Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India
NEW DELHI — A group of locals attacked Kashmiri Muslim labourers from Gujjar community working in power infrastructure sector on Saturday night at their home in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh. Three persons were grievously injured in the attack while others received minor bruises.
According to the victims, at around 10:30 pm on the fateful night Saturday, four men, armed with a cricket bat, barged into their tin-shed in Barot village of the district and started hurling abuses and religious slurs at them.
Recounting the horror, Raja Bahar, 32, one of the victims who hails from Banihal area of Ramban district in Jammu and Kashmir, said, “They kicked and hit us with the cricket bat they were carrying with them. We were three in one room and six in another.”
One of the labourers jumped out of the window to save himself. “He noted the registration number of their (the attackers) vehicle,” informed Bahar.
When the victims started raising alarm and shouting for help, the assailants rushed out of their rooms and ran into the nearby forest.
Meanwhile Bahar went out to inform their neighbour, Joy Chaudhary, about the incident. Bahar said Chaudhary is a nice man who always helps them.
Chaudhary came along with a few others and took the injured to a health centre of the village. “The doctors at the hospital asked us to call the police before initiating the treatment as they said it was a medico-legal case,” Chaudhary told Clarion India.
Bahar said that the attackers followed them to the hospital. “Even at the hospital, they threatened to shoot us if we did not leave the area.”
Late in the night, they were discharged from the hospital after first aid and treatment to go back to their shed.
On Sunday evening, the administrative and top police officials visited the labourers and shifted them to a building of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya School for safety.
The injured labourers were again taken to hospital on Monday for check-up. “Two of the injured went through X-rays and were given plaster cast.”
The labourers allege that they were targeted for their religious and ethnic identity even as the police ruled out any communal angle to the incident. The police, in fact, tried to downplay the entire incident saying it was a “simple dispute” that led to scuffle.
Speaking to Clarion India, station house officer of the police station, Saddar Vinod Thakur, said: “There is no communal angle to the issue. The dispute started over water that led to a scuffle.”
He said that police have filed a “cross FIR” against both the sides. “We have named three-four people from each side in the FIR,” Thakur said. “We got the medical of two people done after they requested even though they had no injuries.”
Couple of days before the attack, a colleague of the labourers from a neighbouring village came to visit them. According to Bahar, the labourers were running short of money and told one of their colleagues, who lives in another village, to come there with some cash. He walked to the village, but took an alternative route because of the lockdown restrictions. But the villagers had seen him and raised the objection before the administration.
“We had informed the patwari (an official of the revenue department) that our colleague had joined us. But he did not forward the information to his higher ups. That is not our fault,” said Bahar.
The village head (pradhan) called police to interrogate the labourers. “The police and pradhan questioned us for three hours. They were very angry,” he said.
Two days later, the goons attacked the labourers. One of them was the brother of the pradhan, Bahar said.
Joy Chaudhry, the man who assisted the labourer, said that the grudge of the villagers against the labourers was building up for quite some time. The shed in which the labourers lived is located near a temple. Chaudhary said the villagers did not like it.
Bahar termed the attack a result of the hate against them. He said, “They hate us a lot. They have a problem with my beard. They would also taunt us saying we Muslims spit in food to spread Coronavirus.”
There is a wave of hate crimes against ordinary Muslims in the country related to Islamophobia. The incidents surfaced following a vilification campaign sections of the media ran against the community in the wake of Tablighi Jamaat’s Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi emerging as a Coronavirus cluster. Muslims are being attacked by right wing goons holding them singularly responsible for the spread of virus infection.
Bahar said he is experiencing nightmares after the attack and fears that they (labourers) might be attacked again. The labourers want to go back home as they are unable to work due to lockdown.
Zahid Parwaz Choudhary, a Gujjar community activist in Kashmir condemned the attack on the labourers by goons in Himachal Pradesh. He urged the Indian government to ensure the protection of labourers and students of Jammu and Kashmir stuck in different places across India due to Coronavirus lockdown. He also said that authorities should facilitate the return of those stuck outside Jammu and Kashmir.
Meanwhile, Nasir Khuehami, spokesman of Jammu and Kashmir Students Association said that the attack was a result of vicious hate being spewed in media against the Muslims in India.
SHO Thakur, however, said that the labourers should be reassured of their safety as “we are here to provide help to everyone facing any issue amidst the lockdown”.