Muzaffarnagar: The Divided Countryside

Muzaffarnagar: The Divided Countryside

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Even the government is accepting a sobering reality that at least in a handful of the worst hit villages there could be no homecoming.

Muzaffarnagar:  The village of Jhola, two hours west of Muzaffarnagar town, is now a refugee camp for Muslims. Here, we are told by those who have escaped violence that they do not want to return to the villages that have been home for years.

The homes they have left behind - the Jat-dominated villages of Lisarh, Fugana, Kharad, Lankh - have been burnt to the ground, the result of a day of shattering violence on the September 8 when their Jat neighbours attacked them.

The Jats were retaliating to an attack on their convoys by Muslims as they returned from a rally on the September 7. The rally was to demand justice for the killing of two Jat boys in the village of Kawwal on August 27, the starting point of a cycle of violence and retaliation that has roiled this region for nearly three weeks.

More than 27,000 Muslims have been displaced, fleeing villages where they are in a minority to villages where Muslims are a majority. Forty one such villages, like Jhola, have become informal refugee settlements.

At the village of Lisarh, one of the villages where Muslims were attacked, the Jats say they will work towards bringing the Muslims back.

Rajendra Singh is the son of the village headman Baba Harkishen, head of the Gathwala khap, one of the most prominent khaps or community leaders in the Jat heartland. He says the Jats have formed peace committee's to encourage the Muslims to return.
But the Muslims say the same Jats turned on them, and the trust is broken, a charge denied by Rajendra and the others in the village. They claim unknown outsiders carried out the attack.

The administration says that they are trying to facilitate a return, by providing protection, and by arresting the neighbours who turned attackers. Muzaffarnagar's Senior Superintendent of Police told us that they will depute a platoon of paramilitary forces for each of the worst hit villages.

This has ensured a slow process of return, but only in villages which didn't see violence, where the Muslims simply fled out of fear. But even the government is accepting a sobering reality that at least in a handful of the worst hit villages there could be no homecoming.

At Jhola, like in other refugee camps, the government has supported village committees which are offering the refugees to make this their permanent home.

Village elder Mohammad Momin says they have asked the government to give each refugee family a 50 or 100 square yard plot, depending on the size of the family, on agricultural land adjoining the village. If not he says the village committee will collect money to buy these plots, and even build houses for them.

Some already have a permanent resting place. At the eastern edge of Jhola village are newly dug graves for victims of violence in Phugana and Lankh, now buried in a gravesite in Jhola, a final home in an alien village.

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