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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 41, September 28, 2013

The Metamorphosis of Muzaffarnagar

Tuesday 1 October 2013, by Arup Kumar Sen

The recent riots in Muzaffarnagar bear testimony to the fact that riots are no longer an urban phenomenon. In the past, riots happened in the cities. But, now they have spread their wings in the countryside as well.1 Moreover, the Muzafffarnagar clashes prove once again that communal violence in our country is engineered mostly by politicians and political parties.2

The most significant feature of the Muzaffarnagar riots is that they took place between the Jats and Muslims with a toll reported to be around 50. The Jats and Muslims are the two important communities in the region. The Muslims are mainly an urban community while the Jats are predominantly a rural community. In Western UP, the two communities always lived side by side and had close historical links. There were conversions to Islam among a number of peasant castes and many of the converted Muslims retained pre-Islamic customs. Ethno-graphic studies suggest that the Hindus, including Jats, and Muslims had memories of common kinship, and anecdotes of a shared past abounded. There was little evidence of mutual distrust.3

The political mobilisations by the Hindutva forces changed the scenario in the 1990s and created a deep distrust between the two communities. The movement for the construction of the Ram temple created a big rift between the commu-nities in both rural and urban areas. The majority community started resisting the use of common lands, including sports fields, by the other community. Being troubled by the Dalit challenge, the Bharatiya Kissan Union in rural Muzaffarnagar shifted towards the BJP in the 1990s under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Tikait. It may be mentioned in this connection that the legendary peasant leader of UP, Charan Singh, built a successful political alliance of Jats and Muslims and persuaded them to vote the same way on many occasions in earlier decades.4

In the early1990s, sanctified bricks for the Ram temple shilanyas project went through rural Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, and young urbanised Jats were the most ardent supporters of the project of temple building. Two decades later, members of that generation have now come of age to become opinion-makers in Jat maha-panchayats,5 which have played a big role in engineering the present riots in the region.

Our hopes lie in the fact that even in the wake of communal clashes in Muzaffarnagar, testimonies of villagers highlight the mixed social life of the region. Like several other villages in Muzaffarnagar, the village Lisarh has considerable Muslim presence. In its population of 8000, close to 2500 are Muslims, 4000 are Jats and the rest 1500 represent other Hindu commu-nities. The village is primarily an agrarian economy centred on sugarcane. Saeed Hassan, whose parents were killed in the riots, is the owner of a saw mill. He employed Hindus as labourers in his mill, like other prosperous Muslims, and the workers for the Jat farmers were Muslims. There is both a temple and a large mosque in the village and festivals are celebrated together. A Jat in the village testified that the Muslims would make food for the rest of the village during Eid and this was reciprocated by the Hindus in times like Diwali.6 The syncretic religious traditions of the region should act as antidotes to the politicisation of communities.

Notes

1. Dipankar Gupta, ‘Not Bharat Versus India’, The Times of India, September 14, 2013.

2. Mushirul Hassan, The Asian Age, September 15, 2013.

3. See Sudha Pai, ‘Muzaffarnagar Memories’, The Indian Express, September 12, 2013.

4. Ibid.

5. Dipankar Gupta, op. cit.

6. See Dipankar Ghose and Apurva’s Field Report, The Indian Express, September15, 2013.

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