Kasganj violence

Seeds of hatred

Print edition : March 02, 2018

Abdul Hameed Chowk in Baddunagar, the junction where Republic Day celebrations were disrupted. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Rapid Action Force personnel patrolling a marketplace off Tehsil Road. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Outside Masjid Ala Hajrat in Baddunagar. The police have been stationed in all sensitive areas. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Chandan Gupta's father. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Broken minarets at the eidgah in Amanpur are now being repaired with police protection. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Chamunda Gate, which became a centre of controversy over plans to barricade the road leading to a temple. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Mobs go on a rampage in the Uttar Pradesh town of Kasganj, where the minority community is targeted by right-wing elements using the familiar ploy of dividing society along communal lines.

UTTAR PRADESH was once again on the boil in January after members of the Sangh Parivar went on a rampage in Muslim-dominated areas in Kasganj on Republic Day. General elections are due next year, and communal polarisation has always benefited the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Located between the Ganga and the Yamuna, Kasganj was long known for its rich culture and communal harmony.

On the morning of January 26, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and other youth organisations affiliated to the BJP decided to take out a tiranga yatra (tricolour march) through Muslim-dominated areas. Close to 60 of them on motorcycles zoomed into the narrow alleyways of Baddunagar waving tricolours and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s (RSS) saffron flags and shouting provocative slogans. Abhishek alias Chandan Gupta, a final-year college student, of the Sankalp Foundation was part of the group.

According to eyewitnesses, the group tried to disrupt the Republic Day celebrations at Abdul Hameed Chowk, a junction of several alleys, demanding that the local people first unfurl the saffron flag and then the tricolour. They used expletives against Muslims and shouted slogans asking them to go to Pakistan.

Dr Aasif, who runs a non-governmental organisation for the HIV/AIDS-affected near the “chowk”, told Frontline: “What is this Pakistan bogey that is pulled out every time they want to target us? Please enlist the Muslims of this country in the Army and we will finish Pakistan once and for all. We’ll accomplish what the Hindus couldn’t for so many years. And then at least there will be some peace for us.”

As the Muslims protested and did not budge, the situation grew tense and then there was stone-pelting. The Hindu boys abandoned their motorcycles and ran from the spot, spreading rumours that the Muslims were chanting “Pakistan zindabad”. They informed others and asked them to gather on Tehsil Road in a bid to retaliate.

Tehsil Road has a police station, a court and a school. The market adjacent to it is Hindu-dominated with just a couple of Muslim shops in it, the largest being Salim Javed’s Barki Cloth House, which shares a wall with the police station. As the saffron brigade marched through the road, shopkeepers downed their shutters and rushed home. The Government Girls’ Intercollege School had been alerted by some guardians and had started sending the girls home. Only the teachers remained inside. They later told Frontline that they were terrified by the gunshots and commotion and remained inside until rescue forces arrived.

Video footage captured from a mobile camera from the Tehsil’s terrace showed many boys brandishing bamboo sticks, “tamanchas” (illegal countrymade pistols) and even a rifle. They were pelting stones at Muslims. In the ensuing melee, Chandan Gupta was hit by a bullet. He fell in front of the police station and later succumbed to his injuries. The police reached much later and failed to contain the violence. Station House Officer Daman Singh said they were in another part of town for the flag-hoisting ceremony.

According to the police, the bullet that hit Chandan was fired from a height and pierced his left hand, heart, liver and kidney. S.R. Darapuri, a former Inspector General of U.P. Police, who was part of a fact-finding team under the banner of United Against Hate, contested the police version. He said the injury looked like it was caused by a firing from the side and not from a height. Eyewitness reports say that Chandan was shot where the Tehsil wall end, and Salim’s house is some 30 metres away. Salim was arrested and the police told the media that he had confessed to shooting Chandan. His brothers Waseem and Naseem were also named in the first information report (FIR). Subsequently, their houses were looted and damaged.

However, people in the area, both Hindus and Muslims, vouched for Salim’s character and said he was incapable of such violence. Salim’s family had lived there for generations and nobody had anything bad to say about them. Generally, traders were the last ones to indulge in any kind of violence as it hurt their business interests, shopkeepers across religious lines said. But economic boycott to target prominent and affluent members of a community is not new. With their business establishments burnt and their leaders arrested, the community is crippled and rendered incapable of fighting back.

Mohammed Shakir, a samosa seller in front of Salim’s house, said Salim was being targeted for being a successful businessman. Gopal Bharadwaj, who owns a photo studio, said that there was no enmity between Hindus and Muslims of the area. Mohammed Nazir, another resident, chimed in, saying that they had friendly relations and used to visit each other’s homes. Nazir and Gopal cited the example of a man named Ajay who escorted Muslim girls from the school home once the violence began.

Chandan and the others lived elsewhere in the town. His father is a compounder in a private hospital and his brother a medical representative. The participation of young, educated, middle-class people like Chandan Gupta in violence against minorities is seen as a new phenomenon and proof of the penetration and radicalisation of a new demographic by the Sangh Parivar.

But not everybody in the area shared the stories of bonhomie, and polarisation is visibly increasing. Muslim girls in the school got into a heated discussion with the Hindu helpers as the former refuted the police version of events. Rajesh Yadav, the principal, told Frontline that there was no communal disharmony. “It is bad elements on both sides, people with filth in their minds, who are creating trouble,” he said.

Ram Babu, an advocate, was in the Tehsil when the commotion started and wondered why it was wrong to carry saffron flags and chant “Bharat mata ki jai”. He said carrying guns was a status symbol in the area and that there was nothing wrong in it.

According to residents, Etah Member of Parliament Rajveer Singh, the son of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, made inflammatory statements at the Baradwari Ghanta Ghar in the town and these led to a spiralling of violence. At Chandan’s cremation, he told reporters: “This cannot be forgiven at any cost. I have never seen such rage but our men were not at fault. It was a pre-planned incident and one of our men has lost his life.” Muslims in Baddunagar wondered why only Hindus were “our men” for an MP?

Soon after, Hindus went on a rampage that continued for three or four days, with the police force doing little to stop the mobs. Three shops near Amanpur bus stand—Ansari Khad Bhandar, Godown Atiq Ansari and RS Ansari Furniture House—belonging to Shamim’s family were gutted in a fire. Muslim homes, buses, 45 shops, “khokhas” (small wooden shops) and masjids at Khediya Mohalla and Sahawar Gate were burnt and damaged. Some miscreants broke 12 minarets of an eidgah in Amanpur, almost 20 kilometres away, in an attempt to spread the violence to other areas.

Naushad, who had gone to visit his shop and buy vegetables, was shot in the leg. His family raised the question of compensation by pointing out that while the administration was prompt in giving a cheque of Rs.20 lakh to Chandan’s family, nobody had bothered even to visit Naushad’s house.

Akram, who was travelling by car from Lakhimpur to Aligarh with two women in the back seat, one of whom was pregnant, was stopped by 10-12 men wielding sticks. The windows of his car were broken and one of his eyes was injured. A reporter named Devesh Pal Singh and his cameraman Gaurav Tomar captured the incident on video. They were also beaten up.

“They were merciless and about to torch the vehicle. I called the police control room and they came immediately, otherwise the four people in the car would have been burnt alive,” Devesh told Frontline. The television channel he works for decided not to air the footage as it would have gone viral and flared tempers.

A 60-year-old Hindu jeweller justified the violence against Muslims by saying that every action had a reaction. “If you kill me, somebody from my family or community is justified in taking revenge,” he said.

On the second day of the riots, a peace meeting was organised by the District Magistrate, and Muslims were asked to reopen their shops. “But some Muslims were picked up by the police while opening or shutting their shops. The bias of the police force is confirmed in the minds of many, and the fear of approaching the police or expecting any help from them is strong. The rising lack of trust in the police is apparent and the police are not seen to be neutral or observing the due process of law,” a member of the fact-finding team said.

So far, eight FIRs have been lodged: one by Chandan’s father, two by the Muslims whose property was damaged, one by Naushad’s father and the rest by the police. Some 123 people were arrested and 18 Muslims named in the FIR for murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Of the people arrested is 70-year-old Naseeruddin, a kirana store owner. His son, Rahat Hussain, said that Naseeruddin was due for an operation soon.

Shamshad, a 32-year-old resident, had gone to buy milk when he was picked up by the police. But in the FIR, it is mentioned that he was picked up from somewhere else. For two days his family had no clue about his whereabouts. The police snatched his phone soon after he was picked up.

Jahid alias Jagga was away on his honeymoon, but he has also been named in the FIR. Salman has been working in Delhi for the past six months, but his name is also mentioned in the FIR. The police stuck an arrest warrant on the gate of his house seeking his surrender; his mother lay under the police vehicle, pleading for the removal of her son’s name from the FIR.

Regarding processions in Muslim-dominated areas, Chandan’s father said: “Aakhir hamari sarkar hai, toh hum kyon na jaye [After all, it is our government so why shouldn’t we go?].” He denied that his son was part of any political organisation.

He and his relatives believe that it was a pre-planned action by the Muslims that led to Chandan’s death. According to them, Chandan did nothing wrong in marching through the Muslim areas and that it was anti-national on the part of the Muslims to stop them. “Muslims were upset ever since the BJP came to power. Furthermore, they were angry that their talaq was put an end to. They had planned this entire thing all along with acid bottles and weapons,” he told Frontline. When asked if Chandan had taken permission for the rally, they became aggressive, stating: “Why should we take permission for a patriotic march? In which Constitution is it written? What sort of anti-national questions are you asking?”

On August 15 last year, the Sankalp Foundation had raced through Muslim-majority areas on motorcycles as a “test run”. The District Magistrate of Bareilly, Raghvendra Vikram Singh, wrote in a Facebook post: “There is a strange trend now—taking out processions forcefully in Muslim localities and raising anti-Pakistan slogans. Why? Are these people Pakistanis? The same thing happened in Bareilly’s Khailam followed by stone-pelting and lodging of an FIR.” An inquiry was summarily opened against him by the administration.

The Muslims of Baddunagar decided to hoist the tricolour not inside the school premises, as was the usual practice, but outside, at the junction. According to some reports, the incident had its inception in a Facebook post, a thread of which ended with a Muslim saying: “Chamunda Gate pe aakar bata [I dare you to come to Chamunda Gate].” Chamunda Gate near Baddunagar is a city landmark around an old temple in a Muslim area. The Hindus wanted to erect a gate to barricade the road leading up to the temple. The Muslims living in the area were against it. They said: “We are cattle herders. How are we to take our cattle to and from our homes if the road is barricaded?” Since then tension has been brewing between the two communities.

According to Rajeev Yadav and Mohammed Arif of Rihai Manch, a Lucknow-based human rights organisation, it was a pre-planned event by the Sangh Parivar. A week after the incident, the city was crawling with personnel from the Rapid Action Force and the Provincial Armed Constabulary, along with the police, who conducted peace marches.

They were also stationed outside mosques, temples and sensitive areas. The administration seemed to have contained the violence for the time being but kept the anger simmering just below the surface, according to observers.

The United Against Hate forum warned that “the ruling regimes of Centre and U.P. are both going to engineer many such incidents of communal violence, polarisation and hate-mongering and targeting minorities in the days to come”.