Three policemen are sitting guard outside a mosque. On their right is a lane that leads to the ‘Harijan mohalla’.
Here lives the family of 65-year-old Baburam. His granddaughter was married on 8 July but the celebrations were marred by a violent mob attack on the baraat (a wedding procession by the groom).
The trigger for the attack was the same reason over which Hindus and Muslims have rioted for more than a century – the Muslim insistence on allowing no music outside the mosques.
Fortunately, no lives were lost, but Baburam’s family says they incurred significant monetary loss as well as loss of reputation. Several men and women from the groom’s side have sustained injuries, Baburam told this me when I visited his house on 11 July.
The village is named Bhojhahedi and is located in Purkaji Block of Muzaffarnagar district in western Uttar Pradesh.
At Baburam’s house
As it is drizzling, the family places two cots under a tin roof so I can ask them questions. Meanwhile, Ravi, one of the three sons of Baburam and father of the bride, arrives at the spot after being informed of my visit.
He minces no words as he begins to narrate the sequence of the events that day: “They [Muslims] do not allow us to play music in any procession that passes by a mosque. Be it Ramdas Jayanti, Ambedkar Jayanti or our wedding functions. This time, we decided we had had enough. That was the trigger”,” Ravi says angrily.
Other men, including his younger brother Arun, cousin Deepak and brother-in-law Ajay, nod. “Yes, this is the reason. Ravi bhai is speaking the right thing. There is only one route in the village for processions and that passes by the mosque,” says Arun.
By now, many residents, including women and children, have joined in. Ravi says they are all from his community, that is, those who share his jaati. Ravi belongs to the Chamar jaati which comes under Scheduled Castes in the state.
The groom, Sachin, who is from the same jaati, lives in a village named Harinagar, which is about five-six kilometres away from Bhojhahedi.
Ravi says his baraat entered Bhojhahedi around 3pm. Within 10-15 minutes, it was outside the mosque which locals call “chhoti masjid” (smaller mosque). Near the mosque is a Panchayati Bhawan, where the wedding ceremonies were arranged. A tent was fixed outside the Bhawan for snacks and meals for guests.
Ravi takes several names from the Muslim side and says they launched an attack on the wedding party with lathis and rods.
“Our damaad [Sachin] was sitting in a rath [chariot]. A few two-wheelers were riding behind him. Other guests had encircled the chariot and were dancing to DJ music. The baraat were moving ahead. Just then, a few of them [Muslim side] came and began arguing with the driver [of the chariot]. We intervened, and asked the driver to not pay heed and keep moving. Then came the attack,” says Ravi.
He adds, “Their women provided them lathis and rods from the houses. You can see them in the videos.”
Ravi shows a video of the incident where a few women are visible taking lathis to the men. The group says there was another video that showed the actual attack, but the police snatched the mobile phone of the person who had recorded it and deleted it from the phone. It was deleted before it could be circulated, they say.
Arun says that as the scuffle broke out, several young men from the Muslim side took advantage of the confusion and stole the gifts that the groom’s side had brought.
“All the boxes of laddoos, barfis and dry fruits that the groom’s family had kept in the rath, were gone by the time we shifted out attention to the groom,” he says, and adds, “Sachin was not touched. The attack happened on the men and women behind his vehicle. Like everyone, the groom and his driver were also looking at the scuffle, trying to break tension.”
Ravi says someone dialed the police, who soon arrived at the scene. “Some men and women sustained injuries due to lathis. We could not retaliate as we were carrying no weapons,” says Ravi.
The first information report (FIR) in the case was filed at Purkaji police station the same day (number 161/2022). The FIR notes the time of the incident as 4pm.
Ravi is the complainant, and eight men are named in the FIR namely Aas Mohammed, son of Nisar; Pindu; Pindu’s three children Danish, Monish and Shabnam; Mukram, son of Sunda; Jabbu, son of Yunus; and Akil, son of Tulla.
They have been booked under IPC sections 147 (rioting), 149 (common intent), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 504 (unintentional insult) along with sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, as Ravi said in his complaint that the accused hurled casteist slurs at them.
About the village
Locals say the village has around 4,200 votes, of which Muslim and ‘Chamaar’ votes are almost equally divided at 1,100 each. Around 800 votes are of people from Gadaria jaati who use Pal surname, follow Hindu faith and come under Backward Castes. A significant number is of Hindus from Nat jaati. Rest are “high-caste” Hindus including Baniyas and Jats.
Sans a few Jat Muslims, almost all Muslims in Bhojhahedi are from ‘Jhojha’ jaati. Baburam says, “Jhojhas are ‘low’ castes. They are considered lower than us. But they have land, which we don’t.”
Asks why is that so, he says, “Because our elders did not have land or acquire it. Land is hereditary. It passes on from one generation to another.”
Jhojhas were a Muslim community of Turkish origin that came to India from Central Asia as soldiers many centuries ago. However, the Jhojha community today comprises mainly of Hindu converts even though many continue to falsely claim Turkish ancestry due to racism in the Muslim world where Indian birth is looked down upon.
Many Jhojhas also claim Hindu Rajput ancestry to claim superiority among other Hindu converts to Islam.
Ajay says, “Their baap-dada never stopped us from playing music outside mosques. It is the younger crop that has become kattar [radicalised].” Baburam nods. “Yes, it is a phenomenon visible over the past four-five years. We never had a problem with Jhojhas in the past,” he says.
Ravi asks me to make note of “an important thing”. “When the music was playing, there was no azaan call happening. Please write it down. Even we are sensitive that way. We do not disturb the azaan,” he says.
From the Harijan mohalla, I now enter the street on which the mosque is situated. Adjoining the mosque is a narrow lane leading to a cluster of houses belonging to Muslim families.
A bunch of little boys and girls, some clad in hijab, are playing. Women are inside the houses. No man is in sight.
A woman named Bano says, “Nobody will talk. The police are entering Muslim houses and taking the men with them. My husband is in jail.”
Bano is Aas Mohammed’s wife. Aas and Akil are the only two men named in the FIR who have been arrested. Bano says Aas is about 35.
She shows her cheek, and says the redness over a patch is because the police hit her while asking for whereabouts of her husband and other men in the colony.
I ask the children to play and not hear the conversation and, if they could, call an older man to talk to.
Sakina, who is more than 70 years old, lives adjoining to Bano. She says the police barged into her house on 9 July and broke several household items in a bid to pressure her into revealing the location of the men in her family.
She shows a broken plant, a shattered glass and a twisted cot. She insists on showing the toilet seat that she says cracked after the police hit it with a shovel kept at home.
The children return with a man, who introduces himself as Shaan Mohammed. He says he is 22 and works as an electrician.
Asked if he could make me meet any authority at the mosque, Shaan says the Imam has gone on leave for a week as is the custom around Eid (Eid-al-Adha was celebrated on 10 July, that is, two days after the incident).
Shaan asks not to be photographed or recorded. He agrees to be named in a text report.
“Please understand. Men are being picked up,” he explains.
He begins to narrate his version of the events. “When procession reached the mosque, it was the time of our namaz.”
I ask, “Does the azaan [call for namaz] not begin around 2pm and get over in ten minutes?”
Shaan says yes, but the namaz starts from 2pm and goes on till past 3pm.
“Look,” he begins. “First we have the azaan. Then the Jamaat where members sit and greet each other. Then individually, everyone offers namaz. People read namaz in shifts. Some turn up late from work. So it takes more than an hour for everyone to finish the prayers.”
I ask him if there is any good time for music to be allowed to play outside the mosque as five namaz sessions of more than an hour each would take up almost the entire day. Shaan says, “Why do they have to play music outside our mosque at all? No provocation will be tolerated.”
He continues, “They were drunk and abusive. We told him to play the music after they have crossed the mosque, but they did not pay heed to our request.”
A history of communal violence over music-outside-mosques
Such violence is hardly new, and has been a feature of Hindu processions for over a century.
In his seminal book, Pakistan, or the Partition of India, Dr BR Ambedkar cited several incidents of communal violence in West Bengal in the first two decades of the twentieth century to support the idea of separate Hindu and Muslim nations.
He noted that Hindus and Muslims rioted mainly over two issues: music by Hindus in the neighbourhood of mosques and slaughter of cows by the Muslims.
Ambedkar criticised the Muslims on both counts. He wrote:
After a hundred years of these riots and 75 years of partition of the country on religious lines, cow slaughter and music outside mosques continue to remain contentious issues between the two communities.
While one hardly hears of full-fledged riots by Hindus over cow slaughter, which is now carried out by an organised mafia, stone-pelting and rioting over music outside mosques continues.
Such attacks are disturbingly routine.
Earlier this year, several incidents of violence were witnessed during Ram Navami processions.
In Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone city, a Ram Navami procession was attacked with stones by a Muslim mob. Ten people were reportedly injured.
At least one person died in Gujarat when a procession passed “minority-populated” areas in Himmatnagar, Gandhinagar and Khambatta.
Violence also erupted in Bengal and Jharkhand, the triggers in both cases being objection to Hindu processions passing by a mosque.
Notably, certain sections of media and intelligentsia continue to rationalise such acts of violence by pinning the blame on organisers of Hindu processions for passing by the mosque.
Instead of pinning the blame on attackers, they blame it all on “provocation”.
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