From cow-vigilantism to illegal mining, decoding Haryana's communal violence-hit Mewat region
Haryana’s Nuh district, part of Mewat region, which is in the spotlight for communal riots, has also been in the news for illegal stone mining, cow vigilantism and cyber-crime, writes Ujwal Jalali
A meo poet has rightly described the area of Mewat as, “Et Dilli Ut Agro, Et Alwar Bairath, Kala Pahar Suhanwo, Jake Beech Baso Mewat”, meaning lying between Delhi and Agra on one side, Alwar and Bairath (Virat Nagar) on the other, and in the midst of present Kala Pathar (Aravalli range), lies Mewat.
Mewat district was constituted in 2005 from parts of Gurgaon and Faridabad districts of Haryana and was renamed as Nuh in 2016. Nuh is famous for its picturesque beauty due to the ravines of the Aravalli hills and the lakes.
According to the Haryana government, Nuh has a population of nearly 11 lakh and around 79 per cent, or 8.5 lakh are Muslims, of which most of them are agriculturists. Animal husbandry, particularly dairy is the secondary source of income for the people of Nuh.
Despite such a serene environment and profession that does not attract any disturbance, the region was hit by severe communal clashes on July 31, the ripples of which travelled to other districts of the state. At least six people have been killed so far in the clashes and the situation still remains tense.
But what triggered the communal tension which ultimately led to the clashes between two communities?
Riots, retaliation & demolition
It all began after Monu Manesar, an alleged cow vigilante and an accused in the Nasir-Junaid murder case in Haryana’s Bhiwani, released a video claiming that he will join a religious procession called Brij Mandal Jalabhishek Yatra on July 31.
In a bid to revive sacred Hindu sites in the district, a ‘Brajmandal Yatra’ was initiated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) three years ago. Nuh is believed to be home to three ancient Shiva lingas from the time of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata and Lord Krishna used to graze his cows here.
VHP leaders claim that these sites are under threat of encroachment by influential people in the region.
The Mewat Darshan Yatra, which is a part of the Brajmandal Yatra, aims to restore the significance of these religious sites.
But as Monu uploaded the video on social media, he got a strong retaliation from local Muslim groups who challenged him to enter the district. The war of words on social media continued for a few days and ultimately culminated in violent clashes on July 31. Monu, however, didn’t turn up.
But a video posted by a Bajrang Dal member in Ballabhgarh aggravated the situation. As the religious procession, which was flagged off from Gurugram, reached Nuh, it was stopped by the members of a minority community. Stones were pelted at the procession, leading to communal clashes. Caught in the crosshairs, thousands of people took shelter at the Nalhar Mahadev Temple and were stranded for hours before they were rescued. There were also reports of firing at the temple.
The flames of communal violence, within a few hours, knocked on the doors of Haryana’s satellite city - Gurugram. A mosque was set on fire and its cleric was brutally killed by an unruly mob in the intervening night of July 31 and August 1. The sporadic incidents of violence kept emerging every day and now after a week of the riots, the state government has begun its stern action vis-a-vis starting a demolition drive of illegal structures that probably belong to the people involved in the violence.
So far, the authorities have razed down more than 100 permanent structures, including a hotel in Nuh from where the stones were pelted on the Brajmandal Yatra. Around 150 migrant families were rendered homeless as their shanties at a slum cluster in Tauru were also demolished.
The situation still remains tense on the ground as the locals, mostly members of the minority community, are unhappy with the way the government is taking action, which they allege is biased. Zamil Khan, a resident of Nuh, while speaking to this newspaper, alleged that the police seemed to be selectively targeting Muslim properties during the demolition drive and turning a blind eye when it comes to VHP, who, he believes, were equally responsible for the clashes.
“The authorities have chosen to demolish homes and shops belonging to Muslims only. Why haven’t they taken any action against those responsible for the violence and who openly brandished weapons during the rally”, Khan questioned.
Haroon Khan, whose shanty and juice booth near Nalhar Medical College was demolished, expressed his innocence, stating that he had no involvement in the riots or any association with such individuals. His juice booth was his means of supporting his family and he is now worried about providing for his
family of three. It is not the first time that the region has seen such violence. History has been less kinder to the people of Nuh.
Natives shunned Pakistan
Being in close proximity to Delhi, this region has suffered atrocities and plunder of invaders in the past. It is, however noteworthy that the area of Mewat had a glorious past and resisted almost all invaders and maintained cordial relations with the native rulers. Perhaps Meos, an ancient tribe that later converted to Islam during the Muslim rule in India, has no parallel in Indian history of their fight for independence.
The partition of India in 1947 was the biggest setback to the Meos in Mewat. Being in the suburb of the national capital, they were the most fearful of the outcome of partition and it happened exactly how they had anticipated. There were hundreds of incidents reported every day about bloody confrontations between two communities in the aftermath of the partition.
According to historians, the situation was further aggravated by the indulgence of Maharaja of Bharatpur, who termed the Meos as rivals instead of subjects. Towards the end of July 1947, there was a large-scale migration of Mewatis from Bharatpur state into the then Alwar state and Gurgaon district. According to an estimate, the casualties in the riots were in lakh.
In September 1947, the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who was visiting the riot-affected places across the country to stop the communal riots with his non-violence methods, was told that hundreds of Muslims from the Mewat region were planning to leave for Pakistan due to the atrocities they faced.
Three months later, on December 19, Gandhi reached Mewat’s strife-torn villages and held a Panchayat where he convinced the Meo community to stay back. The Meo Muslims changed their mind on Gandhi’s assurance and did not leave the country to join Jinnah’s Pakistan. But it is not a hidden fact that the Nuh district, which was once famous for its scenic beauty, has gained notoriety in recent years as a hotspot of several types of crimes which have an impact all over the country.
Cases of cow vigilantism
Monu Manesar, who has been at the centre of controversy for allegedly sparking the fire of communal clashes in Nuh, is also an accused in the brutal murder of two Muslim men who were abducted from Rajasthan’s Bharatpur and later their charred bodies were found in Haryana’s Bhiwani.
The impact of cow vigilantism is being felt across Mewat, home to one million people of which 80 per cent are Muslims. Many villages here depend solely on cattle trading as they are landless and the farms are not as productive. These traders often trace their roots in this trade to 150 years back or longer. Hundreds of cattle traders of Rojka Meo, a village in Mewat are on the verge of giving up their traditional livelihood of trading buffaloes which they claim may become way more dangerous following the severe communal clashes that rocked Nuh just a few days ago.
Speaking to this newspaper, a local cattle trader, on the condition of anonymity, said that it has become too dangerous due to beatings, extortion bids and cattle ‘rescue’ staged by the Gau Raksha Dals against them. Illegal penalties, manhandling and harassment by vigilante groups have created an atmosphere of fear in the entire Mewat region, which extends from Haryana to Rajasthan. The cow vigilantes say they wish to save cows from slaughter, as Hindus revere them. Ironically, in Rojka Meo, most cattle trade is in buffaloes.
A local leader Ramzan Choudhary said that Monu Manesar is himself the biggest smuggler of cows. “They are not Gau Rakshak but Gau Bhakshak (eater). They extort to earn illegal money through cattle trade. There have been a number of FIRs against them but nothing has been done so far,” Chaudhary told this newspaper.
But Nuh is not only facing the problem of cow vigilantism but there are other crimes that have gripped the region. In 2018, the Indian government’s premier policy think tank Niti Aayog named the erstwhile Mewat district as the most underdeveloped of India’s 739 districts.
Hotbed of cyber-crime
Anyone who is a close follower of cybercrime flicks may have encountered the term Jamtara. Notably – Jamtara, a city in Jharkhand – has earned the nickname of the phishing capital of India after umpteen incidents of cyber fraud across India were reported from this town.
Even as the authorities in Jamtara are striving hard to shed the infamous image, a new triangle of cities has emerged that seems to have specialised in blackmail based on deep fakes. The maximum cyber crime cases are now being reported from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, Bharatpur in Rajasthan and Mewat region which is spread in three states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Delving further into such crimes, a recently-released scammer at Jurehra village located at a distance of two kilometres from the Haryana-Rajasthan border in Rajasthan spoke to this newspaper and informed that he duped people through the Olx mobile application. The 34-year-old, who wished not to be named, said they used to post an advertisement posing as defence personnel and share their location which would be at least 300-400 km away so that there is no face-to-face interaction. “We used to gain our victim’s trust and convince them the device would be sent through courier. So we used to cheat them for some advance amount and courier charges,” he said.
Illegal mining thrives
Last year in Mewat, a Haryana police officer of DSP rank was allegedly killed while investigating illegal stone mining. His killing has focused attention on the lack of enforcement of the law, and illegal mining continues to thrive in Nuh.
Recently, the police have taken action by putting 29 notorious villages in Nuh under constant drone surveillance to curb illegal mining. Most of these villages are situated at the foothills of the Aravallis bordering Rajasthan.
As reported by the mining department, penalties amounting to Rs 1.39 crore have been imposed for illegal mining, and 71 vehicles seized in the district until July 14 this year. While mining is banned in south Haryana, the rule doesn’t extend to Rajasthan, creating a jurisdictional ambiguity that the mining mafia often takes advantage of. By installing pillars, the mining department intends to stop people from trespassing into Aravalli forest areas from Rajasthan.
Nuh is surrounded by Gurugram to the north, Palwal to the east, and Rajasthan’s Alwar to the south
and west. The region’s terrain comprises undulating rocky hills with minimal vegetation.
Dismay and Discontent
Normalcy yet to return to area; locals say state govt biased
The situation still remains tense on the ground as the locals, mostly members of the minority community, are unhappy with the way the government is taking action, which they allege is biased
Locals have traded in cattle for over 150 years, but now face trouble
The impact of cow vigilantism is being felt across Mewat, home to one million people of which 80 per cent are Muslims. Many villages here depend solely on cattle trading as they are landless and the farms are not as productive
Illegal mining thrives in the area despite the killing of a police official
Last year, a Haryana police officer of DSP rank was allegedly killed while investigating illegal stone mining. This put the spotlight on the lack of enforcement of the law, and even now, illegal mining continues to thrive