On Monday morning, a minor argument over widening a village road resulted in a violent clash between Muslims and Dalits in Katauli Kala in the Deogaon police station area of Azamgarh district. SP (City), Vinod Kumar, said there was no history of tension between the two communities in that area.
However, according to diary entry at Rani Ki Sarai police station in Sonvar village of the same district, on July 4, an argument between a Muslim family and a Dalit family over the boundaries of their fields resulted in a communal clash in which eight people were injured.
Data from police stations across Uttar Pradesh scrutinised by The Indian Express show that out of 605 communal incidents in the state in the 10 weeks beginning with the Lok Sabha election results of May 16, 68 — or every ninth incident — involved Muslims and Dalits.
Forty-eight of these 68 incidents — over 70 per cent — took place in and around 12 assembly constituencies where byelections are due.
Part 1 of this Investigation, published on August 5, showed that about 400 of the 605 communal incidents between May 16 and July 25 occurred in or around assembly constituencies whose representatives have now become MPs, necessitating bypolls by mid-November.
Part 2, published on August 6, showed how groups and political parties have transformed loudpeakers at places of worship into powerful instruments of communal polarisation, leading to clashes between Hindus and Muslims. In as many as 120 of the 600-odd communal incidents, police records of which were analysed by The Indian Express, the trigger for violence was found to lie in a clash involving the use of loudspeakers in masjids and temples.
Tensions between Dalits and Muslims began, in several cases, after a relationship between, or elopement of, couples from the two communities. In many of these cases, local BJP units and leaders emerged as the “protector” of Dalits, police records show.
Indeed, the aggressiveness of Dalit populations has been a significant aspect of the communal tension in the state, and especially in Western UP, in this period. In the July 25 Saharanpur riot — in which Sikhs clashed with Muslims — half of all incidents of arson and violence took places in Dalit and Muslim areas.
According to a senior police officer who was involved in tackling the fallout of the riot, Dalit rioters were involved in around 70 per cent of cases of destruction of property. In Kalasi Lane on the outskirts of Saharanpur town, an area that is surrounded by Muslim and Dalit neighbourhoods, only three shops in a shopping complex were set on fire — all belonging to Muslim tailors. All the suspects that police have in the case are Dalits.
Of all the non-Muslims who were arrested for the violence in Saharanpur, only 2 per cent were Sikhs — most of the rest were Dalit Hindus.
The second significant — and new — aspect of the ongoing phase of communal tensions in UP is the intensity and spread of the violence in areas that are completely or predominantly rural. Rumour has played a role in polarisation, alongwith instruments of propaganda and posturing such as loudspeakers.
In several cases, communal tensions have polarised communities that have had no history of animosity, and have lived in harmony for decades.
In Muzaffarnagar’s Kheti Viran, 80-year-old Ijhar Hussain, the oldest person in the village, described how the family had decided to leave after Partition, but had been persuaded by Hindu neighbours to return from the railway station. Years later, Hussain’s uncle, Miyan Majahir Hussain, then the biggest landlord in the village, donated the piece of land on which a Ravidas mandir stands today.
Kheti Viran is run as a single administrative unit along with its twin Badarpur. Together, the two villages are home to 4,500 families, Hindu and Muslim in the ratio of 60:40. A majority of Hindus are Dalits.
On July 11, around 6.30 pm, village elders in Kheti Viran reprimanded a Muslim neighbour for tying his buffaloes next to the gate of the Ravidas mandir. Within a half hour, a 600-strong mob had gathered at the temple. Most in the crowd were Dalits from Badarpur, who had heard that Muslims had forcibly removed the temple’s loudspeaker.
“Someone had spread a rumour in Badarpur that Muslims had damaged the temple’s loudspeaker,” pradhan Jag Sooran Singh said. Local BSP leaders — facing a statewide erosion in their party’s Dalit-Muslim base — tried to get involved, as did the local BJP unit. But Kheti Viran pushed back.
Two weeks after the July 11 incident, villagers insisted there was no divide. They recounted an incident after last year’s riots in Muzaffarnagar, when a tractor was burnt not far from the village, and both communities had taken it in turns to patrol the perimeter of Kheti.
And yet, several villagers told The Indian Express that they were disturbed that the old bhaichaara had been replaced by tanaav, and that so many people had responded to the rumour about the loudspeaker. On August 6, in Part 2 of this Investigation, The Indian Express had reported how a provocative WhatsApp message, purportedly sent by a local VHP leader in Saharanpur, had triggered a near riot, with 2,500 Hindus willing to confront Muslims in the street.
A 40-minute drive from Kheti Viran, towards the east, is Kheti Sarai village. There, a few metres away from the compound in which the local Ravidas mandir and Shiv mandir stand, a new madrasa has come up. Students come from as far away as Assam.
On June 18, two days after a fullscale riot took place in Kant, Moradabad, 25-odd students of the madrasa, all in the age group of 12-18 years, allegedly forced their way into the Ravidas mandir and damaged the loudspeaker.
According to the Dalits, who make up 40 per cent of the village, the local BSP MLA, Maulana Jameel, has been visiting the madrasa frequently and patronizing the Muslims of the area. Jameel had been arrested for allegedly inciting riots in Muzaffarnagar last year.
According to Manavendra Singh, the former pradhan of Kheti Sarai who played a role in cooling tensions, the BJP’s Lok Sabha member from Bijnor, Bharatendra Singh, had wanted to visit the village to address a gathering. But Manavendra Singh had refused to cooperate.
Manavendra Singh said he was associated with the BJP himself, but “I don’t want any issue in this village. We are living in really bad days.”
He added, “A lot of people from Muzaffarnagar town wanted to visit the village to show solidarity with the Hindus. I ensured with the help of the police that nobody actually came here.”
The shop had stored over 20 drums of kerosene that fuelled the blaze and it quickly spread through the entire building.