No crackers this Diwali, 8-year-old Sagar misses his friend Mushtaq

Muzaffarnagar Diwali‘I saw Mushtaq’s house on fire, he said he had to leave.’

The stories the children of Muzaffarnagar are being told this Diwali have a twist. Ram and Ravan, good and evil, are there — just that the elders of the family are telling them that evil is closer than they think.

And the police have made an appearance in the Diwali narrative Eight-year-old Sagar was told that he could have no crackers this year and, if he disobeyed, he might be hauled off to jail.

Even without the stories, Sagar realises this Diwali is different. About two months ago, he saw his village, Lakh, burning — like he had heard Hanuman burnt Lanka. The erstwhile Muslim locality in Lakh is now deserted and burnt out, and all its residents have fled.

Sagar knows something changed in September. Because of which the Diwali lights are dimmer this year. The celebrations are muted. His elders are silent. And his friend, Mushtaq, missing.

"I saw Mushtaq's house on fire. He ran up to me and said that I was allowed to stay on in the village, but he had to leave," Sagar said, recalling his last conversation with his best friend. Three people died in Lakh, all of one family, Sagar said — a man called Wahid, and his son and daughter-in-law.

The boy remembers last Diwali very well. Mushtaq and he had thrown a rocket and a chakri at their Wasim chacha's home and hid. "Bahaut daanta Wasim chacha ne. Lekin baad mein pede khilaye mujhe aur Mushtaq ko," Sagar said, his eyes lighting up with joyful memories.

But this Diwali is different. "My father told me that the police would take us away if we celebrated Diwali. So I will only play inside the house today," he said. Not far away, in Kambaliyon wali Gali, 32 houses belonging to Muslims were set ablaze.

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