In an Indian village, Muslims talk of leaving as divide with Hindus widens
Muslims in Nayabans, an unremarkable village in northern India, say they remember a time when their children played with Hindu youths, and people from either faith chatted when they frequented each other's shops and went to festivals together.
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Such interactions no longer happen, many say, because of how polarized the two communities have become in the past two years, and some are frightened and thinking of moving away - if they can afford it.
"Things were very good earlier. Muslims and Hindus were together in good and bad times, weddings to deaths. Now we live our separate ways despite living in the same village," said Gulfam Ali, who runs a small shop selling bread and tobacco.
"Modi and Yogi have messed it up," said Ali. "Dividing Hindus and Muslims is their main agenda, only agenda. It was never like this earlier. We want to leave this place but can't really do that."
He says about a dozen Muslim families have left in the past two years, including his uncle.
The BJP denies its policies have stoked community divisions.
"There have been no riots in the country under this government. It's wrong to label criminal incidents, which we denounce, as Hindu-Muslim issues," BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal said.
"The opposition has been playing communal politics but we believe in neutrality of governance. Neither appeasement of any, nor denouncement of any. Some people may be finding that they are not being appeased anymore."
Nayabans, just about three hour's drive from Delhi, has about 400 Muslims out of a population of 4,000, the rest are Hindu. Relations between the communities began deteriorating around the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2017 when Hindus in the village demanded that loudspeakers used to call for prayer at a makeshift mosque be removed.
The Muslims reluctantly agreed to stop using the mike and speaker – even though they say it had been operating for many years - to keep the peace, but the move created deep resentment. "EMPTY OUT"
Sharfuddin Saifi, 38, who runs a cloth shop at a nearby market, was named in a complaint filed with the police by local Hindus over the cow incident last year.
After 16 days in jail, he was released as the police found he had nothing to do with the suspected slaughter, but said he found much had changed.
Hindus now shun his business. The money he spent on lawyers meant he had to stop going to Delhi to buy stock for the shop, which is largely empty. And he withdrew his 13-year-old son from a private school because he could no longer afford it.
"For someone who had never seen the inside of a police station or even dreamt of committing a crime, it's a big thing," he said of the trauma of his detention.
He often thinks about leaving the village, he says, but tells himself: "I have not done anything wrong, why should I leave?"
Carpenter Jabbar Ali, 55, moved to a Muslim-dominated area in Masuri, closer to Delhi, buying a house with money he saved from working in Saudi Arabia.
"If Hindus could kill a Hindu police inspector, in front of a police outpost, with armed guards alongside him, then who are we Muslims?" Ali said, recalling the December incident.
He still keeps his house in Nayabans and visits occasionally but said he feels much safer in his new home, where all his immediate neighbours are Muslims.
"I'm fearful here," he said. "Muslims may have to empty out this place if Modi gets another term, and Yogi continues here."
Junaid, a round-faced 22-year-old with a goatee, comes from one of the most affluent Muslim families in the village. His father runs a gold shop in a town nearby.
Seated outside his home, he recalled playing sport together with Hindus.
"When we were young all the Hindus and Muslims used to play together, especially cricket – I played it a lot," he said. "Now we haven't played in at least a year."
He said he wanted to move to New Delhi soon to study at a university there. "Things are not good here," he said.