I grew up in Meerut, a small town in UP, 80 km away from Delhi. In the 70’s-80’s life in a small west UP town was predictable, with annual Hindu Muslim riots being something one grew up with. The riots always happened in another strata, away from the placid existence of middle class, in the narrow winding alleys of the old town. We always knew riots were sponsored and the horrors bypassed us. Hindus and Muslims existed in many layers in Meerut – the middle class, upper middle class Hindus and Muslims had deep friendships, fostered over generations.
The unspoken code was if a Hindu got caught in a riot in a Muslim friend’s home in a Muslim majority locality, the Hindu would remain safe, to be brought out after the situation calmed down and vice versa. My grandmother subscribed to an Urdu newspaper; it was a sign of social sophistication to know sher-o-shayri. Tailors of Hindu households were Muslims whose expertise at making churidaars and shararas was unsurpassed. The winding alleys in the Muslim dominated areas were an alien universe to us – the female residents disgorging themselves out on the weekly Monday Penth (street market) wearing Burkhas, which were not a common sight in Meerut middle class/upper middle class Muslims. The other occasion when the residents of the mysterious other world came out was during Muharram processions – otherwise life went on in parallel streams.
In 86-87 all this suddenly took a different turn. Riots became violent, more intense and spread into middle class neighbourhoods. It was early morning in Shastri Nagar, a Hindu majority middle class colony, in early summer of 1987, when far away slogans of ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ suddenly rent the air and smoke was seen on the horizon. Before we could know what was the matter, suddenly lots of neighbours living on the outskirts of Shastri Nagar (a Hindu majority colony) next to Hapur Road (Muslim majority area) began running in, on scooters, cycles saying a Muslim mob had attacked them and was throwing burning tyres. A petrol pump had been burnt on Hapur road too.
We climbed up on the roof and could see a mob approaching the main road, throwing burning tyres and chanting Allah-o-Akbar. I remember my father, a frail, committed communist, picking up hockey sticks and waking my pre teen brother to get ready to protect the colony. Early morning milkmen were coming in cycles from nearby villages. When they saw the mob they rushed back and returned with desi katta (guns) and started shouting – ‘Har Har Mahadev’.
The MP of Meerut was Mohsina Kidwai. My grandmother had been a Congress worker. We rang her residence from the lone phone in our neighbourhood, but she was in Delhi and no one was there to help us. One uncle rushed to the police chowki in the much treasured Bajaj but was informed there was no police force available – all had been sent to Delhi to deal with a farmers’ rally, only a few policemen were there..with lathis.
Suddenly we realised we were helpless, unprotected and had only ourselves to rely on. We had no weapons except hockey sticks, lathis, kitchen knives. The villagers meanwhile had routed the Mob. The colony was new, with open fields all around and the mobs would attack from different fronts, from an area called Zaidi farms, but were mercifully kept at bay by the katta wielding villagers.
I can never forget the feeling of terror and utter helplessness and the feeling of betrayal. Rajiv Gandhi was the PM..he was a youth icon! How was this happening? Where was the police? Where was the MP? Why were we left undefended?
For weeks this continued. Curfew was imposed. It was the month of Ramzan. Whole night the males would take turns at keeping watch. The residents of the outlying areas came to live with us. Till late night, we women would huddle up in the park and then all would be sleeping in a few designated safe houses – on the roof. We had planned to drink rat poison if our colony got overrun. We collected bricks and kept them on the roof to throw, in case we were attacked. The nights were scary with ears straining to hear any sounds of mobs attacking. A few attempts were foiled by the police and our own watch parties.
Pre dawn, drums would beat at a nearby mosque. Then slogans would be broadcast on the loudspeaker. ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ would be followed by threats of violence. We would be told that instead of a bakra, Hindus would be given in Qurbani. Then news that the Muslims had destroyed the Chandi Temple (false) would be announced. Then they would also announce the Hindu areas they had attacked and how many they had killed etc. The broadcasts would fill us with dread (though later, the police would debunk these rumors).
A couple of Muslim families in our area were safe. We knew they were not a part of this mindset. But then another troubling event occurred. Absolute strangers came to our colonies and asked about Muslim households and warned us against protecting them. The police escorted the Muslim families in the dark of the night outside Meerut to their relatives, while we all distributed their furniture in our homes for safe keeping. The strangers came the next day but police told them the Muslim families had left before the riots and showed them empty homes.
Finally the PAC was deployed in Meerut. They were heroes for us – after they were deployed the mosque fell silent. The neighbourhood watches ceased. And we all began sleeping in our own homes. The strangers disappeared and the Muslim families came back. With our old friends, there was no bitterness – we knew they did not subscribe to this madness.
The India Today magazine came after the riots. I expected to read about the riots we had just suffered. Imagine my sense of surprise and dawning betrayal that there was no coverage of Hindu areas – only tales of Maliyana and the PAC’s excesses. For us, PAC was God sent. But for the media, it was a partisan force & a tool.
Gradually, normalcy returned. Our Muslim dhobi and presswallah who lived in the area from where the mob had come, told us that strangers had formed the mob, not the residents or locals.
This was the last big riot Meerut saw. But troubling questions remain.
Who were the people who formed these mobs? How were Pakistan Zindabad slogans aired from mosques? Why was there no police force? Why was it sent to Delhi? When I see coverage of the Bengal riots, these awful memories and the unresolved questions come back to haunt me.
The sense of betrayal remains. Meerut is 80 km from Delhi and we suffered nights of terror. What of an Eastern state, far away from the seat of power? The Hindu families in WB voted for Mamta Banerjee, hoping for a return to normalcy and jobs and development, but not at the cost of faith & religious sentiment, not to mention personal safety.
Twenty years later, who will come to save them?
-By Nidhi Bahuguna (@vinirish)
(This is an edited version of an article which first appeared at http://newsnviews.online/news-n-views/memories-of-riots-in-meerut-which-wb-riots-have-bought-back/ and is being reproduced with the consent of the author)
While it is true that Meerut has not seen any major riots after 1987, Islamic radicalization due to Wahhabi influences and other factors has grown rapidly in UP and other parts of Bharat since then. UP did see a major communal conflagration in 2013 in neighboring Muzaffarnagar – which erupted after two Hindu brothers were lynched when they protested the harassment of their school-going sister at hands of Muslim youth.
Today, low-level communal rioting & harassment of Hindus is the new normal in states like UP & WB. Hindus are being demographically squeezed out from strategic pockets in these states by creating an environment of insecurity – the Kairana exodus shows us that this Islamist strategy is working.
But one thing which has remained constant is mainstream media’s censorship of Hindu grievances and distorted reporting in the name of secularism.
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