The economy of fear: Express returns to Muzaffarnagar

Aug 24 2014, 15:45 IST
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Industrial growth will be negative after many years, says an owner of paper mills. (Source: Express Photo by Ravi Kanojia) Industrial growth will be negative after many years, says an owner of paper mills. (Source: Express Photo by Ravi Kanojia)
SummaryAround this time last year, the riots happened in Muzaffarnagar and everything has changed.

Until a year ago, Muzaffarnagar was a bustling industrial hub, its growth built on the foundation of an unspoken social trust. But around this time last year, the riots happened and everything has changed, by Dipankar Ghose, Photographs by Ravi Kanojia.

It was once a home. The ceiling no longer exists. There is no door to the room. Like many other structures in Lisadh village, only the four walls stand. One cream coloured wall has four white circular stains in perfect symmetry on a cement shelf. A family lived here, and this was where they kept their utensils. On two others, in small corners, are scribbled drawings of a flower, the sun, a river. The lines are uneven, the drawing untidy. Children once lived here. The fourth wall in the room, blackened with soot, has one sentence on it, its grammar suspect, but its writing underlining the desolation around. In white chalk is a date, September 8, 2013. And next to it are the words, “The date of this destroy home.”

For decades, Muzaffarnagar had forged many identities. The city, inter-religious and bustling, was home to a thriving local economy. The outskirts had become an industrial hub, dealing in paper, iron, steel, chemicals and sugar. Its villages were abundant in sugarcane, people dependent on each other, their lives intricately linked, irrespective of religion. Then came the communal riots of last September that swept through the area, dividing families that had known each other for generations. More than 60 were killed, and more than 50,000 left homeless. One year later, the scars run deep, and the ties that kept the social and economic fabric together are still undone. The words on that wall could have been written across the Muzaffarnagar sky.

At one in the afternoon on Janmashtami, there is a stark difference between two floors of the popular Nandi Sweets shop in the city’s main market — the ground floor bustling and the restaurant above desolate. “The ground floor is where people stand, order sweets and take them away, and that is busy as always. Where we are sitting now is the restaurant, but there is not a single customer. On a day like today a year ago, not one table would have been available. Muzaffarnagar has changed as a city.

Every incident now, even a small accident, can turn into a communal spat. People don’t venture out of their homes unless there is

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