After violence in Kasganj erupted on January 26, the district magistrate of Bareilly took to Facebook Sunday to mention a similar incident in his district. In the social media post, RV Singh questioned the “trend” of raising anti-Pakistan slogans in Muslim localities to foment communal trouble. Two days later, Singh was summoned to Lucknow. He has since deleted his Facebook post and apologised for hurting sentiments. The Uttar Pradesh government has also promised strict action against Singh who Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Maurya said was speaking in the “language of politicians”.
Singh in his Facebook post wrote, “Ajab riwaz ban gaya hai. Muslim mohallo main julus le jao aur Pakistan murdabad ke nare lagao. Kyun bhai woh Pakistani hain kya? (A strange trend has started of carrying out processions through Muslim localities and raising anti-Pakistan slogans. Why? Are these people from Pakistan?). The same incident happened in Khailam village in Bareilly. Stones were pelted, and complaints were lodged.”
In Bareilly, two FIRs, mirror the “trend” Singh referred to in the post. The first against kaanwariyas alleges they “flouted norms” but there was no violence. The other against Muslims details the sequence of events after the kaanwariyas entered the village alleging “life-threatening violence”.
This was in July last year in Khailam village in the Aonli assembly constituency after which four Muslim men were arrested. The post, that Singh deleted soon after, added, “Chin to bada dushman hai, tiranga lekar Chin murdabad kyon nahin? (China is a bigger enemy. Why isn’t the Tricolour waved and why aren’t anti-China slogans shouted?)”
In Kasganj in Etah on January 26, violence ensued after the death of 22-year-old Abhishek Gupta, who was part of an unauthorised ‘Tiranga yatra’ on motorcycles in Kasganj. Clashes erupted when the yatra rode through a Muslim-dominated locality, where a flag hoisting ceremony was underway, and members of the yatra demanded they be allowed through.
On July 21, 2017, Khailam village — with a population of 9,000 persons, of which 70 percent are Muslim — witnessed violence when 250 kaanwariyas allegedly clashed with Muslims residents.
The stone-pelting and violence that followed saw both Hindus, Muslims and at least 15 security personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police injured.
Later that day, two FIRs were lodged by the SHO of the Aliganj Police Station CP Trivedi, who was later transferred for “gross negligence” in handling the incident. As per the FIR, four Muslim men from the village were arrested in the violence. Superintendent of Police Jogendra Kumar only said, “I can’t comment on anything. Please ask the DM.” Despite repeated attempts, Singh refused to comment.
One FIR named 29 Muslims, the other 14 Hindus. Both allege the involvement of more than 200 unnamed persons each.
It’s the second FIR, lodged only against Muslims that speaks of the actual violence. Lodged under sections of rioting, inciting communal tension and attempt to murder, the FIR alleges that on July 21 the Pradhan of the village Ahsan Khan “protested to the route of pilgrims passing through the village”. It says police, eventually “allowed them to pass after providing them with security”.
But when “the kaanwariyas reached the Jama Masjid at around 6:45 pm, the residents reached the spot wielding lathis and pelting stones. A life-threatening attack took place and many kaanwariyas, police were injured. The crowd also passed comments hurting Hindu sentiments. The crowd ran, leaving behind their slippers. Shopkeepers fled and residents fled. Necessary force was used for containing the situation and four people were arrested.”
The second FIR ends, where the first one starts. Lodged under the same sections of the Indian Penal Code – barring the attempt to murder charge and an additional IPC section 107 (abetment of a thing, by instigating, conspiring) it alleged that “the kaanwariya pilgrims played loud music in spite of no permission and made provocative slogans inciting Muslim community. The police tried all measures to make the kaanwariyas understand buy they didn’t listen.”
After the police failed in making the pilgrims “understand”, the FIR says that the over 200 strong group “shouted slogans and blocked the Aliganj road leading to the village. Residents from the nearby villages also joined the kaanwariyas. The group then began threatening people travelling on the road and stopped those travelling on it. The road was blocked for five hours.” The FIR doesn’t mention the kaanwariyas entering the village, nor does it mention the alleged violence that took place that evening.
At Khailam village of Aonla Assembly constituency, the district magistrate’s statement has only served to magnify the fears the incident sparked last year.
Village pradhan, Ahsan Khan, a clerk in the UP veterinary department in Bareily who retired in 2009 is one of the accused in the case. He denied the allegations in the FIR against the Muslim residents of the village. “When they assembled in the evening, they were about 400-strong. They wanted to pass through the village again. We had told the police afterwards that this could lead to some tension. It was a Friday and the mosque was full,” he said.
He alleged that the kaanwars “raised slogans against the community” and “made obscene gestures”. “This was a deliberate attempt to stoke tension and there was stone pelting from both sides. They raised these slogans deliberating maligning our community and insulting our faith with made things worse. We have never thought of ourselves as anything but Indians, but the slogans equated us with Pakistani nationals. Why should that be?”
A senior police officer said, “The police is also constantly evolving and learning from the past. This year, we will take adequate precautions and ensure this incident isn’t repeated. The matter is being investigated.”