In Indian village, Muslims talk of leaving as divide with Hindus widens

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Muslims in Nayabans, an unremarkable village in northern India, say they remember a time when their children played with Hindu youths, and people from either faith chatted when the frequented each other’s shops and went to festivals together.

Such interactions no longer happen, many say, because of how polarised the two communities have become in the past two years, and some are frightened and thinking of moving away — if they can afford it.

Muslim residents who spoke to Reuters said they thought tensions would only worsen if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins a second term in the current general election, as exit polls released on Sunday indicate is likely. Votes will be counted on Thursday.

“Things were very good earlier. Muslims and Hindus were together in good and bad times, weddings to deaths. Now we live our separate ways despite living in the same village,” said Gulfam Ali, who runs a small shop selling bread and tobacco.

Modi came to power in 2014 and the BJP took control of Uttar Pradesh state, which includes Nayabans, in 2017, partly on the back of a Hindu-first message. The state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, is a hardline Hindu priest and senior BJP figure.

“Modi and Yogi have messed it up,” said Ali. “Dividing Hindus and Muslims is their main agenda, only agenda. It was never like this earlier. We want to leave this place but can’t really do that.”

He says about a dozen Muslim families have left in the past two years, including his uncle. The BJP denies its policies have stoked community divisions.

 

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