As mobs reigned terror on Muzaffarnagar city after Friday prayers, the residents of the city have only one thing to say — that it was only because of timely police intervention that they are alive today.
Muzaffarnagar city didn’t burn even during the 2013 riots, which had gripped the whole district at the time and spilled over to even nearby districts. But this small town saw a lot of arson, rioting and violence last Friday (20 December) when mobs of several thousands Muslim youths poured on the streets after Friday prayers, clashed with the police and in some places even with Hindu residents.
Police have arrested over 50 people and booked several hundreds for indulging in violence and damaging public property.
The administration is all set to send out notices to those caught red-handed on the camera asking them to pay up for their misdeeds.
More than a dozen cops received injuries. Even Superintendent of Police (SP) Satpal Antil got hit by a few pellets.
We talked to residents of different localities in Muzaffarnagar and they told us what transpired that day and how the administration controlled the situation from getting out of hand.
One thing that stood out was the way cops stood their ground despite being outnumbered and continued to be on duty even after receiving injuries.
“Policemen were chiefly at the receiving end of the violent hooliganism unleashed by the rioters. In the evening, I was at Meenakshi Chowk and saw three police officials who had suffered injuries. One had his leg torn open and mass coming out from the sideways. Their jeep’s window panes were broken,” Sachin Bansal, a shopkeeper at Shiv Chowk tells me.
Near Thana Kotwali, I saw one car in which the cop inside had a bandage on his head. Some couldn’t even go to the hospital to get their wounds tended to. But they were still doing their duty. The rioters made their condition terrible,” he adds.
“From Meenakshi chowk, a mob of thousands marched towards Mahavir chowk (on the Arya Samaj road). The police couldn’t stop them as they were very few in numbers and the rioters were pelting stones too,” says Bansal’s neighbour Mahesh Garg, another shopkeeper at the chowk.
“At Mahavir chowk, there is a large Aggarwal market of LED TVs and mobile phones. They were fearing their shops will be looted and burnt down. After all, these rioters were marching while pelting stones on the gated societies on the Arya Samaj road and were also burning vehicles here and there,” Garg tells this correspondent.
So, the traders called up MP Sanjeev Balyan. He in turn called officials and asked them to protect the shops and be strict in dealing with the unruly mob. Timely action by the administration saved the day, otherwise, there could’ve been riots had the mobs succeeded in going into Hindu localities,” he adds.
Mahaveer Chowk, Meenakshi Chowk, Shiv Chowk, District Hospital chowk, Prakash chowk form the centre of the city and is also the market area where all major shops are located.
On the left of this are Muslim localities like Khalapar, Kaleem Colony, Shahbuddinpur and on the right Hindu ones.
Muslim crowds had come from neighbouring villages of Sujroo and Lakadsandha. They all gathered at Meenakshi Chowk.
Residents tell me that Muslim mobs never crossed this central area even when Muzaffarnagar witnessed the worst of communal tension, let alone for simple protests but on 20 December, the unruly rioters were all set to do that.
They were stopped at Mahaveer chowk and lathi-charged after the officials failed to convince them to go back and the mob started pelting stones.
Arya Samaj road, which connects Mahaveer and Meenakshi chowk and Meerut road on which both Meenakshi and Shiv chowk fall saw the worst of rioting and arson. A police picket was burnt down on Meenakshi chowk.
The mob chased away the cops on Arya Samaj road and continued arson and rioting all the way to Mahavir Chowk. Prince Mandawara, who has a small stationary shop near Meenakshi Chowk shows his broken CCTV camera damaged by the rioters.
“They started attacking cops here itself. The police couldn’t control the crowd. The mob kept pushing the cops back. The rioters broke cameras of shops, even of banks and the DAV college,” he says.
Did cops lathicharge first or were they forced to do so due to nonstop stone pelting by rioters?— Arihant (@haryannvi) December 29, 2019
Listen to this shopkeeper who witnessed it all live. They broke his CCTV camera too.
And what great leadership shown again by local MP Sanjeev Balyan (@drsanjeevbalyan) 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/HWBm27Tkcb
“When the crowd reached Mahavir Chowk, things went out of control. MP Sanjeev Balyan came there with 20-25 vehicles full of people. He called police officials and told them something after which the police started pelting stones and bricks on the protestors and lathi-charge started,” Aleem Siddiqui, who lives near Ahilyabai Chowk (formerly Sarwat chowk/District hospital chowk) tells me.
Eyewitnesses at Mahavir Chowk, the shopkeepers who were present at the spot that day, contradict Siddiqui.
“We saw the whole episode in live telecast. Why would the police pelt stones? The road was barricaded and the police was blocking the rioters from going ahead. Someone from the crowd threw a stone at the police but they didn’t react. Then MP Balyan’s cavalcade stopped at the Chowk. Mantri ji ko dekhte he pata nahi kya josh sa aaya inme, pattharabazi shuru kardi. (Don’t know what got into them on seeing Balyan, they started pelting stones). Then police used force and chased them back,” says Nakul Dhaniya who has a stationary shop at Mahavir Chowk and saw the events unfold last Friday.
Rajat Chugh’s sweets shop is right at the corner on the chowk, at the exact spot where the crowd had gathered and was jostling with the cops to break the barricade. He says the police started lathicharge only after the mob got violent and started stone pelting.
“We had downed the shutters of our shop but were standing right outside. The mob of rioters was saying ‘bus adda chalo, bus adda chalo’. I think their plan was to reach Bus Station and burn state transport buses there,” Chugh tells me.
“Traders from the Aggarwal market also gathered in large numbers on the chowk as the mob of rioters was pelting stones on their shops. They were joined in by general public too. Initially, the police force was small so the general people helped the officials by standing with them against the violent crowd. They were soon joined by security personnel from other areas and the general public then moved away,” he adds.
Public came out in support of the police forces at kacche wali sadak also and saved a police picket from being set on fire. There were only four policemen there including one woman constable.
“I saw six police vehicles coming from Madina chowk and a mob of hundreds of rioters chasing them. Window panes of police vehicles were broken. Cops were bleeding. They had gone there to stop the crowd from marching towards Shiv Chowk. The mob had petrol bombs and they would’ve set the picket on fire had the general public not gathered here in large numbers,” Ayush Garg whose stationary shop is right next to the Kevalpuri Police chowki tells me.
Garg says that Hindu residents of a nearby colony didn’t let the mob go ahead and saved the cops from getting lynched. The police station sort of separates the Muslim areas from Hindu colonies.
There was stone pelting from both sides for almost half an hour. Only after the RAF personnel came, the crowds from both sides dispersed.
Around 30 metres from the chowki, there is Pedon wali gali towards the Muslim areas. Most of the residents here are Muslims. It is a comparatively well off locality.
Many mainstream news outlets have extensively reported how the police entered this street and damaged two palatial houses in a bid to target the Muslims.
One can still see broken window panes and a damaged car which lies upside down on the street.
Both the ransacked houses were locked. The residents of the street said the owners fled after cops assaulted them on Friday night and that they have gone to their villages.
We asked the neighbours why the police only targeted these two homes and if it was only because they were Muslims.
“Look, I don’t know who you are. Nor do I know your name. But I will say the truth. I can’t confirm for sure but I have heard that a drone has caught something on the camera where Sajid (one of the owners whose house was raided in the night) was in confrontation with the police from the rooftop. The other house was targeted because police says a gunshot was fired from here. They do have a licensed weapon and I did hear a gunshot, though I didn’t see who fired it,” says one of the neighbours, Mehtab Mustafa.
“I saw it all live. The stone pelting was going on from both sides (between Hindus and Muslims). It was no longer a scuffle between Muslims and the administration. Here, it turned into a Hindu-Muslim clash. Hindus live right across our street,” he says.
“It all started because one person from the other side was on the roof and making a video of the mob which had come from Madina chowk. He was asked to stop but he didn’t. Since we are neighbours and know them, we requested them not to make videos otherwise it will lead to clashes. The one who was shooting on the camera obliged. But someone threw a stone out of nowhere and that’s how it all started.”
“The mob on the road was entering the street and taking stones from the empty plot here, going back on the road and throwing on Hindu residents who were also returning the favour in kind. This went on for 20-30 minutes”, Mustafa narrates how it all started.
In the evening as things cooled down and the police got hold of the situation completely, it sealed scores of shops on the Meerut road between Meenakshi Chowk and Shiv chowk.
Some media reports claimed that the police was targeting Muslim owners for keeping their shops shut and was taking revenge on assumption that these shopkeepers were also part of the mob which did rioting and arson.
However, talking to shopkeepers, this correspondent found that the police didn’t target Muslims and many shops of Hindus were also sealed. It was done so that no owner can claim compensation from the administration as they were sealed and opened under police watch after inspecting that there really was no damage done to these establishments.
Many media outlets spread misinformation that Yogi govt sealed shops of only Muslims.— Arihant (@haryannvi) December 29, 2019
Here is a Muslim meat shopkeeper saying shops of Hindus were also sealed.
Reason? The administration didn’t want owners to file false compensation charges for damages to their establishments. pic.twitter.com/OzORMEqPTI
While the shops which were closed escaped the wrath of the rioting mob, DENA Bank branch on the Meerut road near Meenakshi Chowk wasn’t that lucky. It was open. The mob pelted stones on it and as the staff closed the grill gate from inside, the rioters torched two bikes and two scootys of the employees on fire.
The window AC was also put on fire due to which the fire reached inside and filled their small office with smoke.
“If the police hadn’t reached for another 10 minutes, we would’ve all suffocated to death. Kotwali Police station is only a few metres away. They sent some cops but since they were fewer in number, they were chased away by the rioters. Then they brought nearby locals and shopkeepers along and then rescued us,” DENA bank branch manager Sumit Khari, who was inside in his office that day, tells me.
He says the branch suffered a total loss of Rs 2.5 lakh.
Such tales of police and local residents coming together to stand up to the rioters are heard in most places which witnessed violence.
Everyone, whether it is general public or the traders, are all praise for the administration and the strictness with which they enforced order in the city despite being greatly outnumbered.
“The administration was very active. The police reached in minutes wherever there were disturbances,” says Sanjay Kumar who runs a small dairy shop near Mahavir Chowk.
Bhaskar Arora, a trader who has a shop in the Civil Lines area, is all praise for Senior Superintendent of Police Abhishek Yadav and Superintendent of Police Satpal Antil for the way they managed the whole crisis.
“If there was no Yogi Sarkar, there would’ve been bloodbath in the city,” he says.