Tappal (Uttar Pradesh): Weeks after the brutal murder of a 2.5-year-old girl in Aligarh’s Tappal block, the situation in the town remains tense. The horrific incident has rattled the area, situated 90 km from Delhi on the Yamuna Expressway and with a population of around 20,000.
Days after the attack, firebrand Hindutva leader Sadhvi Prachi was stopped by the police as she tried to reach Tappal in order to meet the victim’s family. Heavy police presence was deployed as tensions ran high in the area.
Since the accused are Muslim, the heinous incident has taken a communal turn. Ever since the murder, people have been taking out candlelight marches demanding justice for the victim.
The tension can be felt as soon as you enter Tappal. A few youth standing in front of a seed-selling shop say, “People are enraged. If the girl is not given justice, something worse will happen. How long can the police restrain such anger?”
The youth show inflammatory posts shared on social media in the wake of the girl’s murder. The Aligarh police have arrested four people in the case, including main accused Zahid and Aslam.
Zahid’s brother and wife have also been arrested. The police is probing the case under various sections of the National Security Act (NSA).
The victim’s family live in an area where Hindus and Muslims have shared walls with each other for decades.
Everyone in the town seems shocked that such an incident could take place in Tappal. There is a unanimous demand for the culprits to be hanged.
The daughter of one of the victim’s neighbours, who was born and brought up here and now lives in Delhi, has come to stay with her parents during the summer vacation. Following the murder of the little girl, she refuses to allow her eight-year-old daughter to leave the house.
“We never thought such an incident could take place in Tappal,” she says. “Hindus and Muslims have always lived in perfect harmony here. The communal breach that has occurred since the incident is not right. The monsters should be punished.”
The incident has deeply affected her daughter and she is afraid of going out of the house, she says. There is an atmosphere of fear in the neighbourhood.
Another neighbour of the victim claims that he has not been able to sleep since the incident. “I have not been able to eat properly. I am baffled how such an incident could happen here. How could someone kill a small girl so barbarically? We are scared for our children’s sake. We are scared to let them out on the streets where they used to play. There is a lot of anger inside.”
“We always lived with the Muslims in harmony,” he adds. “But after the incident, an estrangement has occurred. How can they do something like that to a child?”
Meanwhile, the victim’s family’s grief is mounting with each passing day. The girl had just started going to school. “I used to drop her at school,” recalls the victim’s mother. “She used to run to the school. She learnt quickly and spoke very clearly. I thought she’d achieve something great some day.”
“She had learnt to hold the pen and used to trace letters,” she adds. “It felt so good watching her learn. She spoke so sweetly. She had learnt everyone’s name and used to call her grandfather Baba. She was very active and curious.”
Young girls, women and the youth took out several processions demanding the death sentence for the culprits. The women are full of anger.
“I have grown old here and never imagined such a thing,” says one of the women. “This is the first time such an incident has happened. We fear for our daughters after what they did to the little girl.”
When asked about the incident being given a communal colour, the women say that this is not about religion. “Punishment should be meted out to the monsters, and not any innocent. The culprits should be hanged and no innocent person should be harassed.”
“Neither all Hindus nor all Muslims are wrong,” says one of them. “The anger is against the culprits. If they are not hanged, the anger will grow.”
People fear that if justice is not done in the case, communal harmony will suffer. One of the women who participated in the march says, “If the police fails to deliver justice, a major rift between the Hindu and Muslim communities will arise here, which might worsen the situation.”
The protesting women also expressed disappointment that local Muslims are not standing by their side in this fight. No one from the Muslim community participated in the march.
The families of the accused have migrated from the village. The houses of a few other Muslim families were also found locked. But most Muslim families are still living in the village.
Sixty-five-year-old Aafaq lives in front of Aslam’s house. He says, “When we haven’t been afraid to live here all our lives, why would we fear now? If something happens, our neighbours will protect us. Aslam is a criminal and must be punished. He has been involved in criminal activities earlier as well.”
On his way to offer prayers, 54-year-old Zaheer Mohammed says, “Those who committed such a brutal act against a child must be punished. She was merely 2.5 years old. What was her fault? Whoever is involved in this heinous crime should be hanged, even if it means carrying out a CBI investigation.”
“The entire village is mourning the girl,” he adds. “The culprits should have been given the punishment but an entire community is in disgrace. We are feeling ashamed because the accused is a Muslim.”
Zaheer also fears that in case the girl is not given justice, communal tensions may erupt in the area. “We have lived in this village our entire life, but never felt alienated. But after the girl’s murder, things are changing. A rift has occurred.”
“We want to live in this village peacefully as our forefathers did,” he adds. “But if the child is denied justice, the tension will grow. We are praying to god that the criminals are punished and peace prevails.”
Is he fearful, given the current situation in the area? “Even if I am, where can we go with our families? Aren’t our daughters also the daughters of this village?”
When asked about the few Muslim families who have left the village, he says, “A few cowardly people have left to save their honour, we have heard. But we are not going anywhere. We will live and die here.”
Another 45-year-old local resident, Yameen, says, “No Hindu has threatened us so far. We all want justice for our daughter and are ready to sacrifice anything for it.”
Hindutva activist Pankaj Pandit says, “There is no communal tension right now after the gruesome incident that rattled the entire nation. There have never been tensions between Hindus and Muslims here, nor do we want tension. All we want is justice for our daughter.”
“Some leaders from outside are trying to vitiate the atmosphere,” he adds. “But all of us, Hindus and Muslims alike, are trying our best to maintain harmony.”
Section 144 has been enforced in Tappal. Superintendent (Rural) Mani Lal Patidar says, “The situation is completely normal and under control.”
Poonam Kaushal is an independent journalist.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.