Aas Mohammad held up the lock. Days earlier, on October 12, a mob had used it to lock the mosque where he had prayed since 2013. It is the only mosque in Gurugram’s Bhora Kalan village. Almost a week later, tensions have not died down despite a “faisla” – compromise – that was patched together between the Hindus and Muslims.
Around 7.45 pm on October 12, Mohammad said, a mob of eight to 10 men forced open the doors and entered the mosque where six men were praying. Mohammad was one of them.
They pushed the praying men against the wall, abused them and hit them with plastic chairs and footwear, Mohammad said. All the while, he said, they kept saying, “Ho gayi na namaz, bhago yahaan se [Done with namaz? Now get out of here]”.
As the worshippers were pitched out, the mob locked the door to the mosque. Mohammad and others called the police, who arrived in 10-15 minutes. “Women from our families came out to help us – they [the mob] pushed them too,” he said. “We caught some of the men, but the villagers forced us to let them go.”
The Muslim men who had been praying at the mosque decided to file a police complaint. That same night, a first information report was registered on the complaint of one Nazar Mohammad at the Bilaspur police station. The accused were charged with charges such as unlawful assembly, rioting, voluntarily causing hurt, criminal intimidation as well as “malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”.
Incidentally, the same day, 47-year-old Ravi Rustagi, a resident of the village, also filed a complaint at the Bilaspur police station, saying the land on which the mosque was built belonged to him. The complaint said that his ancestors had leased out the land, in an oral agreement, to the Muslim family.
It is a claim rejected by Aas Mohammad, who said the land had belonged to his family for generations. He added the tomb behind the mosque, which belongs to the family, is over 100 years old.
However, within 24 hours, the “faisla” was effected. A meeting between the two communities was organised by the village elders and attended by the local police. Muslim representatives had to let the matter rest. With only four Muslim families in the village, they felt they had no choice.
Nazar gave a signed declaration stating that, in the name of brotherhood, the matter was being put to rest. Members of the Hindu community gave assurances that such an incident would never happen again, although not in writing.
“They only say that both sides are compromising,” said Mohammad Abid, who runs an eatery on the highway. “In reality, only the Muslims are pushed against the wall to bow to their demands.”
When Scroll.in met members of the majority community, they seemed to shrug off the matter. “You know when things like this happen, in anger people [referring to the Muslims] overstate things. This should have never been highlighted,” said sarpanch Yajvender Sharma, who is also standing for the panchayat elections scheduled for November 12.
A month before the elections, his home was teeming with mediapersons and workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Sharma said the boys who had stormed the mosque were drunk, and had been spoken to.
“What even happened? Was the mosque set on fire?” asked 84-year-old Bhani Singh, who was part of a crowd close to Sharma’s home.
Nineteen-year-old Nasir, who was in the mosque on October 12, outlined what had happened on the morning of the attack. A crowd of about 200-250 people had gathered outside the mosque to inspect what they claimed was construction work at the mosque, he said.
According to him, the crowd included three candidates in the approaching panchayat polls – Rajesh Chauhan, Anil Bhadoria and Sanjay Vyas. “They wanted to go in and see what construction work we were doing,” he said.
There had been some repair work for seepage in the first floor of the mosque, soaked by recent Delhi rains. To placate the crowd, some of the men were taken inside the mosque and allowed to inspect the premises, said Nasir.
The complaint in the FIR later lodged at Bilaspur police station also mentions the morning’s intimidation. “They threatened us and spoke of throwing us out of the village. We are only four Muslim families in the village. We often get harassed like this,” wrote the complainant, Nazar Mohammad.
Forty-six-year-old Mohammad Abid, who owns a restaurant on the nearby highway, echoed these claims. “We [Muslims] are only four families here,” he said. According to him, most Hindu families wanted them out of the village.
Chauhan admitted they had gone to inspect the mosque on the morning of October 12 but distanced himself from the attack later in the day, saying he had not been part of the mob.
After Chauhan and others were allowed a recce of the mosque premises, local Muslims hoped the matter would end there. So when the mob turned up in the evening, they were taken by surprise.
Apart from the men who were roughed up in the mosque, Muslim women in the locality are also shaken. Among those who had ventured out of their home to see what the commotion was about was 80-year-old Asarfi. “They tried to pull my stick, but I did not give in,” she said. “I kept asking them why they beat my husband up. They pushed me and I fell down.”
Aasiya, in her mid 70s, said she was kicked repeatedly in the torso. “What kind of person hits old people?” she asked. “Why did they beat our husbands? Why did they hit us? How are we to live here pretending like nothing has happened?”
They hope the police will arrest the accused, who are all from the same village. Most of them are in their mid-20 and unemployed, said Nasir. He added that at least three of them had been named in the FIR.
A history of compromise
Muslims are a tiny minority in Bhora Kalan village. According to the sarpanch, the village has a population of about 35,000 people, of whom 200-250 are Muslim, belonging to four families.
At one time, Abid recalled, there had been 12 Muslim families in the village but, over time, they shifted to Pataudi town, about seven kilometres away. He surmised it was because there were more mosques there, and the population was more evenly divided between Hindus and Muslims. He also pointed out that the town offered better job opportunities than the village, where most people own shops or work as daily wagers.
Bhora Kalan’s mosque, or as the Hindus would like to call it, “hall”, has triggered controversy before.
Back in 2013, when Muslims had started praying at the mosque, bikes belonging to local residents had been stolen. Fingers were pointed at Muslims from other villages who prayed at the mosque. Recalling the incident, Sharma said local Hindus were uncomfortable with the fact that Muslims from other villages prayed there. “Those bikes were also never found,” he said.
The theft had led to a confrontation between the two communities. After that, two rules were agreed on in the presence of the subdivisional magistrate. There would be no cleric presiding over the prayers and only Muslims who lived in Bhora Kalan could pray there.
This arrangement lasted till October 12, when the mob stormed the mosque. Once again, there was a “compromise” in which Muslims had to bury their grievances despite the attack.
Another rule has been added now. “Whenever people want to check what is happening inside the mosque, the sarpanch will be accompanied by the station house officer,” Abid said. This is apparently to stop a mob from storming the mosque again. While local Muslims are uneasy with the idea that they must open up the mosque for inspection whenever demanded, they hope the police presence will prevent more violence.
“Then also we compromised, now also we compromise,” said Abid. “That is what we have to do to survive.”
Abid was also concerned that only Muslims had given a written declaration at the “faisla”. All they had from Hindu representatives at the meeting were verbal assurances.
“Why do we need to give it in writing?” said Sharma, when asked. “They are the ones who have the problem.”
When Scroll.in contacted the police to ask if anyone had been arrested for the assault on the mosque and the worshippers, Assistant Commissioner of Police Harindra Kumar said, “The investigation is ongoing. A special investigation team has been formed and I am heading it. Names have come up but no one has been arrested yet.”
‘All is well’
Hindu residents of the village do not accept the mosque as a place of worship. Sharma, who is busy campaigning door to door, said there was no need for a mosque in the village. “This is not a mosque anyway,” he said. “We won’t let them build one. It is just a hall that they have converted from within.”
If Muslims wanted to pray, he said, they could go to a mosque in Pataudi. While he went door to door, campaigning for the elections, he had already written off the 250-odd Muslim votes in the village.
Other Hindu residents of Bhora Kalan voiced similar sentiments. “They are doing all this because they want to make a big mosque so that money from the Middle East will come to them,” said 62-year-old Mange Ram, a tailor. “We will not let them build anything.”
Singh, the village elder, brushed off the matter: “Nothing happened, all is well. These people are making a big deal out of absolutely nothing.”
Anand Prakash, a 72-year-old shopkeeper, said the land on which the mosque was built did not belong to Muslims; it was owned by Ravi Rustagi.
Aas Mohammad, who rejected this claim, demanded, “If it was his land why would he wait till after the incident to raise a complaint?”
Rustagi claimed they had held off from filing a police complaint earlier because they did not have registered land documents and there was an internal family dispute. “Now I have the documents and the family dispute is settled. We will file a case against them,” he said.
The Muslims, he said, had committed an “offence” by offering prayers there. Once he won the land back, Rustagi said, he would donate the land for a temple.
While the current crisis may have been settled, Muslims fear this claim will mean they will eventually lose their mosque. “This feels like only a temporary respite,” said Abid. “If this continues, we will have no choice but to leave.”