Rakesh Kumar, a grocery shop owner in Kutba village on the outskirts of Muzaffarnagar, has seen several riots in the communally sensitive district of Uttar Pradesh.
But this time, Kumar, 54, has seen an unusual trend. Fearing for their lives, people have fled their homes, leaving behind household goods and cattle. They have moved to safer locations in other parts of the state.
Around 9,000-10,000 people of Muzaffarnagar have migrated from the district in the past one week because of communal clashes. Kutba village wears a deserted look with most houses locked.
“We have seen several riots between 1989 and 1995 in the district, in which hundreds of people have lost their lives. But, I have never seen people leaving their homes and going to other places. This time, people are so terrified and scared,” Davender Baliyan, pradhan of Kutba village, said.
The village had about 4,000 people, of which about a 1,000 were Muslims. Of those who have fled their homes, most are Muslims.
“We have had sleepless nights since September 7. Pata nahi kab koi aaye aur humare bachcho ko mar de,” Bhagwati Devi of adjoining village Kutbi said. People, who have stayed back, have been on round-the-clock vigil.
The story is same for other villages in the district — Pukazi, Budhana, Charthawal and Khatauli have seen similar migrations.
A senior district administration official confirmed that thousands of people have shifted to other places outside the district.
“Yes, we are getting reports from several places that people have been migrating. This is happening for the first time. In the past, violence was limited to urban areas during riots,” the official said.
“But this time, violence has spread across villages.” The administration is trying to instil confidence among local people though. “We are regularly in touch with village panchayat leaders asking them to convince people to return to their homes. Some villages have already started holding meetings,” Jairaj Singh, a block development officer said.