A week into the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq, residents of Dadri's Bishada nurse a deep resentment over being "unfairly victimised" as visitors make a beeline to the crime spot in the village where shards of glasses, broken sewing machines and a battered refrigerator mutely testifying the fateful night of 28 September.
Manned by a grand statue of Maharana Pratap, the entrance to the Rajput-dominated Bishada village and its fairly well-paved lanes, bylanes, solar-powered streetlights, ATM counters and shops are indicative of its relative affluence in one of India's poorest states. But the air of the same village and its deathly silence betray a deep sense of distrust of the administration, media and outsiders in general with people alleging that their "side of the events are not being highlighted."
"Vilifying the entire village for one incident is wrong. Kuch toh galat hua hoga na jis liye ye hadsa hua (something wrong must have taken place for which the lynching took place)," says villager Yashpal Singh, sitting at local BJP leader Sanjay Rana's home, close to Akhlaq's residence.
Yashpal says, "Mistakes do happen. But the villagers should not be unfairly victimised like this." Rana's son, one of the prime accused in the case, has been arrested by Noida Police. Rana was not available for comment, however, his relatives complain that "the family is being made a scapegoat".
Few blocks away, as hundreds assemble to mourn the passing away of Jayprakash (24) who was found dead under mysterious circumstances, his mother Omvati's wailing reaches a crescendo. "Our boys are terrorised. See what has happened with him due to police harassment. They are not sparing any youth," a group of angry women say in unison.
Even the village head, Sanjeev Rana, is not spared of their wrath. "You (Sanjeev) are colluding with the netas. You are equally threatening us and not considering our side," a woman says, pointing fingers at him. "Akhaq's family got Rs 45 lakh as compensation, what about this family of labourers?" Appearing helpless, Sanjeev turns to the media and says, "I am just merely doing my duty. People of both communities have been living together in harmony for decades. I just hope peace is restored as soon as possible."
Of the media, the rage is mostly directed against "chaatri wales", or the electronic media with rows of umbrella-shaped OB vans in tow, stationed outside the village entrance.
According to District Magistrate N P Singh, who has been camping at the nearby NTPC guest house, the situation is gradually limping back to normal and will further improve. He said complete normalcy will be achieved "once visitors stop coming to Bishada and media vans also leave the area."
But at a different corner of the village, past yet another temporary security checkpost, another story plays out. A Muslim family has been forced to "postpone" a wedding due to the ongoing unrest. Contrary to the claim of a section of the villagers that they are "making sure that the marriage happens", a member of Hakim Khan's family says it has been put on hold for at least another two months.
"The atmosphere is not quite conducive for holding a marriage. Ab hoga toh 2 mahine baad hi hoga," a female member says, while sweeping their courtyard. Meanwhile, at Iqlakh's residence, where he was bludgeoned to death over rumours of eating beef, police personnel can be seen.
"The family is not at home. They have gone to Kailash Hospital to attend to their injured son," an officer says. A family friend, Alimuddin, takes few mediapersons around the spot, marked by signs of extensive damage, with little or no change over the week, apart from a replaced door frame.
Walls and lampposts of the village also speak of the upcoming rural body polls, in what appears to be a polarised electorate, with colourful posters bearing smiling faces staring down from every nook and corner. The otherwise idyllic Bishada has found itself in the spotlight following a ghastly incident. "It is now praying for its 'Peepli Live' moment to pass," quips Sanjay (25), a localite, pedalling slowly into the distance.