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Why Communal Tension Has Taken Root in Western Uttar Pradesh

The growing divide between Jats and Muslims in western UP explains recent clashes, writes Mayank Mishra.

5 min read
Hindi Female

Young girls in jeans and colourful jackets were bravely negotiating unruly city traffic on Muzaffarnagar roads, giving the impression of a bustling city trying to come to terms with the tragic events of the past. E-rickshaws, a recent addition to city roads and blamed for chaotic traffic, were busy ferrying passengers signalling all is well.

But appearances can be deceptive. And in the case of western Uttar Pradesh, they hide more than they reveal. More than two years after the communal riots that killed many and displaced hundreds of people, the region is yet to regain its composure. Despite fatigue with the riots and all that they entail, the narrative of hatred has kept the region on the edge.

The growing divide between Jats and Muslims in western UP explains recent clashes, writes Mayank Mishra.
A child fills a water bucket using a hand pump at a relief camp in the village of Kutba, Muzaffarnagar, affected by 2013 riots in Uttar Pradesh, April 9, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Anything could have happened on December 11. Thousands of Muslims had gathered at the city’s Inter College ground to protest against the statement of a Hindu Mahasabha leader. Seeing such a large congregation, there was a heightened sense of panic. Shutters came down and the entire city wore a deserted look in the afternoon.

A Muzaffarnagar-based Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Politician

Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari reportedly made a derogatory remark against the Muslim community on December 3 and thousands of Muslims gathered in Muzaffarnagar on December 11 to demand strict action against the Hindu leader.

The growing divide between Jats and Muslims in western UP explains recent clashes, writes Mayank Mishra.
(Photo: Reuters/Altered by The Quint)

Tension In Shamli Yet Again

This is not the only incident that has tested the strength of an already fragile inter-community relationship in the region. As late as last Friday, a mahapanchayat called in neighbouring Shamli district to protest against the “failure” of the police to trace a 23-year-old Hindu woman who had gone missing with a Muslim tenant since December 1 could well have snowballed into a full-scale riot.

Some members of the Hindu community had staged a protest following the disappearance of the woman. And at the mahapanchayat, a local sadhu is reported to have made an inflammatory speech adding to the communal tension in the area.

“Why a mahapanchayat to deal with an issue which is nothing more than a law and order problem? The disappearance could be a case of either a love affair or kidnapping. Why blame communities?” asked a local Muslim leader who is credited to have done a lot for the rehabilitation of the 2013 riot victims.


Socio-Economic Churning Behind Recent Unrest

  • Two years after the riots in Muzaffarnagar that killed and displaced hundreds, parts of western Uttar Pradesh continue to simmer.
  • Latest incident of abduction of a Hindu woman in Shamli district has tested the strength of already fragile inter-community relations in the region.
  • Socio-political friction between the age-old allies, the Jats and Muslims, explains the clash between the two communities.
  • The Jats are yet to reconcile with the change in the dominance-subordination equation, a fallout of the decline in their economic clout.

Divisive Narrative

But a sane voice like this is increasingly getting marginalised. What may well be a genuine love affair is looked at through the eyes of religious divisions. What may be the tardy response of an inefficient state apparatus is construed as more proof of the administration favouring a particular community.

Do watch The Wild West of Uttar Pradesh, a special documentary series by The Quint

What sustains this deeply divisive narrative? The answer lies in the economic development of the region. Jats, by far the most influential groups in the region, have dominated the economic and political scene way beyond their numerical strength thanks to their significant landholdings and the benefits of the green revolution. Muslims used to be the trusted yet subordinate allies of the Jats during the days of former Prime Minister Charan Singh. But all is not well between the two communities anymore.

The growing clout of Muslims – economically as well as politically – is undoing this alliance. The community always had numbers on their side as they constitute nearly one-third of the population in the region. What has helped the community in recent years is the growing demand for skilled workers. The Sachar Committee that mapped the socio-economic conditions of the community gives hints as to why this community has done well.

While the share of Muslim workers engaged in agriculture is much lower than other groups, their participation in manufacturing and trade is much higher than for other SRCs (socio-religious categories). Besides, their participation in construction work is also high.

Sachar Committee Report
The growing divide between Jats and Muslims in western UP explains recent clashes, writes Mayank Mishra.
(Photo: Reuters/Altered by The Quint)

Muslims Have Gained Economically and Politically

The report adds that, besides construction, the participation of Muslim workers is quite high in retail and wholesale trade, land transport, automobile repair, manufacture of tobacco products, textiles and apparel and fabricated metal products. And we know that these are the areas which have done well in the post-liberalisation period. It is fair to assume that Muslims would have reaped the benefits of this growth.

The growing divide between Jats and Muslims in western UP explains recent clashes, writes Mayank Mishra.
Muslims, who were displaced by deadly religious strife in 2013, line up to cast their votes for the general election outside a polling station at Parla village in Muzaffarnagar, April 10, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

“There is no denying that recent economic changes would have benefited Muslims. What is also very visible is their growing political clout. In areas seemingly considered strongholds of Jats, Muslims are getting elected as MLAs and pradhans,” observes the Muslim leader.

Out of the 77 assembly seats in this region, Muslims won 26 seats in the 2012 assembly elections. It is perhaps the first time that Muslims’ representation in the state assembly reflects their share in the population. At the local level elections for panchayats and municipalities, Muslims have been winning seats in excess of their share in the total population.

Jats, on the other hand, have been at the receiving end of recent changes. The crisis in the sugar sector has hurt them the most. Apart from arrears, what seems to have hurt the farmers, mostly Jats as they have traditionally been the landowning group, is the low yield of sugarcane per hectare for many years. Ten years ago, a hectare of land would yield 55 tonnes. The yield remains the same even now. In fact, the sugarcane yield in Uttar Pradesh is 10-12 tonnes per hectare less than the national average.

While recent economic changes have favoured Muslims, the decline in the economic clout of Jats has happened simultaneously. It is very likely that Jats are yet to reconcile with the change in the dominance-subordination equation. That Muslims can match their economic might, and may potentially even exceed them politically, is perhaps hard to digest for them. Growing tension, therefore, is a result of the changing reality.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist.)

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