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  Opinion   Columnists  13 Aug 2023  Saeed Naqvi | The communal picture is bleak; but silver lining too in Haryana

Saeed Naqvi | The communal picture is bleak; but silver lining too in Haryana

The writer is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi
Published : Aug 14, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Aug 14, 2023, 12:05 am IST

A simple reason for Jats being against the Centre is the government’s indifference to the agitation for Jat reservations.

Police personnel stand guard during a 'Mahapanchayat' by Hindu outfits, at Nuh-Palwal Border near Pondri village in Haryana, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. (PTI Photo)
 Police personnel stand guard during a 'Mahapanchayat' by Hindu outfits, at Nuh-Palwal Border near Pondri village in Haryana, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. (PTI Photo)

The dreadful news of communal oppression in Haryana, of which the bulldozer is the most visible symbol, was the Plan B of the slaughter planned by the saffron brigade. Ironically, it was a Hindu-Muslim combine which thwarted Plan A.

Much to the BJP’s chagrin, an obstacle in their path is the evolving Jat-Muslim social cohesion. This almost organic Jat-Muslim evolution has to be disrupted to make way polarisation. 

Efforts are on for a cleavage between Muslims and Jats. At Mandkola, a Jat village in Palwal, Bajrang Dal members addressed a gathering to exhort “Hindus” to consolidate against Muslims.

This divisive effort didn’t go very far. A panchayat in the neighbouring Muslim village of Kot was almost entirely focused on keeping communal harmony at all costs. And it’s misleading to call it a Muslim village.

A Paal in the local system is a part of a “Khap”, a Jat or Meo group which maintains the traditional social hierarchy. At the panchayat in Kot, the Muslim “Paals” -- Shiklot, Magariya, Damrote -- and Hindu “Paals” -- Rawat, Saushet, Sahrawat -- jointly endorsed “harmony at all costs”. The infection from Kot and Mandkola will spread.

What must remain a puzzle to people who, over 40 years, have grown accustomed to Hindus and Muslims at loggerheads, is that the two major communities in a state under BJP rule have established a bond of peace.

One reason for this harmony in past centuries was the Meos’ unabashed contemplation of themselves as converts from Hinduism: they took pride in the culture derived from their Hindu ancestry. 

A progressive Meo I met retained his name which clearly revealed his ancestry: Zafar Meo Yaduvanshi. In our caste, religion-ridden system, the integrated aspects of Meo culture haven’t found too many admirers.  

The surge of Muslim reform movements had their impact. The reformist “mullah” found Meo culture too “Hindu”. Hindu society gradually under the spell of the Arya Samaj and later political Hinduism found the “reformed” Meos “too Muslim.” Buffeted from both sides, some Meos began to change. 

I remember a distinguished Meo lawyer, Ramzan Chaudhry, making a clear admission: “I was embarrassed my mother did Govardhan Puja.” Despite all exertions for the “Islamisation” of Meos and Hinduisation of Jats, how have the two come on the same side? 

A simple reason for Jats being against the Centre is the government’s indifference to the agitation for Jat reservations. 

Second, and more important in welding Jats and Muslims, was the farmers’ agitation, where the Meos stood with Jats. The Jats of Palwal, Sohna and Gurgaon sentimentally remember “our Sikh brothers”. The generosity with which they opened “langars”, or feeding centres, is the stuff of legend in the Jat belt. 

To run these large feeding centres for months, the Sikhs occasionally needed help from Jats. In one instance, they needed hundreds of litres of milk. The Jats, who once kept cows and buffaloes, have in many cases moved on to other means of livelihood. The Gujjars now keep dairy animals, but they are traditionally opposed to Jats. They refused to help in this instance. The shortfall in milk was made up by Meo Muslim dairy farmers, a fact the Jats will never forget.  

In the recent agitation by women wrestlers, who happen to be Jats, the community again had total support from Muslims.

In other words, Jats and Muslims are arrayed against the Bajrang Dal’s efforts to consolidate Hindus. Brahmins, Thakurs and Gujjars are now on opposite sides. 

There is a huge lesson in the Meo-Jat bonding. This is the secularism of joint struggle and common purpose, infinitely more durable than the shallow secularism of mutual tolerance. There are some vulnerabilities. The saturation coverage given to the foul allegation at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic that Muslims in the Markaz at Nizamuddin were deliberately spreading the virus had its fallout in Haryana too. Anyone who looked like a Muslim was avoided by all Hindus, and Jats were no exception.

How did the trouble begin? 

Society, Andy Warhol said, has reached a stage when everybody will be famous for a few minutes. The most notorious bad guys in Rajasthan and Haryana now are Monu Manesar and Pintu Bajrangi. They are alleged to have burnt alive two Meo-Muslims in Rajasthan last May. The incident itself and the subsequent police lethargy has ignited Muslim anger in the entire Mewat belt. 

The anger simmered. Then, in late July, Facebook posts announced the participation of Monu Manesar and Pintu Bajrangi in a VHP yatra from July 31 from Nalhar Mahadev temple in Meo-dominated Nuh. Facebook posts by Monu and Pintu urged people to turn up in large numbers to garland them. They taunted the Meos to receive their “Jijaji”, or brother-in-law, with some fanfare. Meos sent back equally vicious rejoinders.

When the procession started, the Muslim youth pelted stones but their principal targets were the elusive two -- Monu Manesar and Pintu Bajrangi. Where were they hiding? Maybe in the cars parked nearby. The cars were burnt.

In a small living room of a local Jat leader, Hindu and Muslim lawyers, social activists and panchayat leaders spoke in and out of turn, each being the other’s proxy.

They all seemed to say the same thing: that Jats took no part in the yatra, which was armed with swords and rods. Muslims, also armed, were in a position to surround and kill indiscriminately. “The Bajrang Dal’s plan was to have at least 100 martyrs, their bodies to be paraded throughout the Hindi belt” -- Godhra on a much bigger scale.

The Muslims showed restraint even though Muslim shops and houses were gutted. There is curfew in several districts. Mosques have been burnt. The communal clouds still hover. 

Tags: saeed naqvi, communal tension, haryana