Muzaffarnagar: The silence of death hangs over this place. Five bodies are in the district hospital and have to be handed over to the victims' kin but the administration is loath to do so. They fear a fresh wave of reprisals once the religion of those killed is made public.
Understandably, officers don't want to give communities another reason to attack each other. Also incomprehensible is how children who lived in the same localities, cheek by jowl, could grow up and, seemingly overnight, become such implacable enemies that they would think nothing of stabbing and killing those very people they played with as youngsters.
And, yet, there doesn't seem to be rage in either community, no anger - just deep sadness. "This should not have happened," said a village elder, shaking his head.
Six deaths were reported from the district and adjoining areas on Monday, taking the unofficial figure to 34. One body each was recovered from Mukundpur village, Jhola village and Mirapur police station areas; two bodies remained unidentified.
Several politicians, including Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh and Opposition leader Ravi Shankar Prasad, tried to get here on Monday but were stopped by police, who said their presence could stir more violence.
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said 451 cases of communal violence were registered in the first eight months of this year in India, up from 410 in the whole of 2012. He said tensions were expected to escalate in the build-up to the elections.
As the violence had spread, people from both communities were removed from sensitive locations and shifted to safer locations. From the villages of Kutwa and Phugana, around 200 people were removed. Most were asked to take shelter in homes of relatives in areas not affected. At Kawal, where the violence began, locals said around a third of the inhabitants had left.
According to the 2011 census, the district has a population of a little over 4.1 million. The city has an almost even population of Hindus and Muslims.
Though the government says the deaths number 31, police say the number is expected to substantially increase.
The present run of violence began a fortnight earlier at Kawal, a village 12 km from here. Kawal has an even population of Jats and Muslims. Locals said, a youth from one of the communities was on August 27 murdered by two boys of the other for harassing their sister. Subsequently, a mob of the first community killed both the boys from the second.
The following day, people from the second community attacked homes of the first.
Panchayats were called by both communities on August 30 and 31. On August 31, a crowd of around 40,000 assembled for the panchayat of the second community attacked a passing family of the first. This was followed by another attack on each other's places of worship. On September 2, some political leaders in the district called for a shutdown of the city. And, violence was further stoked by circulation of a video-clip that showed two youths being lynched (the clip, say officials, wasn't taken here at all). Since then, the violence has spread.
The state government on Monday transferred out the region's police heads. Removed were the DIG (Saharanpur range), the SSP, Muzzafarnagar, and the SP, Shamli. Talking to reporters here, Arun Kumar, additional director-general (law and order) said arms licences were being cancelled in Phugana, Shahpur and Dhaurakalan. A commission of inquiry has also been appointed by the government. To be headed by retired high court judge Vishnu Sahai, it has been asked to give a report in two months.
Muzaffarnagar riots: 130 arrested, death toll 31