spot to help the victims. He says that while the tent was put by the villagers themselves, police has got them few fans and coolers, but that is obviously not sufficient at a time when temperature during day in often nearing 45° Celsius.

Naseem Alvi, a graduate from Delhi University, who comes from Atali village, expressed his shock at the way they were attacked. It was a time when the Asar prayer was about to begin at a house next to the mosque site as the mosque itself is under renovation. “We were taken by surprise,” he says.

What had exactly happened?

The prayers were being held at the courtyard of the Ishaq Khan Numberdar. Photographs of his house, taken on Sunday afternoon, are testimony to what had unfolded on the afternoon of May 25. The house is full with pieces of bricks.

House of Ishaq Khan.

Asiya, who is in late 40s and wife of Ishaq Khan Numberdar, says that she was upstairs when the attack began. She and her daughter Nasima hid themselves for sometimes before escaping.

Nayeemuddin, 27, who is from Badkal village in Faridabad, was working at the mosque site. Injured, he is now at the Badhsah Khan Government Hospital in Ballabgarh.He was beaten and burnt by the mob on that fateful evening. “I went to the attached washroom to attend to the call of nature before performing ablutions. Just when the Imam began the Asar prayer, I heard shouting and abusive words as stone pelting began,” he told TCN, adding, “Scared, I could not dare to come out. After sometimes, however, someone attacked the toilet as well and tried to burn me, I escaped somehow.”

Nayeemuddin in Hospital.

Although it is not clear exactly what the size of the mob was, however, the number was quite big as the village is huge with a population of about 12,000, only 500 of whom are Muslims. The FIR registered has put the number of assaulters to 2000. A total of 17 houses belonging to Muslims were burnt, damaged and looted.About 10 other houses have also been burnt or damaged.Some shops of Muslims have also been damaged and looted. Cars, refrigerators and other properties were also burnt.

Another house damaged by the mob on May 25.

Most Muslims in the village are poor and come from Faqir or Qalandar community; except two-three well off families. This was evident at the camp as they did not appear as eloquent in expressing themselves.

Jats are the majority in the village and they are seen as main perpetrators. Muslims have also accused the SHO Babulal, for dereliction of duty as the construction of the mosque was going on under police deployment. Babulal has defended himself saying that during the period, duties were being changed and hence they were not present on the spot.

At least 20 Muslims were injured in the attack, three of them with major burn and other injuries: Nayeemuddin, Hasan and Buddan Khan are now admitted at the BK Government Hospital.

Hasan and his wife Baitulan at BK Hospital, Ballabgarh.

Hasan, 60, was injured the next day on May 26 when he had gone to feed his cattle. He was attacked with axe, his wife told this correspondent. “We urged him not to go, but he said that he is an old man why would they harm him,” his wife Baitulan told TCN. Buddan is his brother who was injured on May 25 itself. Several others in the camp had injuries on head, limbs, etc.

Flash point:

The mosque has become a flash-point in the village, which is getting highly polarised now. Local politicians exploit it for 400 Muslim votes, several in the village alleged. Rajesh Choudhary, the incumbent Sarpanch, who had supported the construction of the mosque, is now being seen as the villain among the Hindu villagers.Jats as well as all other Hindus that TCN spoke to in the village, seemed to point fingers to him for “siding with Muslims.” Jats as we all every other Hindus TCN spoke to in the village, seemed to point fingers to him for “siding with Muslims.” It was, however, Pehlad Singh, believed to be close to the BJP, who is said to have instigated the mob.

Rear side of the half-built mosque at Atali, and nearby temple.

A small tin mosque had existed at the site for at least five decades now, Muslims claimed. Even non-Muslims agreed that there was a small shrine of Muslims there, but claimed that the land belongs to the Panchayat. There is a small temple towards the rear end of the mosque in the adjoining plot. Although the Muslims claimed that the land belongs to the Waqf Board, most non-Muslims in the village argued that it’s a Panchayat land.

As the Muslims from the village wanted to expand the mosque, in 2009 – just before the general elections – a case was filed in the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court. Although pillars were ready but a stay order was given then. As the litigation was dismissed, the petitioner filed an appeal at the Sub Divisional Magistrate which too was dismissed in April, 2015. The court in its judgement, TCN has a copy, categorically said, “It is further averred that the suit property belongs to the Muslim community since long time….that the same is reflected by the revenue record from the 1954-55 to till date.” Due to clerical error, however, the Patwari had mentioned the piece of land as “Gair Mumkin Park” in 2000-01 and 2005-06. The said property is also registered in the Wakf Board Gazette notification dated, November 21, 1970.

In fact, the former Sarpanch Daya Ram said in the court that “tin shed” had existed at the said property, where “the people of the Muslim community offer their prayers.” This year after they obtained the court order, the Haryana Wakf Board on April 22 also issued a statement to the Muslim Welfare Society Atali giving them permission to “carry out the construction work of the Mosque.”

Villager then started the construction work on May 21. As there was some resistance from villagers, in the evening a panchayat was convened in the presence of SP, DSP and SHO. It was then decided that the construction work would continue under police watch. However, on May 25 mob gathered attacking the Muslims around 5.30 PM, just when the Asar prayer was about to begin.


Politics following the communal tension

Since the riot, besides the media personnel, politicians of all hue and colour have been visiting Ballabgarh. Aam Aadmi party Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan and his colleague Naresh Balyan led a four members fact finding team and has accused the Haryana Government of complicity. Representatives of WPI, MIM, as well as Jamiat e Ulama Hind have been doing the rounds.When TCN visited the village, it was the representatives of the BJP’s Minority Morcha who visited on Monday.

Asaduddin Owaisi in Ballabgarh
MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi with the victims of the Atali riot at Ballabgarh.

On Monday, Hyderabad MP and MIM President Asaduddin Owaisi also visited Ballbargh and distributed “₹3 lakh to 30 persons, whose houses were completely burnt down. Each was given ₹10,000”. He also raised the issue of no arrest so far.

Police, however, are on defensive and say that their main priority at the moment is resending the villagers back and bringing normalcy.. “We are proceeding carefully because the situation is sensitive. We don’t want any more violence in the village and we are doing everything we can to ensure that peace continues,” Police Commissioner Subhash Yadav earlier told media persons.