Khargone (Madhya Pradesh): In the Muslim-majority settlement of Khasakhwadi in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, the religious divide that's prevalent in the country has taken a new, quite literal turn. Here, a reinforced concrete wall, about 30ft wide and 15ft high, is being constructed to divide Khasakhwadi from the 'zamindar' locality, just one of the many being put up in the area.
Bifurcating the areas based on religion was seemingly the solution that the district administration came up with to maintain peace, following the communal riots that broke out during Ram Navami celebrations in Khargone in early April. Residents of gathered near the barricades under the scorching sun to question the propriety of this administrative decision, only to be turned away with no concrete answers. They remain concerned about the optics and also the practical difficulties the walls throw up.
Durreya Abdul Hussain, who's been a resident of the area for eight months, voiced his worries over this communal demarcation created soon after the curfew was lifted.
"How is this a suitable way to stop the enmity between two communities? This will only fuel hatred among people. The administration should have thought of the consequences before building the wall in Khasakhwadi. Who will solve the problems people are facing now?"
Here, Hussain alludes to the lack of access to civic and emergency services that have been hindered since this construction. The direct road to their homes is now blocked, and residents are forced to take a much longer, alternative route.
Talking to 101Reporters, Mohammad Sayeed Khan held the administration liable for the situation in Khasakhwadi.
"People on both sides will have to face problems because of this wall. It will be difficult to get people to a hospital in case of any serious illness, as this was the most accessible route to commute."
The residents had approached the collector to voice their concerns and attempt to put a stop to the construction, but their pleas went unheard.
Ignoring the resistance, the administration erected the wall anyway.
Akbar Bagwan, who invested in a house in Khasakhwadi eight months ago, found himself in a dilemma after the concrete construction between the two neighbourhoods. He was living in his new, fully-furnished home, but after the violence in Khargone violence, he moved to a rented place elsewhere, fearing for his life.
However, in stark contrast, the 'zamindari' settlement appeared to have no strong opposition to the move. When 101Reporters reached this Hindu locality, it was the women who spoke up. Gyarsi Bai and Nirmala Pawar narrated their observations during the communal violence that took place in April.
"People from the other side came here and threw stones at our houses," they said, claiming that "the rioters had entered the area through the same path," that was now blocked, even though they didn't recognise anyone in particular.
"We do not have any problem with this wall. It will get rid of anti-social elements coming from that side," they remarked, further blaming the Muslim community for the stench from the drains that flowed through the area, claiming it was caused by the disposal of the waste from the meat they ate.
This Hindu community is the only settlement backing the administration's drastic steps.
The second wall: Miyanman-Vitthal Temple
This second wall was nearly built between the Vitthal temple and the Miyanman locality. However, in this neighbourhood, both sides firmly opposed the construction of this communally divisive wall. Local residents opposed it rigorously, and the construction was halted midway. Instead, permanent barricades were placed, which affected some 20,000 people from the surrounding areas of Vitthal temple, Bhatwadi, Kalali, Miyaman and Tekdi.
Rakesh Gurjar, a resident of Miyanman, said the barricading was not justified as it had made commuting cumbersome for them. Earlier, he could follow a straight road to his house from the temple, but he was forced to take a detour now.
Rupali Joshi, another resident here, holds the administration responsible: "They should create a sense of security among the people and not divide them and deepen their fear."
Elderly Sharda Bai, who had moved to the area 50 years ago after marriage, now lives opposite the yellow barricades put up. She claims that till date, she had not faced any problems from the residents of the Miyaman locality.
Recalling the harrowing night of April 10, Aashiq Ali Syed narrated: "During the riots, it was not known from where people had come. Two-wheelers parked in front of Vitthal Temple were vandalised and set on fire. By the time we could understand what was happening or recognise the miscreants, they had run away, destroying the brotherhood we maintained for decades in one night."
Similarly, Atul Bhatt, the priest at the temple, echoed these views, emphasising that the fear instilled among people cannot be overcome by erecting walls.
Following massive resistance, the construction of the wall was halted, after which the area was barricaded. This, too, was opposed and had to be removed eventually.
"But one day, the barricades were once again put up silently," said Maj Uddin Shaikh.
Now, neither are LPG cylinders reaching his home, nor are the autorickshaws meant to take his children to school able to commute to the area.
The third wall: Bhatwadi
In Bhatwadi, too, the administration attempted to put up such a communally divisive wall, but backed down following strong local opposition. But once again, they put up barricades without any thought towards the civic issues they would cause: for a fortnight, the drains of Bhatwadi remained uncleaned, overflowing with sludge as the municipality trucks were unable to shuttle through to collect the piled-up garbage.
Being as good as caged in, the people here were left feeling like prisoners. Besides garbage trucks, school shuttles and other necessities also depend on this route to deliver services. Salma Khan, a senior citizen, shared her fears: "In case of an emergency, even an ambulance will not be able to make it here."
Such unhygienic conditions have led to an outbreak of diseases here according to the locals who complain of increased cases of viral fever in the area. When 101Reporters had reached out to her, Khan had been ill for a week and anticipated the need to be rushed to a hospital.
So far, around 20,000 people from Bohra Bakhal, including both Hindus and Muslims, were affected by the concrete blockage. Another 20,000 were affected by the barricades put up in Kalali, Miyanman and Tekdi, while 15,000 residents of Talab Chowk were bothered by the wall erected between Motipura and Sanjay Nagar.
Deflecting any responsibility for the events taking place, Additional Collector J.S. Baghel told 101Reporters that he had taken charge in Khargone only a week ago and did not know "where and why" these walls were being built. Though he claims to not have any concrete details on the matter, he established that the move was ill-advised.
Attempts to reach out to Collector Kumar Purshottam were not fruitful because he was in the midst of a personal emergency at the time of publishing this report.