A large number of members of the minority community are uneasy about returning to their homes in Asthan village in Pratapgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, from where they had to flee 10 days ago following violent communal clashes over the rape of a Dalit girl. Violence had rocked the village, located nearly 150 km from Lucknow, after the 13-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly gangraped and murdered by four Muslim boys from the same village.
In the communal flare-up following the incident, houses and shops belonging to the Muslim community were burnt down by an angry mob after local authorities failed to initiate any action against the accused.
No effort was made by district authorities to get a post-mortem done on the victim.
The disturbance started when the victim's family and other villagers decided to take the funeral procession through the Muslim locality.
Most families, terrorised by the violence, have chosen to leave the village in search of a safer haven. The administration has deployed armed personnel in the village but this has failed to restore their confidence.
"We would have returned by now, but it appears that visits by leaders of different political parties have been responsible for raising the tension once again. We are scared to go back to Asthan," a villager told Azam Ansari, a resident of Pariyavan village, four km away from Asthan.
Ansari told this scribe over the telephone, "I myself tried persuading some of the Asthan people to return to home, but they are still terrified after what they have gone through".
The issue has also come up in the state assembly, where Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development Minister Azam Khan has drawn much flak over it. He chose to use offence as the best form of defence by reminding Opposition Bahujan Samaj Party of the incidents of rape and communal clashes that took place during Mayawati's regime.
He claimed, "Action had already been ordered by the state government and nearly a dozen people have already been taken into custody."
He added, "It was to send a positive message that we ordered the suspension of both the district magistrate and superintendent of police; the new team is taking effective steps to rebuild the confidence of the people."
Congress leader Pramod Tiwari demanded a judicial probe into the incident. He also demanded higher compensation for the victims, who were given an ex-gratia payment of Rs 50,000 as their homes were razed during the violence.
No mention was made about whether any compensation had been offered to the family of the rape victim.