Muslim Family Accused of ‘Land Jihad’ in Meerut: Hoax or Reality?
A Muslim family was not allowed to move into their house in Meerut, as Hindu neighbours opposed them moving in.
A Muslim family was not allowed to move into their house in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, which they had recently bought, as Hindus living in the neighbourhood opposed them moving in. Local right-wing groups like the Bajrang Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha accused them of committing ‘land jihad,’ thereby capitalising on the issue for their own benefit.
Senior Superintendent of Police Manzil Saini promised to protect the Muslim family, if they decide to move in – but are the conditions in Meerut’s Maliwada too hostile for Usman Ahmad and his family to move into their own house?
We travelled to ground zero to find out.
Ahmads Forced to Give up New House
Nauman Ahmad works as a software engineer in Delhi, but is originally from Meerut. His family lives in Maliwada in Meerut, where they have been living for the last 30 years. He grew up here in a single room accommodation provided by the government-aided Ismail Public School along with his brother, Usman, and three sisters. Nauman’s father works at the school.
His family bought a house in Maliwada, about a kilometre from their old house. They bought the house from Sanjay Rastogi, who runs a telecom business, for Rs 28.30 lakh, of which they took a bank loan of Rs 18 lakh.
When Nauman’s family went with Rastogi to take possession of the property – house number 308 – on 17 December this year, they were taken aback by what was to happen.
A crowd of 100 to 150 gathered to oppose our entry into the house. While there was no violence or abuse, they openly said they did not want Muslim neighbours. They insisted that we cancel the purchase of the house. They also told Rastogi to cancel the deal.Usman Ahmad, Nauman’s brother
Is Meerut's Maliwada Really Hindu-Dominated?
The first thing to figure out was whether Maliwada was ‘Hindu dominated’ or not. After all, that presumption led to the controversy. We passed by Jama Masjid, Angoor Wali Masjid, Shiv Durga temple, Rastogi Gali temple, and Gauri Shankar temple – all within 500 metres of each other.
The school where Usman’s father works was also in the vicinity. We passed by a Hindu-owned home right across a mosque. At first glance, Maliwada didn’t seem like it was a Hindu-dominated area.
We spoke to Pradeep Sharma, who’s lived here since childhood, about Muslim families buying houses from Hindus. Pointing to another lane where a Muslim family bought a house from a Hindu man six months ago, Sharma said, “The neighbours did not object to that family moving in. But it is happening here (referring to the area he was in), and there must be a reason for it.”
Amar Goswami has been running a shop in the area since a long time. He said Muslims and Hindus have shared walls for generations.
A Muslim family has been living here for generations and we have no objection over it. Around 80 percent of the people don’t really care about this fight. All we want is peace.Amar Goswami, shopkeeper, Maliwada
Property Deals Between Hindus and Muslims a Regular Affair
In fact, property deals between Hindus and Muslims are commonplace in Maliwada. Imran Ahmad is one such person who bought property in front of his tailor shop six months ago from a Hindu.
I was born and brought up in the very same area and the neighbours have had no issues with me buying this property from a Hindu. In fact, they were happy about it. Such deals take place every now and then, without any ruckus.Imran Ahmad, resident, Maliwada
Imran’s property is located no more than half kilometre from Usman’s new house.
We bought a house from a Hindu six months ago and faced no objection from anybody here.Mehtaab Ali, another resident of the area
Usman said that his family too has been living peacefully in the area for many years now. He said he is willing to give up the house if he gets his money back.
“I had no idea that this deal will attract so much attention,” he added.
How Did the Deal Go About?
The Ahmad family met Sanjay Rastogi a couple of months ago, and were assured that there will be no problem. Sushil Goswami, Usman’s neighbour in the new house, brokered the deal between Rastogi and the Ahmad family.
However, because of the controversy that erupted, Goswami denied having played any role in the property deal. He indicated that he did not want his name dragged in the controversy and damage his equations with the angry Hindu neighbours.
Sushil Goswamiji helped us buy this property. He charged Rs 80,000 from us as well as Rastogiji. He also assured us that this deal will not create any problems.Usman Ahmad, buyer
When we first met Goswami, he insisted that he had no problem with a Muslim family moving into a house across his home. But a while later, his biases emerged – he said that it may cause inconvenience because the area in front of his house is where Holi fire is lit.
Not a Welcoming Neighbourhood for Usman's Family
We met Hindus living on the same street as that of Usman’s new house. All of them seemed unhappy about a Muslim family buying a house so close to theirs.
The main problem is our food habits. Muslims eat meat and we are pure vegetarians. It will smell when they cook. We don’t even eat garlic and onion.Sadhana, resident, Maliwada
Many Muslim families have been living in the area for generations. The Hindu neighbours unanimously agreed that they do no want Muslim neighbours because of cultural differences and varied food habits.
Yet, none of them said it was a conspiracy. They said that if more Muslims buy properties, they may decide to move out.
Is There More to Why Neighbours Are Opposing the Deal?
There are two communities living close to each other. Religious activities take place. There are temples nearby. The only difference is our lifestyle and food habits; God has made us all the same. We are not enemies. I don’t have personal animosity (against Muslims).Pradeep Sharma, resident, Maliwada
A few Hindu neighbours claimed Sanjay Rastogi was trapped under a huge debt, and he deliberately sold it to a Muslim family.
Rastogi, who could not be contacted, allegedly owes money to many in the locality. It is not clear how much he owes and why he had borrowed the money, if he did.
Muhammadans moving in here will be a trouble for all. I agree they are well-educated and not uncouth. But it may lead to communal tension.Vasu Goswami, resident, Maliwada
“Sanjay Rastogi did not inform anybody about the sale. He kept telling everybody that he is planning to take a loan. Why would anybody object it?” Sadhana, another resident of Maliwada, said.
Sushil Goswami said most neighbours are objecting only because Rastogi owes them money. They don’t have any other reason to oppose the deal.
About 100 metres from here, PP Rastogi, a BJP politician, sold three houses to Muslims. This (Usman’s house) attracted so much controversy for no reason at all.Sushil Goswami, who brokered the deal with Usman and Sanjay Rastogi
We got in touch with a local journalist to help connect with the locals. That he was Muslim was incidental. He took us to Bachha Park crossroads, which was five kilometres from Maliwada, to meet Balraj Dungar, convener of Bajrang Dal, West Uttar Pradesh chapter.
'This Is a Muslim Conspiracy'
When we reached the spot to meet Dungar, who came across as a staunch Hindu on camera. He made an issue out of a simple transfer of ownership of property and termed it ‘land jihad’ – the term inspired from ‘love jihad.’ He spoke about how Muslims are “conspiring” against Hindus to occupy their area.
Ironically, Dungar greeted the Muslim journalist who accompanied us with a hug. He prepared his gang of seven men – clad in saffron scarves around their neck – and made them stand behind him while he spoke in front of the camera.
After giving his byte, the Bajrang Dal leader straightaway went to the Muslim journalist to enquire if what he spoke on camera was what was expected of him.
Balraj Dungar said the term ‘land jihad’ is not new, and has been prevalent for a long time now. He said that Muslims buy houses in Hindu locality as a part of a larger conspiracy.
They start with buying a couple of houses, which the Hindus are uncomfortable with. Hindus are then forced to sell their houses to anybody at a cheaper rate. And Muslims gradually encroach upon these areas.Balraj Dungar, Bajrang Dal convener
Interfered Because Hindus Needed Our Help: Bajrang Dal
Dungar claimed that the Bajrang Dal interfered in the matter because Hindus needed their “help.” Muslims buying Hindu properties is part of a larger conspiracy, a planned approach by several Muslims to take over Hindu property; this is ‘land jihad’ and it leads to love and terrorism jihad, he alleged.
When asked if he met the family in question, based of which he concluded that this was a case of ‘love jihad,’ he dodged the question saying he didn’t need to do so.
I will continue to protest for my Hindu brothers. Meerut’s Patel Nagar and Baniyapada areas, which are a kilometre away from Maliwada, have gone through similar demographic changes. These areas were once Hindu dominated, but Muslims gradually took over these areas. No Hindu resides there anymore.Balraj Dungar, Bajrang Dal convener
Will Usman's Family Get Their Money Back, as Promised?
If we let this happen, this area will also become like Banyapada and Bhatwada. Hindus have disappeared from these colonies. This is the exact reason why things have turned out the way they have. The Hindus were probably scared.Amar Goswami, shopkeeper, Maliwada
Dungar does not want the same to happen in Maliwada.
The people of the locality said that they will try hard to get a Hindu to buy the house from Usman’s family. But it isn’t that easy.
“Several such incidents (of Hindutva groups and locals intervening in cases of property sold to Muslims) have happened in the past few years, and in most of them, the seller has not been able to get a Hindu buyer to agree to pay a decent price. The people who promise to help sellers get Hindu buyers are the first to disappear,” Naseem Saifi, a Meerut-based builder, told Scroll.in.
Internal Solution Reached: Police
The Hindu neighbours were vocal about being uncomfortable with Muslim neighbours, and right-wing groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal are capitalising over this for their own benefit. None of the Hindu neighbours called it a case of ‘land jihad.’
Senior Superintendent of Police Manzil Saini said that the matter had reached Kotwali police station on 17 December when Hindu neighbours opposed Rastogi-Nauman deal, but it has been internally solved.
We will intervene if somebody tries to take law in their own hands. Usman and family will be provided protection if they decide to move in the house.Manzil Saini
The house has been locked since then, and Usman’s family has not moved in. “We do not want to move to a neighbourhood which does not welcome us,” said Usman. They also agreed to give up the house, provided they get their money back.
When we went to take possession of the house and saw the neighbours’ reaction, we decided that we will not move in if our neighbours are not happy. We told them to return our Rs 33 lakh (including property and registration taxes) and we will return the house. The Hindu community said they will return our money in two months.Usman Ahmad, buyer
Usman's family has been promised that they will get the money back by 17 February 2018. Either the previous owner Rastogi will have to return the amount or the neighbours will have to find Hindus to buy the house at the same price.
From how it stands today, it doesn’t seem the police can do much, and have kept a distance from the controversy.
But, are the Ahmads happy about giving up their house?
Usman’s family continue to live in the very same one-room accommodation they were always living in – with an added burden of paying bank EMIs. And for what it’s worth, they may never move to the new house for fear of hostile neighbours.
Camera: Vivek Das
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