The barbers in Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh are now facing the wrath of the Muslim customers for attending to Dalits of the Valmiki community. In a latest development, the Muslim customers living in Moradabad’s Peepalsana village, which is essentially a Muslim dominated locality, have now deserted the barbers resulting in a severe loss of business to them, reports Swarajya.
The barbers in Moradabad’s Peepalsana village were compelled to attend to Dalits after the state authority sprung to action following complaints from Dalits of the Valmiki community, on July 13, against caste-based discrimination by Muslim barbers in the area. Allegedly, Muslim barbers had refused to offer haircuts to Dalits living in their village.
After this news of caste-based discrimination by Muslim barbers in Moradabad’ Peepalsana village was picked up by various media houses, the state police had intervened by first trying to resolve the issue unofficially. They tried getting the two parties to talk to each other. But when it did not work, the police filed an FIR against three persons — Riyaz Alam, Ishaq and Jahid — under section 504 of Indian Penal code (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace).
The trio were also booked under section 3(1)(za)(D) and 3(1)(zc) of the SC/ST act. The former is related to entering any public place/using any utensils or articles meant for public use in any place open to the public and the latter deals with cases relating to social or economic boycott.
“In the beginning, the police called all of us to the station. They issued a warning that if we don’t give haircuts to Valmikis, the case will be filed against us. At the time, everyone agreed to not refuse service to them and we all came back but then most barbers decided to shut their shops for a few days. The idea behind it was to let the situation cool down so that things could return to old normal. But an FIR was filed against us. Police forced us to open shops and serve Valmikis.” one of the accused in the case, Ishaq, told Swarajya.
Following the complaint, all the 20 barbers in the area, including the trio had fallen in line. They were compelled to open their shops on Sunday and attend to the Dalit customers as well. However, following this, the Muslim customers, who were angered by this move, have decided to boycott the barbers in the area.
Swarajya quoted Ishaq as saying, “Sir, earlier I used to make Rs 800-900 a day, now getting even Rs 100 is an uphill task. Customers pass by my shop, they peep inside and just move on.” Adding that any Muslim customer who sees a Valmiki getting a haircut at a shop is unlikely to visit it.
“We will have no choice but to shut shops. Three barbers have already lost all their customers. You tell me, will you be okay if we use the same towel for you that we use to clean their (Valmikis) face? It’s not a Hindu-Muslim issue. Even some upper-caste Hindus in the village say they won’t come to us if we give haircuts to Valmikis,” 22-year old Naved Abbasia, another barber in the area told Swarajya.
In fact, the caste-based discrimination in this area is so staunch that not only Muslims but people belonging to the upper-class Hindus also had disappointing responses to this issue.
When Swarajya approached a Hindu named Amaresh Gupta, who runs a tea stall with his son Sumit, and asked them whether they would have any problem going to the same barbershop visited by Valmikis, they too, came up with a disconcerting response.
They said they would happily go to a Muslim barber for a haircut but won’t tolerate their own co-religionist (who they deem low-born) getting one at the same shop.
Meanwhile, a Muslim father-son duo, who did not want to be named shared their ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy with the Swarajya correspondent. “Nahi pata ho to chale jaayenge, pata chal jaaye to parhez karenge. If we don’t know that they (Valmikis) are getting their hair cut at a barbershop, we have no problem visiting it. But will try to avoid going to a shop if we know they are also visiting it, admitted the duo. They added that “Most of the time, we are in Himachal due to work. There, we don’t know who belongs to which caste. We get our haircuts anywhere without looking at these things. But here in the village, it’s hard to ignore,” they claimed.
They also said that the ‘Namazis’ are extra apprehensive and prefer to shave and cut their hair at home, “Jo Namazi hai woh to aur bhi parhez karega aisi dukaan pe jaane mein.”
Other three Muslim youths, who also didn’t want to reveal their names, and who are neighbours of Valmikis, say that they won’t go to the shops Valmikis are getting their haircuts at. “It’s not acceptable to us. How can you let the barber use the same instruments on their body and then yours?” they wondered.
Taking this shallow mindset to another level, a woman shopkeeper Fazilat while talking to Swarajya, claimed that they were ‘paak’ (pure) people and could not think of mingling with people of a different caste. We even wash our hands and legs before going to the mosque,” Fazilat asserted. However, on being asked if she has read the Quran, she replied in the negative, claimed the Swarajya correspondent.
Meanwhile, Abdul Nayab, another shopkeeper said that he personally had no issues going to barber shops where Valmikis also visit but many of his neighbours don’t like it, he said. Moreover, Abdul went on to use a vexing Hindi metaphor which only depicts the deep-rooted castist mentality of the people living in that area. He said “Par jab chai mein makhi dikh jaati hai, to log nikaal ke he piyenge,” implying that as long as the barbers don’t get to know the caste of their customers they are fine with attending the Valmiki’s, but once they get to know they would obviously have a problem in serving them.
Because of this deep-rooted conviction, the barbers there feel that they will have to shut shops sooner than later. “What’s the option? If there are no customers, we will have to pack up in a matter of days,” says Naved Abbassi.
Ishaq, against whom the police filed a complaint said that he never refused service to Valmiki customers. Meanwhile, Riyaz Alam, another barber named in the FIR and whose shop is a stone’s throw away from Ishaq’s, also assured the same. “I don’t know where this case has come up from. Just a month back, we were playing cricket with them. Question of refusing them haircuts doesn’t arise,” he told the correspondent while showing a photo of him cutting the hair of a few Valmikis.
He had sent the photos to the police and district officials as proof that he was complying with their directions.
While Ishaq, Riyaz and other barbers said that Valmikis never went to them as customers earlier and that they used to go to nearby town Bhojpur for haircuts, the Dalits opinioned that they did not have a choice as the Muslim barbers in Peepalsana wouldn’t entertain them.
“On 6 July, our children went to shops of Riyaz, Ishaq and Jahid for a haircut but they turned them away because of their caste. One child was our relative’s who were visiting us from another town,” Anil Kumar said, directly refuting Riyaz’s claim. “He used to play cricket with me. He was my good friend. Then, shouldn’t he have cut my hair? He refused to do so outright,” Kumar added.
“Our relatives mock us saying we have to go out of the village for even a haircut. People from our caste living in other areas hesitate to marry their daughter in Peepalsana. Such is our condition,” Sonu Kumar lamented. “Earlier generation wasn’t so educated and aware but today’s youth don’t tolerate this discrimination. It’s a free country. How long can one endure such mistreatment,” he asked.
“These people don’t have any problem in getting their haircuts from the same barbers who cut even the hair of sheep. Are we even lower than animals, then? Hindustan is our country. We will fight for our rights even if we have to give up our lives in exchange,” claimed another resident, Mukesh Kumar.
Moreover, though a police officer at Bhojpur thana, Naveen Kumar confirmed that the matter is now settled the elders in the area believe that things will be the same as before in a matter of few days. “Abhi thoda garam chal raha hai. Kuch din mein purane jaisa mahaul ho jaayega (tensions are on the higher side at present but it will soon be like it used to). They also don’t have the time to persist with this,” one the elder said. “They work out of the village that’s why they used to get haircuts done there. Wonder where this new thing came from,” he added.
However, the Dalits in the area are in no mood to let go so easily, “No barber is refusing us now. “Agar koi mana karega to phir pitaji ke paas pahunch jaayenge”, (implying that if someone refuses, we will go back to our ‘father’- referring to the state administration), Mukesh Kumar was quoted by Swarajya as saying.
One Muslim resident was also quoted saying that a similar situation had arisen a few years back but was managed by local politicians. “They had persuaded Valmikis not to persist with it and the latter agreed. Par ab ye kehte hain ki sarkar inki hai (Now they say it’s their government),” he said, almost complaining.