MUZAFFARNAGAR (UP) : Phugana is a village some two hours from Muzaffarnagar. Locally it’s called a village of khandahars, ruins. The streets are lined with destroyed houses, shops and desecrated places of worship. These are the ruins of the communal riots of August 2013 but from the walls licked black by the flames you’d think it happened yesterday.
Until then, this had been a dusty village of 2500 Muslim families living peacefully alongside 18,000 Jats. The land-owning Jats are beneficiaries of the Green Revolution of the 1970s and ‘80s and today wield great influence over Muzaffarnagar’s administration. After the riots of August-September 2013, Muslim families fled villages like Phugana and have been resettled in colonies like Shamli, a few kilometres away from Phugana. I met one refugee Saleem there.
Saleem has fond memories of Phugana’s ‘Badi Masjid’ where he used to perform his namaz everyday. It’s located in a bylane and one has to pass by a number of Jat houses to reach it. Inside the mosque, the debris is still piled up and the bush has overrun the compound. The walls seem to have been bulldozed with boulders, giving you a sense of the scale of the rioters’ fury.
Saleem dreads to remember. “We were surrounded by armed men, who abused us and went about destroying our property. I begged them to spare the mosque but they paid no heed. My brother was bludgeoned to death but I was saved by people from the same community. We locked our house and fled the village just like hundreds of others,” he says. Saleem says a return to Phugana is impossible. “The situation may be peaceful now but we have had enough. Some families did try to return but they were terrorised and forced to leave for good,” he says.
Today Phugana stands much as the refugees left it. Except, some new houses have come up where Muslim properties once stood. Some say the fleeing families sold out at throwaway prices or were coearced into doing so. However, local accounts say that the refugees fled leaving behind their valuables, which was duly plundered. No police complaints were lodged.
Although more than three years have passed by, the administration has not made an effort to ensure that the riot victims get back to their original homes. “They have only widened the gap between the two communities by resettling them in other villages, which means that they have separate colonies for different communities,” says Syed Anwar, another man from Phugana who has been resettled in Loi village.
But the big question remains as to what happens to these abandoned properties? “As of now, there is no plan of action with regard to these abandoned properties. Many house owners have kept them locked with a hope that they would be able to return some day. But when will that day come, I cannot say,’’ said a local official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Haji Mohiuddin, who lost his relative in the riots, says that though they do want to return, the administration has to provide them security. ‘’But the administration seems to be on the side of the Jats.”