“There is no disharmony in the village nor are we involved in any politics,” said a visibly angry Rajbir Rajak, 59, as he hurriedly rose and tiptoed around a swarm of visitors to fetch a couple of certificates on Friday afternoon. The certificates state that Rajbir Rajak, the owner of a small grocery store in Titoli village in Haryana’s Rohtak, has regularly donated to cow shelters. He belongs to the village’s Dhobi-Muslim community and heads a group that works for the welfare of the community in Haryana.
Titoli, around 100 km from Delhi, has been in the news since the village’s panchayat was reported to have issued a diktat prohibiting the Muslim residents from wearing beards and skull caps, ordering them to give their children Hindu names, and exiling a Muslim man for allegedly slaughtering a calf.
Titoli is a village of around 3,000 people, some 600 of them Muslim. While the Hindu residents belong mostly to the Jat community, and are engaged in farming and cattle rearing, the Muslims, Rajbir Rajak said, are largely converts from the erstwhile Hindu Dhobi caste.
Though both Hindu and Muslim villagers Scroll.in spoke with said the panchayat was indeed held on September 18, they denied it passed any diktat.
The Hindus, more numerous and prosperous, dominate every aspect of Titoli’s social life and economy. The Hindustan Times reported last month that a mob of the Hindu residents had vandalised the home of the man accused of cow slaughter, Yamin Khokhar, as well as the place where the Muslims offered namaaz. This week, The Print quoted some unidentified Muslim villagers as saying they were under “a lot of pressure” and scared to talk about the panchayat’s action.
The Rohtak police, however, claimed the “diktat” was no more than a “fake message” circulated on WhatsApp and Facebook saying the panchayat had passed resolutions against the Muslims.
The message, seen by Scroll.in, is addressed to an unidentified “Dear Sir” and follows a template that police officials often use for field memos to their superiors. It states that the panchayat was attended by 500-550 people and discussed the matter of the alleged cow slaughter on Eid, August 22. It lists five resolutions allegedly passed by the panchayat, and “accepted happily” by the Muslim residents, demanding that the Muslims:
- Not wear beards or skull caps.
- Shift their graveyard to the periphery of the village.
- Not offer namaaz anywhere in public or let any cleric come to the village and lead congregational prayers.
- Give all their children Hindu names now on.
- Prevent the Muslim youth accused of cow slaughter from ever returning to Titoli.
The message also claims that a Muslim villager named Jayveer, who turned out to be Rajbir Rajak’s relative, was so happy with the resolutions he donated Rs 11,000 to the panchayat for welfare work.
‘We heard nothing’
Rajbir Rajak was present at the September 18 gathering, as was Satveer Singh, 52, a retired Army man. They both agreed the panchayat was held, and that it was called mainly to settle the matter of the alleged cow slaughter.
Did it pass resolutions against the Muslims? The panchayat did indeed take some decisions, Rajbir Rajak and Satveer Singh replied, but they weren’t a diktat as they have been made out to be.
The panchayat discussed the shifting of the graveyard but it was nothing new, they explained. The local authorities had earmarked a piece of land on the periphery of the village for Muslims to bury their dead about two years ago.
The panchayat also did not decide on banning Khokhar from Titoli, Satveer Singh claimed. He and Rajbir Rajak both agreed that Khokhar had not slaughtered the calf but killed it accidentally. It was rumours spread by “outsiders” that led to the police arresting him for cow slaughter. They, however, did not explain who the outsiders were.
Many other villagers, Hindu and Muslim, whom Scroll.in approached, declined to speak to the press, even anonymously.
‘Non-Muslim, Hindu names’
What about the Muslims being asked to take Hindu names? Both Rajbir Rajak and Satveer Singh said they “heard nothing” about such a resolution. In any case, they added, Titoli’s Muslims have used Hindu names for long.
Rajbir Rajak said his father never had a “Muslim name” and was called Ratan Singh from birth, but his grandfather had changed his name from Noor to Noora Singh at the time of Partition. Rajbir Rajak has two sons who are called Manish Kumar Rajak and Amit Kumar Rajak. They are married. The former has two sons named Hitesh and Vivek, the latter a son named Ayush. These are all “non-Muslim, Hindu” names, Rajbir Rajak said. They all live in the village.
Rajbir Rajak claimed the wearing of beards and skull caps or the public conduct of prayers were also not discussed at the panchayat. “Such matters don’t concern the Muslims much,” he said. Pointing to a framed picture on his wall that showed him with 11 other men, Rajbir Rajak said they were all Muslims from Titoli and none wore a beard or a skull cap. “We don’t even have a mosque near Titoli,” he added. “The few villagers who do offer namaaz, they travel to Rohtak city on Fridays.”
It was for this reason that Mahendra Singh Khan, 61, also a Dhobi-Muslim, moved his family from Titoli to Rohtak city around two years ago: so they could stay “closer to a mosque”.
‘Compromise with our faith’
His extended family is still in Titoli, but living at a distance in Rohtak city allows Khan to be more forthcoming about the controversy over the alleged diktat. “Even if such unconstitutional resolutions were passed by the panchayat, the Muslim residents of Titoli are unlikely to admit that,” Khan said.
Khan said almost all Muslims in Titoli have “non-Muslim names”. Most do not sport beards or wear clothing that may reveal their religion identity. They seldom offer namaaz. “The reason is that the region witnessed extreme violence during Partition,” said Khan, who retired from the Indian Army in 2007 and landed a job with the state government. “A fraction of the Muslims decided to stay back. But the cost of staying was compromising with one’s faith. The compromise still exists, not only in terms of names but in our entire way of life.”
Unlike Rajbir Rajak, Khan does not remember his grandfather’s “original Muslim name”; he only knew him as Nathu. His father too had a “Muslim name” to begin with, he added, but he does not remember that either. He only knew his father as Chandan Singh.
Khan gave his children “Muslim names” – Mehmood, Shabnam and Javed – and since his family travelled with him while he was in the Army, he said, this never posed a problem. But it got awkward when he returned to Titoli after his retirement, with even his relatives pressuring him to change his lifestyle and his children’s names.
This, he said, compelled him to leave his extended family behind. “In the past few years, a few Muslims started choosing Muslim names for their children and travelling more frequently to Rohtak for Friday namaaz,” Khan said. “There was a visible change happening. The recent diktat looks like a measure to stop that.”
But no one in the village was willing to speak on the subject.
‘Calf was killed accidentally’
Khokhar was booked on August 22 after one Suresh complained that the Muslim man had beaten a calf to death “for the purpose of slaughtering on the occasion of Eid”. He was arrested a week after the first information was recorded but the police said they are still investigating the motive. However, both Rajbir Rajak and Satveer Singh said Khokhar only meant to give the calf a few lashes for attacking his minor niece a few days earlier, but ended up killing it.
In his complaint, Suresh calls himself Titoli’s headman. He is not. He is brother-in-law of the sarpanch, Pramila, a widow. Suresh was a member of the committee formed by the panchayat to settle the matter of the calf’s killing on September 12. “The objective of calling the panchayat was to promote brotherhood and ensure the arrested person’s security,” Suresh claimed, also denying that it passed any resolutions.
On September 20, Rajbir Rajak and Suresh signed a joint statement and submitted it to the district collector’s office. It claims the panchayat did not pass any resolution and news reports stating otherwise were a result of “propaganda that the villagers will not stand for”.
The administration has taken the same line. “The panchayat was held to discuss the cow slaughter matter but no such resolutions were passed,” said Yash Garg, Rohtak’s district collector. “We have come across rumours being spread through WhatsApp and Facebook, and prima facie it appears that miscreants are working overtime to disrupt harmony in the village.”
Asked specifically about the message stating the panchayat had passed resolutions against the Muslims, Garg said, “That message came to out notice on September 19 evening. The way it has been composed indicates criminal conspiracy. An illiterate villager cannot compose and circulate a message like that.”
Could the message be a piece of leaked communication between the police’s local intelligence operative and senior officials? Rohtak police chief Jashandeep Singh Randhawa ruled out such a possibility, calling the message “entirely fake”. “We have engaged out cyber cell and are trying our best to ascertain the identity of the rumour mongers,” he added.
While the police was prompt in registering a case of cow slaughter, it is yet to register a case in connection with the alleged fake messages which the district administration itself has called a conspiracy to cause disharmony in the village, an offence under the Indian Penal Code.