New Delhi: Riot-hit Muslim villagers in Ballabhgarh's Atali Village in Haryana have demanded "strong action" against Station House Officer (SHO) Babu Lal for "abetting the miscreants" belonging to the majority community who attacked them on May 25, saying that he had even "sent away" some of the additional personnel deployed at the village.
A fact-finding team of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) that visited the village on May 27 has stated this in its report, which IANS has accessed. Atali village is located about nine km from Faridabad in Haryana and a little over 40 km from Delhi.
On Monday, Babu Lal was the officer-in-charge of the local police station when a 2,000-strong armed mob attacked Muslims gathered at the site of a mosque under onstruction for prayers and gutted houses and shops belonging to them. The officer has since been removed from his post pending an enquiry.
"They especially named the local SHO Babu Lal, who was present at the site, and had been warned about impending trouble. According to them, he, in fact, sent away some of the personnel who had been deputed to the site and accused him of abetting the perpetrators," said the NCM report, which will soon be submitted to the home ministry.
The violence continued till Wednesday despite a police order banning any public gathering. Over 400 Muslim villager are still taking shelter at the Ballabhgarh police tation fearing retribution if they return home.
The mob, armed with axes, swords, spears, country-made pistols, petrol and gas, burnt down the mosque and went on a rampage, torching and looting the 17 houses owned by Muslims in its vicinity. The mob also tried to burn a labourer working on the structure and even chopped off his fingers and toes with an axe.
Police said a probe has been ordered.
"We have constituted an SIT (Special Investigation Team) to probe the issue which triggered the riot-like situation here. For precautionary measures, section 144 of the Criminal PCrPC is still imposed in Atali village and its nearby areas," Deputy Commissioner of Police (Ballabhgarh) Bhupinder Singh told IANS.
The prosperous village, with a population of 10,000, has witnessed simmering communal tension over the past two decades. But five years ago, the proposed construction of a mosque brought things to a head. The Jats also managed to get a court stay on the mosque, stating it was a threat to communal harmony in the area. However, a month ago, construction resumed, after the court allowed it.
"The mosque is being built is on Wakf (a body that looks after properties belonging to a common heritage of the community) land. They got all the permissions and started building. But they expected trouble and had asked the police for protection," a member of the NCM panel told IANS.
However, the security provided was simply inadequate to deal with the 2,000-strong mob that had attacked the Muslims. "The kind of destruction that took place - houses gutted, shops looted, vehicles burnt, doors, fridges smashed - shows they had a lot of time to go about it. The mob threw gas cylinders on the homes," said the member, relating the panel's findings.
The member also wondered if the local police felt outnumbered, why more personnel not called from Faridabad which is just 15 minutes away from Atali.
As per the three-member NCM panel comprising Ajaib Singh, T.N. Shanoo and Farida Abdulla Khan, the situation was still quite hostile and a number of local residents were unwilling to let the Muslim families return. The main accused in the case engaged in a direct altercation with the victims in the presence of the NCM panel.
"Even as we left the village and were returning to Delhi, we were informed that another Muslim villager had been attacked by those involved in the earlier riot," a panel member, who did not want to be named, told IANS.
The affected villagers also told the NCM team that the police not just failed to provide them adequate security cover even after they sought it, they were also shying away from apprehending the culprits.
"They have identified and named several of the perpetrators and filed an FIR (First Information Report) but no action has yet been taken on their complaints," the NCM report, based on their findings on May 27, further states. However, some arrests were reported on Saturday.
The NCM panel found the affected Muslim villagers living in a pitiable condition in the open compound of the Ballabhgarh police station, where they have taken shelter fearing further attacks.
"When we reached the Ballabhgarh police station, we found the men, women and children all living in an open compound in this heat without any shelter food or water. They have been at the police station since Monday evening when they fled their homes. How difficult it is to arrange a shamiana? Later, I was told they have arranged some coolers," the NCM member told IANS.
"In the presence of the authorities we were told that no amenities had been provided to them and when the SDM mentioned food that had been sent, she was told that it arrived so late that it had to be returned, which she then admitted," the report said of the ground situation.
(Anuradha Mukherjee can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)