Hindu youth in Kasganj planned chaos, Muslims contend

Caption: Visuals of the car burnt by the mob at the outskirts of Kashganj city (picture courtesy: Saurabh Sharma)

If not out to pick a fight, why did the motorcycle procession decide to pass through their cramped lane, which is not even a preferred thoroughfare, instead of the main road, they ask.

By Saurabh Sharma

Kasganj: Though more than 10 days have passed since communal riots broke out in Uttar Pradesh’s Kasganj town, tension refuses to defuse. While a mosque was set afire on Monday (in an incident that went unreported in the media), Wednesday evening saw Hindutva hardliners hoisting the national flag on a 50-foot high pole on the house of the youth who was killed in the violence on Republic Day.

Deepak Sharma, whose claim to fame is his anti-Muslim vitriol on Facebook, got the flag pole erected on the house of late Abhishek Gupta, 23, purportedly to make a statement. The deceased’s father and Hindutva elements have been demanding that he be formally declared a martyr.

Meanwhile, on the receiving end of the public narrative as the youth was killed in their colony, the Muslims allege that the Republic Day clash was premeditated and not organic. They say the Hindus are the ones who triggered violence and are now playing the victim. Now, while there is a simmering anger in the Hindu community, the Muslims are living in fear.

On Monday, a mosque in the Ganjdundwara locality was set afire. Police and the district administration acted swiftly and prevented tension from escalating. Senior government officials set up a meeting with members of the Hindu and the Muslim communities and appealed that peace be maintained. This is the second instance of a mosque being attacked in Kasganj–about 70 kilometres from Aligarh city–since rioting began on Republic Day.

On January 26, dozens of Hindu youth affiliated with a local NGO had taken out a motorcycle rally, dubbed Tiranga Yatra, and got into an altercation with the Muslim community over right of way. The Muslims had assembled at a congested area in their locality to hoist the national flag when the motorcycle-borne youth reached there and asked them to make way. An argument ensued and, reportedly, insulting remarks were hurled at the Muslims. This triggered stone-pelting at the motorcycle rally and someone fired bullets, killing a Hindu youth. This sparked vandalism in the hitherto quiet town.

Fomenting trouble
Arif Hussain, an NGO worker from the Tirchalla locality in Kasganj and one of those who were at the Baddu Nagar programme, said it was evident that the Hindu youth had ventured into their locality with the premeditated objective of courting trouble. He said the rally participants kept mocking at their religious identity, abusing them and calling them Pakistani. He said relentless abuses ultimately got the better of his brethren and instigated them to pelting stones at the abusers.

Some members of the motorcycle rally confessed to this correspondent that incensing remarks were hurled at the minority community.

Amit Sonkar, a class 12 student who was part of the Tiranga Yatra, told 101Reporters that at Baddu Nagar, the Muslims offered them sweets and joined them in raising patriotic slogans. He said the Muslims asked them to join flag-hoisting or wait till it was over for the gathering to disperse. Amid all this, he said someone hurled an insult at the minority community.

Another member of the Tiranga Yatra, a 20-year-old youth who requested that his name be withheld, said the sloganeering turned increasingly aggressive and someone mocked at the Muslims for circumcision. He mentioned the unprintable abuses that were directed at the minority community, ridiculing them and admonishing them to go to Pakistan. He said this sustained jeering provoked the Muslims into pelting stones at the rally.

Left for dead
Hussain said that while some rally participants ran for cover, some went about looting shops at Baddu Nagar Chauraha. Bali Ullah Khan, whose garment shop was among those vandalised, said a bullet was fired amid this melee and killed a Hindu youth, Abhishek Gupta. He claimed that nobody came to Gupta’s help as he lay on the ground unattended for a good 10 minutes and his fellow rally participants went on a rampage.

On the days following the Republic Day clash, this correspondent first-hand witnessed teenagers and young men with sprouting moustache ransacking shops, breaking open their cash boxes and having a blast doing that. They would hide upon hearing the police siren and hit the road as soon as the police jeep would pass, clapping and dancing on the road before resuming the loot and making merry.

Bhavesh Singh, a senior officer of the Rapid Action Force unit stationed at Kasganj, confirmed just as much. “Abhi tak toh yahi lag raha hai ki yeh sab chillaron ka kaam hai,” he told 101Reporters. (So far, this is what it seems, that all this [vandalism] is the handiwork of young boys.)

He pointed out that the youngsters were uncharacteristically audacious. He narrated a skirmish that this correspondent too witnessed, wherein a rampaging youth lashed out at a policeman with unbridled aggression, tore off his uniform and exclaimed, “Yeh hamaari sarkar hai!” (This is our government!)

Questionable route for rally
Further reasoning that the motorcycle-borne youth were out to pick a fight with them, the Muslims ask why else a procession of 300-odd motorcycles would choose to pass through a cramped lane instead of the wide and convenient main road.

A local journalist Faeem Akhtar said the lane where the flare-up occurred is barely 10 feet wide and not even a thoroughfare. He said such is its location that nobody veers here unless for work.

This correspondent asked the members of the Hindu community the rationale of choosing the narrow lane over the main road. This elicited hostile, angry reactions and the correspondent was accosted for daring pose such a question. Anshu Gupta, a chemist and one of the many who had assembled outside the house of the deceased Hindu youth to offer condolences, made no attempts to conceal his contempt.

He thundered: “Ab agar iss desh me Vande Mataram kehne par goli maari jaayegi to sabse pehle mujhe goli maar do. Unhone toh uss taraf Pakistan bana hi rakha hai. Hamein bhi marva do aur bana do isse bhi Pakistan!”

(If saying Vande Mataram means taking a bullet in this country, then shoot me first. They have turned that side into Pakistan as it is. Have us killed too and turn this into Pakistan as well).

Fact or fiction?
Many news reports have quoted rally members as saying that at Baddu Nagar, Pakistani flag was being hoisted and pro-Pakistan slogans were being raised. Hussain rubbished these allegations. None of the rally participants this correspondent spoke to could corroborate these claims either.

This unverified narrative, that pro-Pakistan sentiments at Baddu Nagar made participants of Tiranga Yatra lash out at the Muslims, has found takers on social media and in the political circle too.

Hindutva leaders such as Sadhvi Prachi, for instance, commented: “Ab kya Bharat Mata ke liye naare lagaane par goliyaan chalengi! Sarkaar hamaari hai aur ham is shahaadat ka badla zaroor lenge.” (So will now bullets be fired for raising slogan for our motherland! The government is our and we will avenge this martyrdom.)

Likewise, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as of Sankalp Foundation, the NGO that took out the Tiranga Yatra in Kasganj, have issued hateful and vindictive statements, going so far as to threaten bloodshed. Further, right-wing Hindu nationalist organisations such as Vishva Hindu Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and Bajrang Dal have been planning/executing Tiranga Yatra across Uttar Pradesh to honour Gupta’s “martyrdom”.

What came before
Meanwhile, another backstory has emerged from Kasganj, explaining the simmering tension between the Hindus and the Muslims that imploded on Republic Day.

Interview with Kasganj MLA, Devendra Rajput of the ruling BJP, revealed a recent episode owing to which the Hindus were furious with the Muslims. He said the Chamunda temple premises, adjoining the Muslims’ locality, has been facing the problem of pigs loitering around. To check this, a barricade was being erected on January 23. However, the Muslims did not allow its construction as it would have driven the pigs to their colony instead.

Since both the Hindus and the Muslims deem pigs sacrilegious, the episode caused much acrimony between them.

Narrating the incident, Rajput condemned the Muslims for obstructing the construction of the barricade. Wearing hostility on his sleeves, he frequently referred to them as Pakistanis. Speaking with this reporter, he was flanked by an official gunman and 20-odd youth, brandishing everything from a country-made pistol to rods and chains. When the MLA stopped talking, his henchmen echoed his anti-Muslim rhetoric in his combative tone and tenor.

Previously, Rajput has been booked under Indian Penal Code for provoking violence, deliberately causing grievous hurt and criminal intimidation.