In 2013, communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, which targeted Hindu Jats and Muslims, claimed over 50 lives, injured 93 and displaced over 50,000 people.
However, when the rioters came to attack a 120-year-old mosque in the Nanheda village of Muzaffarnagar, an unlikely man stood in defence of the place of worship—Ramveer Kashyap, a 54-year-old Hindu man.
Ramveer’s home is about a 100 metres from the mosque, and he has grown up playing around it. The Nanheda village used to be home to many Muslims during the British Raj. “However, they moved out gradually after Independence. Now, an occasional visitor or traveller offers Namaz here once in a while,” Ramveer told the Times of India.
Having grown up near the mosque, Ramveer never thought of it as anything other than a sacred place, which must be respected.
Speaking to the publication, he said, “For me, it is a place of worship, which deserves respect. In the absence of anyone taking care of it, I took up the responsibility and for the past 25 years, I broom the premises daily and ensure basic maintenance.”
Every year, before Ramzan, he also takes the responsibility to whitewash the mosque and complete minor repairs.
So naturally, when the rioters came to demolish the mosque, Ramveer took the help of the villagers and the crowd defended it with all their might. Speaking to TOI, Dara Singh, the head of the village, said,
“It has been nearly 50 years since the last Muslim family moved out of the village. But the mosque remains and is maintained the way it should be. And the credit for this goes to Ramveer…”
Khusnaseeb Ahmad, who lives in the neighbouring village of Khedi Firozabad has visited Nanheda and its old mosque once. Speaking to TOI, he said, “I had visited the village a few years ago and was surprised to see a Hindu man looking after the mosque. I even offered Namaz there. There are enough examples of love and harmony to counter hate.”
Ahmad’s statement is true. Ordinary people in India have shown that love does blossom amidst the hate that is generated by communal forces, especially when tragedy strikes.
In Kerala, for example, when the floods washed away a mosque, a Hindu temple offered its premises for Eid Namaz. In 2016, the imams of a mosque in Bihar provided water to devotees who were part of a procession that was celebrating Ram Navami.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)