IN A one-room house on the premises of Ismail Girls National Inter College in Meerut, Usman Ahmad picks up a smartphone and says, “If I am selling my property, say a mobile phone online, what is the reason behind it? I just want to sell my property and anyone can buy it — woman or man, Hindu or Muslim. My concern is that the property should be sold.”
For 32 years, Usman, his four siblings, parents and uncle have been living in a one-room accommodation provided by the government school where his father works. Early this month, the family bought a section of a two-storey building in the Maliwada area, less than a kilometre away, from Sanjay Rastogi, who runs a telecom business.
“We wanted a house of our own. My father’s on duty at night, so we wanted to buy a house close to the school. Moreover, this house does not have enough space for all of us. Hence, we purchased that property. But some people made it an issue and said that we were doing land jihad,” says Usman, a software engineer.
Around 8 pm on Sunday, six days after the property was registered in the name of Usman’s elder brother Nauman, their family reached the new home, House No. 308, Maliwada.
”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 says.
Soon, what had started with a simple transfer in ownership of property became a ground for pro-Hindutva groups launching a volley of allegations.
Youth leaders, including Deepak Sharma, general secretary of the BJYM, the BJP’s youth wing, claim that while Hindus are “continuously selling properties… Muslims are buying them”.
”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,” says Sharma.
Says Varsha Rastogi, a relative of Sanjay Rastogi, who stays in the area, “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?”
At the Kotwali police station, located between Usman’s government-school accommodation and the disputed property in Maliwada, the only document connected to the turn of events is a “compromise letter”.
The letter states that by February 17, 2018, the amount paid by Usman’s family will be returned and a compromise on the matter will be reached. “Our teams reached the spot but a consensus between the two parties was reached and we did not receive any complaint, so no FIR was registered,” says the SHO of the police station.
Nauman is also a software engineer like Usman, their two sisters are school teachers and the youngest brother is pursuing a Masters’ degree in Commerce. The family says it bought the new property at a cost of Rs 28.3 lakh.
“”We have taken a loan from the bank worth Rs 18,50,000. There were other expenses in acquiring the house — Rs 2.5 lakh for registration, Rs 10,000 for lawyers, Rs 20,000 to get some paperwork done in order to get the bank loan, etc. We have all the papers and the property has been registered in our name. If they purchase it, we will transfer the property. The house has cost us around Rs 33 lakh. We said that we are not asking you for profit, this is the overall expenditure we have incurred. Give that to us and we will return the property to you,” says Usman.
Residents of Maliwada, however, claim that a “conspiracy” was at play. “They want to acquire as much control in this area as they can. Ours is the only Hindu pocket here. On most sides, we are surrounded by Muslim localities. Around 50-100 metres away, they have a huge Jama Masjid. If you travel for 1-1.5 kilometres to the northeast from Maliwada, you have Hashimpura where riots broke out in the 1980s,” says Devendra Johri, a resident.
Usman’s family, on the other hand, does “not want any trouble”.
”People have made it a Hindu-Muslim issue and they are saying that we will not let Muslims purchase property here. We have put a lock there and it is in our possession. Now they have given us a timeframe. We do not want any trouble, especially with neighbours… Some people have a different mentality,” he says.