How This Man From Muzaffarnagar Village Is Bringing Back Muslims Who Fled After The Riots

34 Muslim families have returned to their homes since the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013.

Dulhera, a sleepy village in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, is an hour’s drive away from the district headquarters. With a population of few thousands, the village is dominated by people from Hindu (Jat) community. When Muzaffarnagar was hit by Hindu-Muslim communal riots in 2013, not a single incident of violence was reported from this village. However, out of fear, around 70 Muslim families left their homes and moved to nearby villages for their own safety. But thanks to the efforts of one man, many are now returning to their homes.

Sanjeev Pradhan, the former village head, is on a mission to bring back those families who left the village since riots took place in 2013. In these five years, 34 Muslim families have returned to their homes. “Actually, riots took place in our neighbouring village. Nothing happened here. But people left our village out of fear and it did create a problem. We only dropped them to Shahpur and Palda village for their safety,” Sanjeev said.

When the 70 Muslim families left their homes, the village faced many problems. There was a shortage of daily wage labourers.The people had to thus rely on neighbouring villages to get their things done.

“Every community has its role in a society. We all realised that this is not how we should be living. When Pradhanji started this initiative, everyone supported him. We unanimously decided to bring them back,” Dinesh Baliyan, a close aide of Pradhan said.

However, it wasn’t easy for him as he initially faced resistance from the villagers. It took a lot for him to convince them. But convincing those Muslim families to come back to their homes was something that was crucial.

“When they were living outside, we made it a point to be in constant touch with them. We used to meet them daily. We took care of their cattle and fetched milk for them. This is how we gradually built trust. In the end, our efforts bore fruit and we brought them back to our village,” Sanjeev said.

Those who have returned say that the situation is now peaceful and everything has normalised.

“At that time (2013 riots), the situation wasn’t peaceful. Everyone wanted to be safe which is why they left. But many villagers remained in touch. Thankfully, the brotherhood remained intact,” Dilshad Saifi, a labourer said.

“We didn’t file any FIR nor any complaint. We left the village so as to avoid any tension. We left our homes as it is and came back when things normalised. We didn’t incur any losses,” he added.

Ikrar, an elderly Muslim from the village, said that people from the other community were enraged at the time of riots. But due to efforts of Sanjeev Pradhan, things cooled down. “His support which gave us courage. We haven’t faced any problem. We don’t fear anything and are living in harmony with everyone,” he said.

However, not everyone agrees with the narrative of rehabilitation of Muslims that Sanjeev is talking about. “During the riots, many people had left the village out of fear. But all of them came back in two days. All those who are claiming to have come back actually returned then only. No one came after that,”  Arvind Kumar, the current pradhan said.

Even though the administration claims that Dulhera was always peaceful, Sanjeev is critical of both the authorities as well as the local political leaders. “No political leader supported us. Neither were we criticised. No leader called us to say anything.” he said.