Usman Ahmad, his parents, four siblings and uncle, have been living in a one-room house on the premises of Ismail Girls National Inter College in Meerut for 32 years. The accommodation provided by the government school where Usman’s father works is certainly not enough for the family of eight. Earlier this month, they bought a part of a two-story building in the Maliwada area, less than a kilometer away from their one-room establishment.
The property was bought from Sanjay Rastogi, a telecom businessman, for Rs 28.30 lakhs.
Nearly a week after the property was registered in the name of Ahmad’s elder brother Nauman and the family reached their new home, pro-Hindutva groups began launching a barrage of accusations at them.
”When we reached the house, some people came and said that the house cannot be sold because Rastogi owed them money. While he was explaining that he was in the process of paying debts and that the property had nothing to do with that, some others reached the house and started sloganeering. They said that a Muslim family cannot be given the property,” Usman said, reported The Indian Express.
Truth is, Hindutva bullies took this as an opportunity to add fuel to the existing fire of animosity toward Muslims in India.
”Their culture, thoughts and way of life are different from ours. It starts with one house and slowly, the whole area will become Muslim-dominated. We cannot allow this to happen,” said Deepak Sharma, the general secretary of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the BJP’s youth wing.
A relative of the property’s former owner, Varsha Rastogi, is either a victim of Sharma’s mythological communal fears or worst, an accessory. “This is an ancestral property which belongs to his family and has been partitioned. Our portion of the house shares a terrace, two passages including one entry to their house. How will we live here if they move in?” she said.
“In the past few months, Muslims have managed to buy three houses in the neighbouring lanes and we Hindus could not do anything about it,” said another neighbour Sushil Goswami, a saffron clad, self-described social worker, according to Scroll.
The media house further reported that after Goswami left, others eye to commotion whispered that he had actually helped Rastogi strike a deal with Ahmad. Upon his return, he denied all allegations and in his pride, went again looking for other journalists he could give interviews to.
Other neighbours too echo the qualms of BJYM. Lalit Rastogi, who lives in the house adjoining the property, said, “He (Sanjay Rastogi) was in debt and he tried to cheat his neighbours by not disclosing that he had made a deal with a Muslim man. Muslims easily entrapped him for land jihad.”
The term ‘land jihad’ is a conspiracy theory akin to ‘love jihad’ which has been floated in Meerut recently by right-wing groups as part of their campaign against alleged appropriation of land by Muslims to “takeover” Hindu-dominated areas.
Balraj Dungar, convenor for Meerut province of Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad – a member of the RSS family – of which the ruling party is a part, said, as reported by The Times of India, “There is a sinister strategy by members of the minority community to buy a house in a Hindu-dominated locality. Over time, due to their activities, their Hindu neighbours are compelled to sell their houses to other minority families and move away. In this way, the entire neighbourhood becomes dominated by that community and there is exodus of Hindus. All this comes under land jihad. We will now campaign more aggressively against this.”
Western Uttar Pradesh convenor for Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) Sudarshan Chakra also told the daily, “We want to draw attention of governments all over the country to those areas within the premises of government institutions and on government land, where a grave is converted into a mazaar (shrine) and within no time, a small mosque is built. And then anti-national activities are planned and promoted there.”
As reported by Scroll, Dungar added that they have started a “nationwide campaign against love jihad” to make Hindus aware of what Muslims are “up to”.
Elaborating the term’s meaning, he said, “Land jihad can be seen in two ways. First, Muslims encroaching on government lands and then building mosques there. Second, Muslims buying homes in Hindu-dominated localities and then turning them into Muslim-dominated localities in a few years. That has to be stopped. The protesters in Meerut were Hindus who were aware of the phenomenon.”
He called the term new but the phenomenon old.
On Sunday, December 17, locals and members of BJYM protested in Chahashor mohalla and stopped Ahmad from residing in a property he had legally bought and was his right.
After the police intervened, they claimed to have “settled” the situation by asking Rastogi to give back the entire amount of ale to Ahmad.
Hindu locals also raised concerns over the price at which the property was sold to Ahmad. “If it was not a conspiracy by Muslims, tell us how could Rastogi get more than Rs 28 lakh for a property whose value – going by the current market rate of Rs 10,000 per square yard for this area – would definitely not exceed Rs 12 lakh?” questioned a resident of the mohalla.
Explaining the conspiracy, another resident said, “Under land jihad, one Muslim family first buys a home in a Hindu-dominated area, paying an exorbitant amount to make sure that they get the property. Their presence leads to communal tension following which property rates drop in the area. That is when they get other Muslims to buy property there.”
However, Gaffar Saifi, a municipal councilor from Manjoor Nagar area of Meerut, refuted the story and said, “All property owners in Hindu-dominated areas charge exorbitant rates from Muslims because they know about their [housing] crisis. The rates only go up when more and more Muslims start buying houses in the locality because the sellers overcharge them, saying that they are taking a risk by going against the wishes of their neighbours and local hooligans who object to the sale of property to Muslims.”
The landscape of Meerut changed after communal riots, especially after the 1987 massacre, inspired by the Babri Masjid demolition. Since then, Hindus and Muslims have been residing in ghettos-like set ups where both live among people of their community only. Communal tension is the main reason behind the BJP’s rise to power in the area and subsequently in the state. It’s repercussions are visible across the nation, with the party that piggybacked on Hindutva theories now in control of 19 of India’s 29 states.
We need to diss such claims that are nothing more than playing into people’s fears, fears that were created by false propaganda. India is a secular nation and its minority population forms an important part of its foundation. Atrocities and discrimination against our own on the basis of the faith they follow is against what our country stands for.