All that the people of Akbarpur village remember is harmony. For decades on end, the one temple lived in happy coexistence with the many masjids around it. But this June, politics entered — and brought with it a religious dispute, stonepelting and violence.
On Friday morning, Kanth railway station saw violence between a group of close to 500 people and the district administration, leaving more than 20 injured, including the DM of Moradabad. The mob ran amok for more than two hours, stopped two goods trains, and attacked police with stones. Saturday saw a forced calm. With prohibitory orders in place, Akbarpur and Kanth town, two km away, were locked down.
At the centre of the story, is a small temple, and disagreement over a loudspeaker.
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In the middle of June, the 70-family Dalit community in Akbarpur wanted to install a loudspeaker atop the temple. The problem, the Muslims of the village said, was the timing. “This was not the first time they wanted to put up a loudspeaker. But before they used to do it only during festivals like Shivratri and we celebrated with them. This time they wanted to put up the loudspeaker just before Ramzan, and we objected. We said it would disturb azaan. We thought they would understand, but then people from outside came, and the issue snowballed,” said Mohammad Yameen, muzzein of one of the village masjids.
The Dalits though believe the opposition to the loudspeaker was exaggerated. “The loudpeaker had been gifted to the temple after elections by BJP MP Sarvesh Singh. We were only putting it up, and we even told them we would not turn on bhajans during namaaz. But someone complained to the district administration, and took the loudspeaker down. On June 25, some villagers clashed with police and officials who had come to remove the loudspeaker. The police remained ever since. We were talking amongst ourselves but other forces were in play on Friday,” said Ramesh Nath, one of the temple mahants.
Since June last week, “other forces” were definitely in play. With BSP conspicuous in its absence even in an issue involving Dalits, the local BJP unit swung into action. Since June end, they stayed around Kanth, and offered support to the angry Jatavs. Friday morning brought the news that Sangeet Som, the BJP MLA from Sardhana and one of the accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, was arriving in Kanth to hold a mahapanchayat.
There were others too. Fearing disturbance, the police detained Som on his way. And then came the clash.
“It seemed nobody cared about the temple anymore. The BJP workers camping in Kanth found that Som, and others like Amroha MP Kunwar Singh Tanwar had been detained. The police kept trying to calm them but they didn’t listen. They went to the station and held up trains. We were not part of this, only the BJP workers,” said Himendra, another mahant.
At a press conference, Moradabad SSP Dharamveer Yadav blamed the BJP. “Nobody from Kanth was involved in the violence. Some BJP supporters came on trains from Bijnor and Amroha and 20 policemen were injured in the process. We used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse crowd and arrested 62 people. There was no big dispute, but the situation became worse when politicians entered the area,” he said.