A dozen daily wage farm workers and simple village folk were travelling in a tractor as usual from Mod Khurd village to Munjhera in the hope that they could get a better deal for their labor next day. At the entrance to Munjhera is a mosque on the roadside which everyone has to pass through to enter the village. Hiding within the mosque were some 50-60 heavily armed men waiting in darkness to pounce upon any ‘Kafirs‘ who were unlucky enough to pass through on that fateful Friday evening.

At the outskirts of the village, the driver and the leader of the farm workers realized that there was something really horrifying about the eerie silence in this minority dominated village, but he was too late. As the tractor ambled across the mosque road, it was met with scores of flying stones, which took them by surprise. This stone pelting continued for some time, even as the men tried to find cover in the trolley. Some industrious folk managed to jump ship and escape into the wilderness, but others weren’t so lucky.

The mob from the mosque then surrounded the tractor and pulled down some 6 men and threw them on the roadside. What happened over the next 30 minutes is too graphic to print – “it was the worst nightmare one could ever have” as per one of the survivors who is grievously injured and may not live long. The farm workers were first beaten up mercilessly and were then attacked with sharp weapons by a gang of 50 odd “mushtandey“. Finally, they were shot at pointblank range, so that they had no chance of surviving.

Meanwhile, those who had escaped the stone pelting reached the local police station and complained about the attack, but to their utter frustration, the police refused to budge from their seats. For more than an hour the police refused to visit the mosque to rescue the victims and when they finally did reach the spot, they found three bodies lying in a pool of blood. Two of the dead were simply identified as that of Pappu and Joginder, while one other victim was still breathing. Three other farm workers are still missing, 3 days after the incident, and are presumed dead for all practical purposes. The Mosque Mob? By the time police reached the spot, all of them had returned back to their homes after their evening hunting expedition and were probably sleeping peacefully.

This is not a one-off incident, this is what is happening across Muzaffarnagar district. These villages have been turned into killing fields even as rumors fly thick in the air. Nobody knows for certain how many people have died in the violence. Till late Monday night, the official tally still stood at around 31, but nobody believes that tally; not the ordinary folks, not local newspaper men, not political netas and not even the cops themselves. Everybody talks in whispers, some suggest “it’s more than a hundred“, while others presume “at least 250 dead in 10 days“. When official arithmetic marries political convenience, it begets rumor – an illegitimate child of conscience. It is indeed ironic that more than 65 years after independence we cannot even count our dead. (For instance, we are none the wiser about the actual death toll in the neighbouring Uttarakhand even after 3 months).

Muzaffarnagar district in particular and Western Uttar Pradesh in general has been a communal tinderbox for ages, yet these riots are unprecedented for one major reason. Riots in India are largely an urban phenomenon, for in the cities anonymous men fight and kill other anonymous men and women – or at least that is what was always postulated by ‘great’ secular social scientists till now. In our villages there was supposed to be just ‘communal tension’ not ‘communal rioting’, for everyone knows everyone else. This idyllic narrative of our villages where ‘communal tension’ is sorted out by community elders and village panchayats has been turned upside down.

At the height of Babri Masjid conflict of 91-92-93, 90% of all rioting was centred around the cities. Even in India’s worst communal conflagration of the 1947 partition, violence was largely an urban phenomenon and the villages were mostly untouched – both in Punjab and Bengal. What has changed in 2013? Is this just a logical corollary of the neo-rurbanization phenomenon? Are there any external catalysts to this process of riot-flow from urban to rural?

Yes our villages are no longer isolated from the world and news spreads at lightening speeds here too. News is no longer a two-dimensional phenomenon, for it has acquired an audio-visual element to it. What is more, news is now an interactive medium in the world of mobile telephony, internet and social media. Thus villages can react with violence as a legitimate tool. But there are other catalysts too. For instance, visit any village in Muzaffarnagar and you are likely to find new settlements of outsiders – a euphemism for “Bangladeshis” – who have now become part of the village political-economy. Add to this, the growing reach of the global Ummah philosophy combined with the fanaticism angle of “Islam Katre mein hai” and you have a potent mixture for disaster. In this concoction, when you add a large haul of “sophisticated arms, like hand grenades and AK 47s” smuggled from the Nepal border, you get a deadly syrup of violent riots.

Over the last few months there have been numerous reports of deadly weapons being circulated in UP, but the government has taken absolutely no action till date. There have been rumours that a powerful minister of the region belonging to the minority community is hand-in-glove with this whole exercise of arming a community to the teeth. In fact, quite a few vehicles have been raided by the police with large quantities of illegal weapons, but the state administration has adopted a “blind eye” policy towards this whole phenomenon. Finally, on Sunday, when the army conducted flag marches in various villages, some of the villagers actually fired back at the army, which eventually led to army ceasing a large haul of illegal arms.

When the riots began, the Jats of western UP did not know what hit them. Usually the farming community of western UP is highly organized and has a strongly militant outlook to any sort of perceived injustice, but they were totally underprepared to face this systematic attack. Jats and Muslims have had a longstanding alliance in this region, so it came as a big surprise to many of them that the idea of anti-Kafirism had entered into Western UP with such violence. The first few days were a complete surprise for the Jats as they faced these relentless attacks by organized mobs with unheard of weapons.

Four days after the riots began, on the 31st of August, the Jats first called a Panchayat at Jaansaath Tehsil, but even after trying to organize themselves, they were hopelessly outmaneuvered. It was only after Narendra Tikait and Rakesh Tikait – both sons of the legendary farmer leader, Mahendra Singh Tikait – entered the scene that the fight back began in earnest. This is where the politics of UP underwent a radical shift in the span of just a fortnight.

First, BSP MP Kadir Rana, Congress leader Saiduzzaman and Samajwadi Party leader Rashid Siddiqui made a highly charged communal speech at Khaalapur on the 30th of August, which was attended by more than 15 thousand people, despite of prohibitory orders under section 144. Then the Mahapanchayat of 7th September was attended by Hukum Singh, Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana of BJP, former Congress MP Harinder Malik and the Tikait brothers of the BKU. This is the familiar pattern of the early 90’s when Muslim and Hindu leaders cutting across political parties joined forces to fight their battles. Thus Uttar Pradesh now stands polarized in totality, right from the villages up to the netas.

It is in this polarized state that the vultures landed 10 days after the riots started. It is natural for the vultures to feed on the dead and thus began a process of selective feeding based on their favored ideological positioning. The same Dilli News Media which was almost totally absent for 10 days when the violence was one-sided, went to Muzaffarnagar to create tales of minority victimhood. On Monday, suddenly our television screens were filled with skullcaps. Then Dilli media’s favorite whipping boy was brought out into open. Thus Muzaffarnagar riots found salvation in Amit Shah’s visit to Ayodhya and Narendra Modi’s ability to “polarize” the voters.

This is the underlying pathology of the Muzaffarnagar riots, wherein reality is twisted by the media vultures to suit their own ideological convenience. Instead of blaming the real culprit, Samajwadi Party government of Uttar Pradesh, MSM blames every known adversary of Dilli-news media – Social Media, Modi, BJP, Amit Shah etc. In the real world, communal fire is spreading from the cities to villages, but media is busy peddling victimhood.

The following two tabs change content below.
Praveen Patil

Praveen Patil

Analyst of Indian electoral politics and associated economics with a right-of-centre perspective.