Gurugram: A week after six people were killed and several others injured in communal violence that gripped parts of Haryana, the state’s Jat-dominated khaps are divided over who should be blamed for it.
On 31 July, a religious procession — the ‘Braj Mandal Yatra’ — in the Muslim-majority Nuh district in Haryana’s Mewat region led to communal violence, which eventually spilled over to the neighbouring Gurugram. Two home guards and an imam were among the six people killed in the arson and stone-pelting.
The violence came a year before the general election and the Haryana assembly election and while some khaps see it as a larger “conspiracy to polarise” the state, others support the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party-Jannayak Janata Party (BJP-JJP) government’s move to demolish “illegal” structures that were allegedly used in the incident.
A khap is a group of clansmen who belong to the same gotra, or clan, and trace their origin to the same ancestors. According to media reports, the state has over 90 khaps, and they exert considerable influence over elections.
Khap representatives who attended a meeting held Saturday at a Jat dharamshala in Hisar, described the Nuh violence as a conspiracy “by the state’s BJP-JJP government” and resolved to visit Mewat once normalcy returns.
Over 10 khaps attended this meeting, Balwant Phogat, President of the Phogat khap, told ThePrint.
At another meeting the same day, held in Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala’s assembly segment Uchana, attendees asked for a ban on organisations like the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) — which organised the Braj Mandal Yatra — and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, said media reports.
This meeting was attended by not only khaps but also farmer organisations such as the All India Kisan Sabha and Sanyukt Kisan Morcha.
“The BJP is pursuing an agenda with the help of its front organisations like VHP and Bajrang Dal so that it can polarise voters in Haryana on religious lines. We will not allow the BJP-JJP government to pursue its communal agenda on Haryana’s soil,” Azad Palwa, a farmer leader from Jind, who was one of the organisers, reportedly said at the meeting.
This comes at a time when a village panchayat in Haryana passed a resolution prohibiting any Muslim from entering the village for trade purposes.
However, not all khaps agree with the stand taken at Hisar and Uchana meetings. Speaking to ThePrint, Surender Dahiya, chief of a parallel khap for Dahiyas, claimed most khap groups in the state “still stood with the BJP-JJP government”, especially with regard to the demolition. The Dahiya khap faction led by Surender wasn’t present at either meeting.
“The true picture was that most khaps were of the opinion that the attack on the yatra was unprovoked and they favoured the way the BJP-JJP government has handled the situation after the Nuh incidents,” Dahiya said.
In response to the allegations made by khap leaders in Hisar and Uchana, Jawahar Yadav, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in Haryana Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), told ThePrint that the leaders who attended the two meetings had been “rejected” by their own clansmen.
The meeting, he claimed, was held to fulfill the opposition’s agenda.
“They are representatives of the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), and are not khap leaders. It’s part of their agenda to oppose whatever the BJP does,” he claimed. “But I ask them a question. Will they dare to openly oppose the stern action that the Manohar Lal Khattar government has taken against those responsible for Nuh violence in the last eight days?”
Resolution to ‘undo damage’
After the meeting in Uchana, farmer leader Palwa reportedly said that a resolution condemning the BJP, the VHP, and Bajrang Dal was passed. Attendees had also decided to launch a campaign to “undo the damage caused by these organisations” and help re-establish communal ties in the state.
While the VHP claims that it was the Muslims that cast the first stone, Nuh’s Congress MLA Aftab Ahmed has claimed that it was a result of the communal tensions that had been building in the district for a week before the actual violence. In particular, he mentioned some incendiary videos that had allegedly been circulated by cow vigilantes Monu Manesar and Bittu Bajrangi.
Manesar, who is already facing criminal charges for having killed two Muslims in February this year, had allegedly posted warning videos addressing the Meo Muslims in the area. Meo Muslims, or Mewati Muslim, self-identify as a distinct socio-cultural ethnic community.
Speaking to ThePrint, Balwant Singh Phogat of the Phogat khap, who attended the Hisar meeting, claimed that it was generally agreed at the meeting that the violence was an attempt to polarise ahead of next year’s elections and it was a result of the videos that had been circulated a week before the violence.
Explaining the stand taking at the Hisar and Uchana meetings, political commentator Yoginder Gupta told ThePrint that khap panchayats were mostly dominated by Jats, who were secular by nature. In addition, Monu Manesar’s possible involvement in ratcheting communal tensions in Nuh has not gone down well among them, Gupta said.
For context, Jats form a significant part of Haryana’s total population and are among the state’s most politically influential caste groups.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given a call to his party leaders to go to Muslim women on Raksha Bandhan to get Rakhis tied by them,” Gupta said. “But what comes to a common man’s mind is that if the (BJP) government is seen patronising people who are accused of killing and burning alive Muslim youths, what promise of safety would the party’s leaders give to Muslim women on Raksha Bandhan,” Gupta said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)