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Beyond communal crisis

The communal polarisation in Uttar Pradesh created and sharpened by politicians in the run up to election 2014 will go beyond polling day. That religion has become a basis for voting for a candidate is apparent but the divide runs far beyond. It has started to tell on the symbiosis between Hindus and Muslims, living and working side by side for generations in the small towns and villages of India’s Hindi heartland.

The thread that binds Ram and Rahim has been pulled taut. The only compulsion that is keeping from snapping is the compulsion of keeping home fires burning. Across the state of UP the lives of Hindus and Muslims are closely woven because of dependence on each other for business and employment. In the end this economic dependence may be the saviour of the social fabric of UP.

‘Ab to yehan ki sabhyata ka tana bana he toot gaya’ (Now the warp and weft of the social fabric has broken) says Mehtab from village Chauma. He talks of how he is ‘suspect’ in the eyes of the Hindu family whose fields he has been harvesting for more than two decades. ‘They still give me work but somehow the warmth is missing. The Muzaffarnagar riots also have saddened me. I now
wonder if I am safe living in a Hindu dominated village. I did not feel this earlier’.

Mehtab works on the fields of Chandan Pal. Chandan dismisses Mehtab’s fears as poison spread by political leaders. But with candor he adds ‘The BJP is right when it says that in 10 years the Muslims will become the majority and we will be in the minority. That is why the Muslims produce so many children. But that doesn’t mean I have anything against Mehtab’. Chandan’s vote is for the BJP while Mehtab’s for the Samajwadi Party.

For the last 12 years Deepak a guide in Mathura has been escorting pilgrims to the Krishna Janam Sthal temple. During Eid he shows Muslim pilgrims the way to the adjacent ancient mosque. ‘The mosque opens twice a year for a big namaaz. There is a huge crowd of Muslims then and I can earn from those pilgrims. The rest of the year I take care of the Hindu pilgrims’. Deepak has never looked at offering his services to the two communities as anything more than a job. ‘But now things have changed. The Hindus don’t hire me if they see me coming from the mosque and it is the same for Muslims if I wear a tilak from the mandir. Mahaul badal gaya hai’ (the environment has changed). Deepak has decided not to flaunt the tell tale vermillion mark on his forehead this Eid. ‘I have to earn a living. We Hindus always compromise but the Muslims never do. They will never give up wearing a skull cap’ he comments displaying his new found suspicion of them. ‘Yet the Congress and Samajwadi Party pander to them. I will vote this time for BJP, the party of Hindu’s’.

Rajendra Singh Sishwadia, a businessman of Mathura, saw a slump in his medium sized business after the Muzaffarnagar riots. Rajendra is a supplier of tulsi maala (tulsi necklace), fresh rose flower garlands, poshak (clothes) and headgear mukut (decorative headgear) for the idols in the temples. ‘All my craftsmen are Muslims. They were scared of being in a Hindu holy town so they went back to their villages or sat at home’. His craftsmen are back and Rajendra does not discuss ‘anything sensitive’ with them. Hamare saath Hindu ne zulm kiya, par kaam yehin hai. Zahar neta ne ghola (the Hindus subjected us to atrocities but employment is with them) feels Mir Qadir who makes mukut for the Krishna idol. The Muslim craftsmen in Mathura work for the large Thakur, Aggarwal and Brahmin businessmen in the town.  Raju sells boiled eggs from a hand cart in the weekly bazaar on the outskirts of Kannauj. The majority of his customers are Hindus from adjoining villages who come for weekly shopping of trinkets and clothes. But he responds when his friend calls him ‘Ali mian’. Asked why he is hiding his real name he answers Hawa kharab hai aaj kal. Anjane ko nahin batatey ki mussalman hain (Dangerous winds blow these days. I don’t tell strangers I am a Muslim).

 But he feels safe in his village because Mulayam Singh’s party is in government who is ‘fair to us’.
Mulayam’s S P government is what makes Kunti feel insecure. She recalls when she used to walk to the bazaar alone. But now she waits for her husband or son to accompany her. According to her the Samajwadi party goondas always side with the Muslims in her village even if they are at fault. Kuch hogaya to meri kaun sunega? (If an untoward incident happens who will listen to me)? Yes, she does know Ali the egg seller as well as other Muslims from her village. She continues to buy from them. Saath saath rehtey hain. Par daange ke samay sab badal jata hai (we live close to each other but
during communal violence everything changes) she whispers.

Sairuddin is a boatman at Ghatiaghat along the banks of the Ganga as it flows past Farrukhabad. He makes a living rowing pilgrims to bathe where the water is cleaner. All the boatmen at the ghat are Muslims but never give their name unless the pilgrims ask. Sairuddin tells how till a few months back none objected to being rowed for a dip in the Ganga by a Muslim but now it is becoming an issue.

Sairuddinn talks of the good business relationship he has with the Hindu pandas who man the temples alongside the river bed. He recommends them to the pilgrims so that they can perform the right puja. A temple priest is quick to point out that they have never had any communal trouble at the ghats. ‘Politicians hamarey pait par laath maar rehey hain (politicians are harming our livelihood just for getting votes) he declares. ‘We have to live and work together’.IPA
Rashmi Saksena

Rashmi Saksena

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