Girls at heart of Muzaffarnagar violence a scared lot

It was the eve-teasing of Seema and Poonam (names of both are changed) and objections raised by their family that is believed to have led to the spiral of violence which has gripped this district of Uttar Pradesh. The eve-teasing and resultant objections led to a fight in which Seema's 17-year-old brother Gaurav and his friend Sachin Singh were killed along with one Sahnawaz Qureshi, alleged to be one of those harassing the girls, on August 27. Poonam is Gaurav's niece.

Muzaffarnagar violence
Soldiers keep watch during a patrol following communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, on September 9, 2013. Pic/AFP

Kawaal village's population is around 15000 and Hindus and Muslims are in equal numbers. "While going to the bus stand to catch bus for the school, a group of boys used to pass lewed remarks and also block our way sometimes," said Poonam while recalling the sequence of events. It was only two months ago that they started going to school and soon after complained of harassment, said Seema's father Ravinder Kumar. Seema was admitted to 9th while Poonam was in 12th standard. After their complaint, Gaurav started escorting them to the bus stand.

"A day before Gaurav was killed, a tiff occured between him and Sahnawaz Qureshi. Gaurav told me about it and I told him not to take it forward," Ravinder Kumar said. "The next day, at around 1 PM, Gaurav and me were returning from the bus stand to our home in Kawaal village. Sachin Singh (24) met us on the way and walked along. Suddenly, we were attacked by Sahnawaz and his friends. We tried to run away from there but, Gaurav and Sachin were caught by them," he said.

"I somehow managed to escape and shouted for help, but no one came to our rescue," he said. After some time, I saw Gaurav and Sachin dead, with their heads smashed with stones," he added. Sahnawaz also died in the fight. Ravinder Kumar said the girls will go to school only after their is adequate assurance about their safety. Dropping out of school for safety is one of the options.

"We will think if sending them to school again only when we are assured that our girls are safe outside home. Lot of families had already stopped sending their daughters to school because of eve-teasing even before this incident," he said. Sachin's father Bishen Singh (45) said, "I was working in a field when I got to know about the incident and rushed to the site." He blamed the police and the district administration for his son's death.

"The incidents of eve-teasing with school-going girls had been happening here on a daily basis, but the police did not take any action," Bishen Singh said. Sachin's mother Munesh said "the compensation given by the government for the death of my son cannot compensate for our loss. Instead of giving us justice, Gaurav's father, Sachin's father and even Sachin and Gaurav were booked for Shahnawaz's murder," she said.

"It was a one-sided action by the police. Those who have killed my son have not been booked by the police and they are roaming free. We want justice," she said. However, police sources said cases have been registered against seven people on Shahnawaz's side, including against his father.

Sachin was married and has a 2-and-a-half-year-old son. Gaurav's death was double tragedy for his family as his eldest brother had died in a train accident four months ago. Shahnawaz's house was found locked. Local people say there have been problems between the two communities in the village for some time. 

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