VHP leader Sadhvi Prachi’s call for a “Beti Bachao Mahapanch-ayat” in Bareilly’s Paharpur village on July 27 has sparked tension in the area.
The Mahapanchayat is being purportedly held over incidents of “regular eve-teasing” of girls from Thakur-dominated Paharpur, allegedly at the hands of boys from the neighbouring Tanda village, while crossing a river on the way to school.
While BJP leaders camped in the village to take credit for the arrest of five boys, who belonged to the Muslim community, they insisted that the Mahapanchayat was Sadhvi Prachi’s brainchild and party had nothing to do with it.
However, the local Ittehad-e-Millat Council MLA Shazil Islam, who shifted his loyalties to the ruling Samajwadi Party in 2012, said that he had conveyed to senior police officers that Sadhvi’s arrival would certainly disturb peace in the area.
“Arrests have been made, security to the school promised, now what more do they want? My sympathies are with the girls, but action has been taken. I have requested the local police not to allow such panchayat,” Islam said.
When contacted, Sadhvi Prachi said: “It is true that arrests have been made but the girls are still afraid. We need to boost their confidence. And so, on July 27, sadhus from Ayodhya would reach Bareilly to hold Beti Bachao Mahapanchayat.”
Asked about BJP leaders being reluctant to join the Mahapanchayat, Sadhvi said, “If they want to support girls of their region then they can, otherwise they can sit at home.”
While villagers in Paharpur blamed Samajwadi Party for “initially giving shelter to the boys of a particular community”, people in Tanda accused the BJP for trying to give things a “communal colour”.
Many claimed that over the past several decades, complaints of eve-teasing of girls while crossing the river were sorted out by village elders.
But after the latest incident on July 20, over 150 children from Paharpur, including girls, stopped going to school. Many parents said they feared a revenge attack on their children while crossing the river.
“We should get a bridge over the river or an intermediate college in the village. These things happen because we have to walk over 3 km each day to reach school, including crossing of this river,” a girl studying in Class XI said.
Like many others in her village, she too has stopped going to school.
In Muslim-dominated Tanda village, from where the five arrested boys hail, villagers questioned the July 20 incident where the boys were thrashed on their way back home at around 11 am, which was neither the time of the girls going to their school or returning from it.
“The BJP leaders did it. They visited Paharpur village daily and created pressure on police to arrest my innocent brothers.” said Zainab Ali, cousin of Sharafat Ali, who had lodged the first FIR after being beaten up along with three other boys on July 20.
He was among the five boys arrested by the police on July 23 after a complaint by Paharpur villagers was registered following the intervention of DIG R K S Rathore on July 22.
Distancing themselves from the Mahapanchayat, BJP leaders said that they only wanted the culprits to be punished.
“We had to intervene because administration was favouring one particular community. It was after our intervention and that of Union Minister Santosh Gangawar that an FIR against was lodged and the boys arrested. We have nothing to do with any Mahapanchayat now,” claimed Arun Kumar, BJP MLA from Bareilly city.
Asked about the proposed Mahapanchayat, Bareilly SSP Dharamveer said: “While security arrangements in the area are in place, we have not received any application regarding any Mahapanchayat so far.”
District Magistrate Gaurav Dayal said that the administration was doing its best to make the girls feel safe.