Why Muslims Are Fleeing Nayabans Village In Bulandshahr
“Agar hum apni ibadat nahi kar sakte, toh kya suraksha hain humaari? (If we can not offer prayers, what kind of security can we expect?),” Habib-Ur-Rahman told The Quint while explaining why he left Nayabans village for good.
Muslims from Bajrang Dal leader Yogesh Raj’s village have packed up and left to Muslim-dominated regions, with tension brewing in the village for two years now. There are also those who want to relocate but can’t afford to do so, making do with the everyday sting of survival.
The Bulandshahr clashes of 3 December, that ensued over a cattle carcass, only added to the prolonged communal tension in Nayabans village. The village has around 650 Muslims in a total population of 3,200 people.
Not only does the Bajrang Dal leader hail from this village but so does the seven Muslim men he named as accused in the case of cow slaughter of which four men – arrested on the basis of complaint – were given a clean chit by the police.
Families That Prefer to Never Return
Habib-ur-Rehman packed up on 18 December and left home for good. He went 80 kilometers away to Dasna where he lives in a Ihaknagar, jo Momdano ka ilaka hain (Which is a Muslim-dominated area.)
Speaking to The Quint, he said, “Dharam pe humaari azaadi kahaan rahi hain? Aisi pabandiya lag rahi hain hum pe (We don’t have freedom in the name of religion anymore. Such restrictions have been imposed on us),” referring to the communal tension which began two-years-ago, after the mike which allowed Muslims to offer azaan five times a day – Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha, was pulled out of the Masjid.
Around two years ago, “Yogesh Raj, the Bajrang Dal leader declared our masjid a madrasa, and we lost our microphone,” Rehman and several other people told The Quint. This, despite Nayabans having a separate madrasa, few minutes away from the temple.
“We have written to the local authorities, including the district magistrate and nothing has happened. The authorities said they wouldn’t give us our mike back as there could be ‘unpleasant instances’ on account of it,” Rehman said.
Asked if he would return, he says, “No, I am hoping I will get a buyer for our home. I have two kids, I am constantly under stress that they could get hurt or be picked up by the police. My home doesn’t feel like home anymore.”
The Quint also spoke to Sitara, a 40-year-old woman with seven kids. They left a year ago and resettled in Akbarabad in Siyana – another Muslim-dominated area.
“The environment was becoming increasingly toxic. My husband works here too, so we decided to move. Here life is easier as we are more in numbers,” says Sitara, quick to add that she is relieved to be residing behind the Noorani Masjid, where they can hear the call for azaan again. “These things are important for our faith and identity,” she says.
Living on the Edge
While there are people like Habib-Ur-Rehman and Sitara who have the money to relocate, there are several others who say they would leave only if they had the means to.
40-year-old Ruksana got married and moved to Nayabans – her home for the last 20-25 years. “Every time my children leave home to go to school in the morning, I stand outside eagerly watching them for as long as my eyes can follow. I am concerned they will get into a brawl and hurt themselves,” she told The Quint.
Adding that the night before (27 December), during Azaan, loud songs were playing at the temple, she asks, “You have your faith, we have ours. We think both Allah and Ram are the same. Why intentionally instigate us?”
Of her six children, 4 are girls. After the situation at Nayabans turned grim following the clashes of 3 December, Ruksana says she sent her daughters away. “I sent my daughters to my parents home. They’re young teenagers. Now tell me why would I feel safe living here anymore?,” she said. Her kids are still in Gualoti and haven’t returned home.
She wants to move to Gualoti in Siyana where the Muslims outnumber the Hindus. “My parents live there, we can go live with them. I have told them that might happen and they said their doors were always open to us.”
Bina Parveen, 35, who has lived in Nayabans for twenty years said she would leave if she could. “We feel curbed. Our actions feel curbed. Our identity feels curbed,” she told The Quint. “Unlike Habib-Ur-Rahman who left, we do not have the money to even pay rent elsewhere. We are poor people who make money to feed ourselves. It’s been difficult,” she said.
Parveen said the Bajrang Dal’s frequent meetings make them uncomfortable. “People from outside our village would come three to four times in a month and collect in huge numbers. If they are talking about the development of the village, shouldn’t we also be in on it? What are they discussing in these meetings, we feel worried,” she said.
While Matters Remain Tense, Some Show Resilience
Locals told us that 65-year-old Shabbir, who lives in Nayabans with his wife, had packed up and left as well. They believe he will never show up. However, a call to him and he clarified that he would come back to – what he will always consider – his home.
Shabbir’s home wears a lock on its door currently but he says he wants to return soon. His kids have moved to Khoda in Noida, and Faridabad. “I am in Khoda with my children right now. Yes, things are tense but we will co-operate. Of course we want our mike, it is a community living we rely on especially during the holy month of Ramzan. And yes, the influence of the Bajrang Dal is also a problem. But we will go with what the authorities think is the best course of action. The mike does not dictate my faith, but this is my home. I can’t just leave, I have lived all my life here,” he told The Quint over the phone. “I will go back. In a few days albeit, but I will go back.”
Away from Shabbir’s home, a little boy was heard giving the call for azaan. Without a mike, he was barely audible.
A few minutes later, Muslims in the area asked one of the elders if the call for azaan had been made. “Yes, he said” – he had heard the little boy.
The women, looking visibly distressed, headed home immediately as it was time for their prayers – a constant reminder that they were robbed of their rights to pray with ease in a village that was once free of strife.