Nuh: A day after Haryana home minister Anil Vij said that around “3000-4000 persons were held hostage in a temple” allegedly by Muslim rioters during the communal clashes in Nuh on Monday, the priest of the same temple refuted such a claim.
Speaking with The Wire, Deepak Sharma, priest of the Nalhar Mahadev temple where Vij claimed that people had been “held hostage” said, “The flow of pilgrims in the temple is generally high in the month of Saawan (considered holy for Lord Shiva devotees). Because of the Shobha Yatra on Monday (that is considered a sacred day for Shiva’s devotees), the number of devotees was very high. They kept coming in and going out (after offering their prayers) during the Shobha Yatra.”
“Logon ko bandhak kya banayenge, parmaatma ki sharan mein the. Achanak pata chala ki mahaul kharaab hai. Stithi Kharab hone ki wajah se andar fans gaye (How is it possible to keep these people hostage? They were in the shelter of the almighty. But suddenly they got to know that the situation outside is not good. Since the situation outside became bad, people got trapped inside (the temple),” Sharma told The Wire when asked whether devotees were “held hostage”.
The state home minister’s controversial claim at a time when the clashes were still going on and not yet under control had served to further enflame the situation and created an alarm on Monday regarding the scale of the clashes.
The Nalhar Mahadev Temple is located far from the main town of Nuh. It is surrounded by hills, and is believed to be in existence since the time of Pandavas, the mythical heroes of Mahabharata.
Nuh saw communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims on Monday when a belligerent religious procession called Brijmandal Jalabhishek Yatra organised by Hindutva groups Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad was passing through Nuh. In the build-up to the Yatra, several hateful videos by Hindutva activists were circulated in the region, following which similar videos made by some Muslim youth challenging Hindutva activists like Monu Manesar to enter Nuh also surfaced on social media.
On Monday, the police claimed that a mob tried to violently stop the Yatra in Nuh because of which a fight broke out and later escalated into a full-blown communal riot. The residual effect of the clashes was also seen in adjoining Gurugram where a mosque was set on fire on Monday late evening. The mosque is the only one on government allocated land in the area. The Wire has reported earlier how the deputy imam of the mosque was stabbed 13 times with swords etc and killed by the mob.
However, since the clashes broke out, BJP leaders have tried to fuel the communal animosity in the area, with home minister Vij demanding the deployment of central forces in the region. The Congress legislators of the region, on the other hand, have been appealing for peace and working closely with the district administration to prevent another such flare-up.
The Mewat and Gurugram regions have frequently been in the news over the last few years. Frequent incidents of lynching, cow vigilantism, attacks on Muslims and mosques, boycott campaigns against public offering of namaz, and hateful threats on social media against the Muslim community by Hindutva activists like Monu Manesar and Bittu Bajrangi have kept the communal pot boiling in the region. This has resulted in deepening mistrust between communities. More often than not, the aggressive Hindutva activists have acted with impunity, which has led to the region remaining constantly on edge and sharply polarised along religious lines.
Speaking to The Wire, members of the Muslim community of Nuh said that the violence was waiting to happen as the district administration has regularly failed to rein in “anti-social” elements in both communities. “Who started stone-pelting isn’t clear but both groups pelted stones at each other,” a Nuh resident told The Wire, adding that frequent provocation by Hindutva activists has precipitated such a situation.
The polarisation along religious lines is evident in the aftermath of Monday clashes. Members of the Hindu community told The Wire that mobs consisting of Muslims ransacked their shops, even looted liquor shops, and set many cars on fire. As per locals, the violence began from 12 pm and continued till 8 in the evening. Police failed to control the situation which resulted in three deaths on Monday. Injured Bajrang Dal members were taken to the neighbouring SHKM Medical College.
On Tuesday, a day after the riots, Nuh remained tense – a sad and ironic counter to stories told otherwise of brotherhood between faiths having prevailed here over time. Roads and streets bore testament to the arson and destruction that Nuh witnessed on Monday.
The deputy commissioner of Gurugram Nishant Kumar Yadav on Tuesday said that a sudden turn of events on Monday during the so-called “Shobha Yatra” escalated matters. Yadav said that misinformation circulated on social media may have contributed to the communal flare-up in Nuh.
“A small clash escalated suddenly into a communal riot owing to large-scale rumour-mongering,” he said.
“The Yatra is an annual event. The district administration had prepared adequately. There was a peace committee comprising representatives from both faiths who met before the Yatra. We had deployed adequate force. But the communal build-up was way too sudden,” Yadav said, responding to a question on why the district administration did not take any pre-emptive action despite a widespread circulation of hateful videos in the run-up to the Yatra. He added that the sudden flare-up was the reason the district administration could not deploy sufficient forces on time.
He said that the district police has already filed around 25-30 FIRs, and that the situation is tense but under control currently. He said that 60 people were injured in the riots, apart from the three who were killed. However, he said that Mohit Yadav alias Monu Manesar is not named in any of the FIRs. A video featuring Manesar was widely circulated over the last two days on Whatsapp in which he is seen making a provocative appeal to Hindus to participate in the Yatra.
Manesar is a Bajrang Dal activist who is the prime accused in the brutal kidnapping and murder case of two Muslim men, Junaid and Nasir, in Bhiwani early this year. He has been absconding since then but had released a video claiming that he will be participating in the Shobha Yatra on Monday. His social media accounts are filled with videos brandishing weapons and provocative messaging against Muslims.
Ramzan Chowdhary, who is a member of a peace committee that the district administration had formed in the run-up to the Yatra, said, “Every year, one or other all faiths bring out their religious processions. But we never saw communal violence. In fact, members of both faiths have seen to it that they lead by example by helping each other in organising such processions. However, social media videos, especially by Monu Manesar and Bittu Bajrangi who are seen making derogatory and humiliating remarks about the Muslims, led to severe tensions. At the end, brainless and foolish people from both communities clashed with each other.”
“That is why I had informed the police that such a thing could happen. The police had assured us that they won’t let Monu Manesar participate in the Yatra. But things had gone beyond control by then,” Chowdhary said.
Chowdhary claimed that he had spoken about possible disturbances with the district superintendent of police three days ago. “Even last year, one of the mazaars (a Sufi shrine) was vandalised, but brotherhood prevailed as members of both communities prevented any escalation. But this time, some of the videos were really venomous against Muslims. In one of the videos, one Bittu Bajrangi said that Nuh was the Hindu community’s sasural (in-laws’s house),” he said.
Who or persons belonging to which community started pelting stones is unclear as yet and is a matter of investigation. But Chowdhary claimed that one such attack on a Muslim lawyer’s house in Mevali Square in Nuh finally became a trigger for a Muslim mob.
He also denied any claim about Hindus being “held hostage” in the temple and said in the presence of district police that the police had asked people caught in the violence to take shelter in the temple’s premises.
“This appears to be a pre-planned attempt to disturb communal peace, and trigger animosity between communities,” Chowdhary said.
Most locals believed that given how social media videos were being circulated by members of both faiths in the run-up to the Yatra, the district administration should have prevented the Yatra from entering the Muslim-majority Nuh. Questions about why the district administration didn’t take any preemptive action like making preventive arrests or deploying adequate police personnel have become a contested topic of discussion and debate, as polarising sentiments appear to be getting a free run at the moment.