Ismat Ara

As the sun dawns over Haryana’s Nuh on August 1, the lanes seem deserted. An eerie silence has befallen the district’s once-bustling villages. The markets are shut, and the quiet is only punctured by the presence of the police personnel, who are swarmed everywhere in thousands.

Nuh, an hour’s drive from New Delhi, witnessed violent clashes between the Muslim and Hindu communities on July 31. The aftermath of the turmoil is visible everywhere. Scattered across the roads lay the haunting remnants of shattered vehicles and burnt shops, a stark testament to the chaos that had gripped the area. The financial toll of the destruction is staggering, with properties worth crores of rupees lying badly damaged.

At least six people, including two home guards and four civilians, were killed in the clashes that first erupted in Nuh and then spread to Gurugram and areas such as Palwal and Sohna the next day. Section 144 was imposed in several districts of Haryana as tensions soared. The district administration announced that all schools, colleges, and educational institutions would remain shut.

Till August 2, Haryana police had arrested 116 people and registered 44 FIRs in relation to the violence. Back in Nuh, sources in Haryana police said that the forces are currently conducting raids in the villages. Local Muslims in Nuh alleged that Haryana police have launched a massive crackdown on Muslim youth, arresting minors in large numbers. Frontline reached out to Nuh’s Superintendent of Police Varun Singla about the allegations of “one-sided” arrests but is yet to receive an official response. Top police officers in the other affected districts also refused to comment, citing that their priorities right now were to maintain law and order and restore peace in the region.

Where it all began

According to the Haryana police, the violence started when a rally organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the “Brij Mandal Jalabhishek Yatra”, was met with stone pelting by a group of young men near Khedla Mod, roughly a few kilometres from the Shiva temple from where the yatra had started. There were rumours that controversial cow vigilante Monu Manesar, who was charged for the murder of two Muslim men, would be participating in the procession. Some police vehicles were also damaged in the violence.

According to locals, what had started as a heated verbal exchange soon turned into heavy stone pelting. Both sides were allegedly armed with swords, rods, sticks, and guns. Bajrangi, who was leading the procession, was also thrashed. Hundreds of people who were part of the yatra took refuge in the Shiva temple and were later rescued by the police.

Soon after, members of a few Hindutva organisations claimed on social media that Hindus were unsafe in Muslim-majority areas such as Nuh, and the news of the stone pelting by the men in Nuh—who have not yet been identified—unwittingly strengthened this perception.

Soon, the reverberations of this were felt in other districts of Haryana. In retaliatory violence, several Muslim shops and their owners were targeted, assaulted, and vandalised. A mosque was burned down in Gurugram, Haryana’s financial and technology hub and home to luxurious residential complexes and fancy skyscrapers.

Hafiz Saad, the deputy imam at the Anjuman Jama Masjid in Sector 57, Gurugram, was shot dead by a mob even as policemen patrolled the area. He was a native of Sitamarhi in Bihar and had come to Gurugram less than a year ago.

Sources near the mosque said that the place was attacked around midnight on July 31 by an armed mob that set it on fire. The Anjuman mosque has been facing dispute for decades as one section of locals had challenged it in court. It is the only mosque constructed on government-allocated land in Gurugram across several sectors. Now, 60 policemen, in shifts, man the burnt-down remainder of the mosque.

According to Saad’s brother Shadab, he was killed at around 2 am. “He had called our sister around 11:30 pm. When she asked him to return to Bihar because of the communal clashes in Gurugram, he told her that the police were manning the mosque and there was nothing to worry about. Later, he was stabbed multiple times in the chest and then shot,” he told Frontline. At W Pratiksha Hospital, where the victim was taken, he was declared dead. Another person present on the premises was also badly beaten up and shot in the knee. He is currently admitted to the ICU. Shadab added that Saad had booked a ticket to return to Bihar on August 1. On August 2, his burial was done in his village during the daytime.

Gurugram police, in a statement, said, “Today morning, at around 12:10 AM, some people attacked Anjuman Masjid, Sector 57 in Gurugram, killing one person and injuring another. They started arson, and fire tenders brought the fire under control.” An FIR has been registered in the case, and the police said they were in the process of identifying the perpetrators.

How it spread

Even though the violence in Nuh seemed to have erupted suddenly, the groundwork for it was allegedly laid down much in advance. It all started with a video that went viral. Posted by infamous cow vigilante and Faridabad Bajrang Force in-charge Bittu Bajrangi, also one of Monu Manesar’s mentors, the Facebook Live announced their intention to be part of a Shobha Yatra being taken out from Nuh, challenging the locals to be ready with garlands for them. The video, posted around 11 am on July 31, quickly went viral.

In the video, which spread among Nuh’s Muslim residents, he could be heard saying, “We are telling you (Muslims) in advance that your jijaji (brother-in-law, referring here to Monu Manesar) ) is coming to visit. Don’t say that we did not inform you. Be ready with flowers and garlands for him.” Earlier this month, an FIR was registered against Bajrangi at Saran police station in relation to another video made by him.

According to Muslim residents of Nuh, a few young men responded aggressively to Bittu’s open challenge, as there was already outrage over Monu Manesar’s declaration to visit Nuh. The locals said it was part of “counter-mobilisation” against Monu Manesar.

Monu Manesar is the prime accused in the lynchings and burnings of two Muslim men, Nasir and Junaid, who were allegedly kidnapped by Bajrang Dal members in February this year on suspicion of cow smuggling, brutally beaten, then put in a car and burnt alive. In May, Rajasthan police named him in their charge sheet for the murder of Nasir and Junaid.

Around the same time, Monu Manesar had posted a video on his WhatsApp announcing his intent to attend the VHP yatra. The video spread all over Nuh, angering its Muslim residents over his involvement in the Nasir-Junaid incident, which still remains a sensitive issue across the Mewat region, which includes Nuh.

When the violence broke out, the administration, according to locals, did not respond adequately. Ramzan Chaudhary, a senior lawyer in Nuh, said that the administration failed to control the violence. A lady judicial magistrate, who was surrounded by a murderous mob, had to be rescued by Chaudhary, an influential lawyer, after the police allegedly refused to escort her out of the bar.

Chaudhary further claimed that his requests to Nuh’s Additional Superintendent of Police, Usha Kundu, to take notice of the circulating videos and open threats, and urging her to take action before it was too late, were not taken seriously. As anticipated by Chaudhary as well as other concerned residents of Nuh, violence could not be stopped as no action was taken on the videos.

There were always telltale signs of a communal divide in Nuh, a Muslim-dominated district in Haryana which suffers the worst of the State’s poverty and unemployment. According to locals, this was not the first time that such a yatra was being taken out in Nuh. Such yatras have been around for at least three years now but they have been mostly peaceful. An elderly local from Nuh recalled, “Two years ago, when this yatra had taken place, a mazaar (mausoleum) had been burnt down. The administration quickly came forward and promised to rebuild it, and the Muslim community also showed restraint. The administration proactively got the mazaar rebuilt.”

Police inaction and administrative meltdown

But now the situation in Nuh reeks of a complete administrative meltdown. Despite the provocative videos doing the rounds on social media and clear warning signs, Haryana police did not take precautionary measures to stop the violence. The administration allegedly chose to turn a blind eye to the potential violence and allowed the yatra to be hijacked by Hindutva forces, according to locals. There were multiple rounds of extreme provocations by members of right-wing organisations such as the VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, which have been established by a number of videos that are still doing the rounds on social media. The threatening posts were not taken down from the internet, neither were potential troublemakers placed into preventative custody.

Even during the Jat agitation in 2016 in Haryana, the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government’s administration in the State was caught napping. The Khattar government was accused of not being able to control the violence during the protests that had quickly turned violent.

“Why should Monu Manesar be invited here unless they want to anger young Muslim boys and push them to react?” asked Mohammad Ayyub who runs a small tea shop in Nuh, an elderly Muslim resident of Gandhi Gram village. According to another local, Mauj Khan, a young man, the VHP intended to create strife in Nuh for electoral gains of the BJP. “The ‘Hindu Khatre mein hai’(Hindus are in danger) narrative is peddled using such clashes in Muslim-dominated areas such as Nuh to further the BJP’s Hindutva agenda,” he said.

The violence in Haryana, which shares its borders with major States such as Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Punjab, has already spilt over to several other areas where poor Muslim workers faced the brunt of the retaliation. On social media, a perception was already built showing Muslims as aggressors.

Rao Inderjit Singh, Gurugram MP and Union Minister of State (Independent charge), while speaking on the violence in Nuh, said that it was not right for the yatris to be carrying swords and sticks. “Who gave them weapons for the procession? Who goes to a procession carrying swords or sticks? This is wrong. A provocation took place from this side too. I am not saying there was no provocation from the other side,” Singh said.

Deputy Commissioner of Nuh, Prashant Panwar, told the media that while giving permission for the yatra, the administration had asked them to strictly avoid any weapons. Chief Minister Khattar has vowed to uncover the plot behind the violence in Nuh and punish the culprits. He also announced that the government will provide 80 per cent coverage to those who have lost property estimated at Rs.5 lakh and 70 per cent if the loss is over Rs.5 lakh. For losses between Rs.10 and 20 lakh, 60 per cent would be covered. The Chief Minister also told the media that the hunt to nab Monu Manesar was on.

On August 1, a meeting was organised between Nuh police, district officials, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, and Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind representatives, but it seems to have been largely futile as tensions continued to rise in several other areas of the district.

“The mood in the area changed when those videos were posted. It is a sensitive case,” Mufti Salim, a Jamiat member said after the peace meeting. Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav, who was a part of the peace meeting, said that the communalisation of the Mewat region, which comprises Nuh, has been a long-time project of the BJP, as it would help the party in gaining Hindu support before the next general elections and the Assembly polls in Haryana in 2024. While speaking to Frontline, Yadav said that action should be taken against the Bajrang Dal members who instigated violence through threatening videos.

Amidst the mounting tensions, the people of Nuh and its neighbouring regions anxiously yearn for a glimmer of hope, praying for calm and reconciliation to dispel the dark shadow of recent turmoil that has gripped their lives.

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