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A timely action

After a Muslim man accidentally killed a calf on Bakr Eid, elders of Rohtak’s Titoli village came together to restore peace in the village

The news was out. According to various reports, the panchayat of Rohtak’s Titoli village had supposedly issued a diktat banning the fundamental rights of its minority community residents. Muslims were asked not to offer prayers in public, not to wear skull caps, and were also banned from keeping Farsi or Arabic names that were a sign of their Islamic identity.

Rohtak’s Titoli village has nearly 9,000 votes and almost 36 different communities of Haryana living here. An incident that occurred on August 22 in Titoli can be considered as the trigger point for the panchayat of the village to pass such diktats, reports of which kept surfacing post-September 19. As the story goes, on the occasion of Bakri Eid, 25-year-old Yameen, a resident of Titoli, hit a calf on its head for attacking his niece and ended up killing it.

The calf succumbed to her injuries and died, and not long after this, rumours began spreading that the Muslims of Titoli had butchered a calf as a sacrifice on Eid. The Hindu youth in the village, furious upon hearing this, allegedly attacked Yameen’s house.

To put this in context, had this incident occurred in any other part of Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan, it had all the essential ingredients for Right-wing fringe groups to run amok and spread communal disharmony, maybe even cause low-intensity riots. But not in Titoli.

Titoli is an Arya Samaj stronghold—an organisation whose stance on cow protection is evident and unambiguous. But still, given the fact that a calf had died in the village, that too after being hit by a Muslim man during the time of Bakri Eid, the police and elders of the village managed to sidestep and defer a major calamity that had begun casting dark shadows over the minority communities living in this village.

‘Leave us alone’
“Why are you raising issues that have died down?” 60-year-old Rajbir asks this correspondent, who met him at his general store in the village. Rajbir is a Muslim and also the pradhan of the Dhobi community. “We want to live in peace; the media should leave us alone.”

“Whatever differences had erupted after the incident, have been peacefully settled between the Dhobis (Muslims) and the Hindus,” he said. Rajbir’s family is one of the 125 Muslim families that reside in Titoli; of these 125, 75 of them belong to the Dhobi community. Rajbir and his wife assured us that there was no more tension existing in the village now.

As the discussion about Yameen’s incident and the panchayat continued (during which the supposed bans were introduced) an elderly woman with a plastered hand came up and spoke to Rajbir. Later, Rajbir said the lady belonged to the Jaat community, and if there had been any serious differences that did exist between the Muslims and Hindus in the village, then “why would she ask my wellbeing?”

Rajbir further added that his daughter-in-law was a graduate who taught children coming from various communities and backgrounds. “Even today, the children continue to take classes from her. Be it Hindu kids or Muslims, no child has left the tuition.”

At the chaupal that is located right in front of the village lake, this correspondent met a couple of elderly people from the village. “Can you tell (by looking) who belongs to which religion or community?,” asks Ramesh Sharma, next to whom sits 80-year-old Miru, who refuses to share his identity. We were later informed that he too belongs to the Muslim Dhobi community.

Miru and Sharma got into a heated argument over whether the credit for developmental changes in the area should go to former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, or whether it was PM Modi’s governance that had been bringing about the said changes. Within minutes, Miru, who weighed in on Hooda’s side, expressed his disagreement with Sharma.

In an effort to spot Muslim households in the village, we walked through various lanes in Titoli’s. Not before long, we realised that communities in the village don’t live in a ghettoised manner — the Muslims and other communities live together.

“There is no Masjid in the village; those who want to offer prayers in the masjid go to Rohtak,” said two Muslim women who do not want to be named. When asked where did they offer their Friday prayers, they said: “We have been offering it inside our houses.”

More importantly, a large chunk of Muslims in the village, keep Hindu names. They don’t don beards, and neither do they wear clothes—including skull caps—that identify that they have a background of belonging to a minority community. “We don’t keep beards or wear caps,” 52-year-old Rajbir Singh says. “That’s how life has been in this village: you can’t differentiate between a Hindu and Dhobis (Muslims).” Turns out, even the accused Yameen’s father’s name is Jaipan.

Singh added: “A few families that had shifted to Rohtak town have now started following the Islamic culture. They are the ones who are responsible for running this vilifying campaign against Titoli and have been giving out irresponsible statements to the media.”

Located seven kilometres away from Rohtak town, Titoli is considered to be one of the politically important villages in the area. While Brahmins form the biggest chunk of the community, the present Gram Panchayat poll is governed by a Jaat leader.

Villagers say that post-Partition, the Muslim community was assured safety and was requested to stay back in Titoli.

The timing of the calf’s death was the reason that triggered the chaos. According to Muslim community members, the calf had hit Yameen’s niece, and in his rage, Yameen had hit the calf with a stick. The calf eventually died.

Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Narayan Chand told Newslaundry that the post-mortem confirmed that the attack was not from any “sharp object” or weapon.

REFUTING CLAIMS
Meanwhile, back in the village, Suresh Kundu, 40, the Sarpanch representative who belongs to the Jaat community, refutes the claims that a few Muslim households were vandalised on August 22. “The Hindu youth was aggressive on Eid — they did want to harm the Muslims but the elders of the village didn’t let any mishap occur,” he said. “Panchayat and senior villagers also shoed away outsiders who were trying to instigate villagers.”

Even though police sources confirmed that fringe elements had entered the village on that day, they also stated that no houses were attacked. Kundu rejected claims that the panchayat had passed anti-Muslim diktats.

However, there are some pictures from that day which show that the accused Yameen’s house was vandalised.

The calf which died on Bakri Eid was first sent for post-mortem, and later, a rally was taken out for the animal’s last rites. By now, an atmosphere of fear had gripped the village. The police were deployed, and it was only after the panchayat was held in September that the forces were withdrawn.

ASI Nafe Singh of Titoli Check Post said: “The situation became tense because of the rumours being spread. Someone had uploaded inflammatory videos on the internet, with pictures of butchered cows that had nothing to do with the village.” Another policeman said: “Understand which political force will gain out of it.”

According to police records, Yameen and Shaukeen (24) were arrested by the police on August 22 at 8.43 PM and sections under the Haryana Protection Act were pressed against them. The First Information Report (FIR) was registered by none other than Sarpanch representative Suresh Kundu.

Panchayat and diktats
Within two days of the incident, a big Panchayat was called to take action against the Muslims for “slaughtering the cow.” Allegations were thrown around—most of which now even the Jaats of the village don’t agree with.

While the police and villagers refute that any such panchayat took place, Punjab Kesari’s Rohtak Bureau Chief Devinder Dangi says: “This Panchayat was convened and even members from the Arya Samaj were present. There was huge pressure on the villagers, but somehow, they managed to defer the decision-making process.”

The next Panchayat was called for on September 18. This is the one that was reported in the media. However, there are two versions to this story.

According to police officials and Suresh Kundu, this (second) Panchayat was called for by the Muslims. Rajbir too said that this meeting was called by Muslims so as to reach an understanding.

“Post the panchayat, we (Muslims and Hindus) met the District Commissioner and handed over two letters stating that there is complete peace in the village and that both communities have reached an understanding,” said Rajbir, the pradhan of the Muslim community.

The other version says that the panchayat—under pressure—passed five diktats against Muslims: that the accused will never return to the village, that Muslims will not keep Farsi names, a new land for the graveyard will be allotted for Muslims as they would be barred from using the present one after the harvesting season was over, no offering prayers in the open, and ultimately, a ban on growing beards and wearing skull caps. These diktats—if issued—were in complete violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

However, police claim that no such diktats were issued. “Leaders from both communities have met the DC and the SP and also held a press conference rejecting these claims, saying that there is no pressure on Muslims,” says Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Narayan Chand. He also added that it was the Muslims who had called for the meeting. “No one should hold any grudges against the Muslim community, who were urged to do so (call for a meeting) by senior leaders from their community.”

Chand also said that police protection had been given to each Muslim family since the Hindu youth “had turned aggressive.”

SPREADING RUMOURS
“Rumours were spread on Bakri Eid that Muslims had slaughtered the cow,” said Chand. “Obviously, there was a threat to the Muslim community due to these rumours that were being spread, but the elderly people from the community tackled the situation.”

Later, an FIR was duly registered by the police for the spreading of inflammatory videos via the internet.

One of the accused, Shaukeen, has been granted bail. But several questions have been raised on why the journalists are being stopped from meeting the family of the accused. Rajbir said that “media wallahs” have been trying to disrupt the peace of the village.

“We believe that reporters are being sent by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) so that the dispute continues and disturbance spreads to nearby areas,” says 50-year-old Jaibir Kundu, the district president of the organisation that led the Jaat Reservation stir.

“BJP’s policy is to divide and rule. But we won’t let that happen,” says Jaibir. Elections are barely a few months away. A situation like Titoli could trigger communal divide and lead to consolidation of the Hindu vote bank. Beyond doubt, the communities in Titoli deserve a pat on the back for tactfully avoiding a major upheaval not only for their village but also for villages in nearby areas.

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