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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Day after houses set on fire, tension, fear envelop Agra area

On Saturday, burnt pages, broken almirahs, twisted railings and melted furniture lay scattered in the small alley. Household items covered in soot were visible from afar.

Written by Amil Bhatnagar | Agra |
Updated: April 17, 2022 4:24:54 pm
While a video has surfaced in which the woman purportedly says that she went with Sajid on her own accord, a group vandalised Sajid's house, demanding accountability. (Express)

A day after a mob set fire to two structures and vandalised homes belonging to the family of Sajid Qureshi in Agra’s Ranukta area, accusing him of allegedly kidnapping a local woman from another community to elope, fear was palpable among residents of the area on Saturday, despite heavy deployment of police personnel.

Many tenants from the minority community have shifted temporarily, and most markets remained shut on Saturday as a precautionary measure.

While a video has surfaced in which the woman purportedly says that she went with Sajid on her own accord, a group vandalised Sajid’s house, demanding accountability.

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Police said there is no action liable against Sajid since the woman is an adult and has not mentioned coercion.

On Saturday, burnt pages, broken almirahs, twisted railings and melted furniture lay scattered in the small alley. Household items covered in soot were visible from afar. At every second turn in the colony, a couple of policemen sat, guarding. Following Friday’s arson, the area is stung by unease, as people feel one spark can cause communal tension.

“No such violence has ever taken place here in my lifetime,” said a worried Tabassum, a local resident. “It was a rampage. I do not know how this fracture took place. All we know is that we were lucky to live. People are beginning to leave the area…”

Senior Superintendent of Police, Agra, Sudhir Kumar Singh, said: “A meeting was held in the area before the incident (of vandalism). No action can be taken against Sajid until the statement of the victim is taken. It is likely that the men who carried out rioting are from within the area. We are scanning footage and questioning people to assess more things.”

Eight people have been arrested in connection with the violence, and several others are absconding. The woman is currently with her family and her statement will be recorded, police said.

Sajid and his family are not traceable, police said.

Local residents told The Sunday Express that Sajid and the woman live barely 100 metres apart and knew each other for long. After they eloped on Monday, the woman’s family lodged a complaint of alleged kidnapping against Sajid. Protests by members of Hindu community in the area also began.

On Friday, a meeting was held close to the woman’s house in which more than 200 people gathered. The crowd was angry about the fact that Sajid had allegedly eloped with a Hindu woman and that he needs to present himself before the community.

“There was tension about their religion — the agenda of the meeting was to hold Sajid accountable. Everyone believes he coerced her into this,” a local shopkeeper who was present there said. “As the meeting was going on, we learnt that someone had set fire to his house. The meeting dispersed after that.”

Eyewitnesses and neighbours said more than a hundred people carrying petrol bombs, rods and sticks barged into the family’s home.

“It felt like they were on a mission. They even managed to uproot railings on the parapet,” Mustaqeem, a neighbour, said. “They threw petrol bombs, set fire to cylinders to lead to a bigger blaze. Thankfully, no one was in the house.”

Sajid and his five uncles own adjacent houses in the area. The mob set fire to one of them and vandalised the extended rear part belonging to other relatives. Sajid’s father works as postmaster and kept letters and telegrams in the house, which all got burnt.

A warehouse where Sajid’s uncle ran a shoe manufacturing unit was also set on fire. Sajid himself runs a gym in the vicinity, local residents said.

“Before the arson, there were workers in the warehouse. When they heard about the meeting and calls for action, they immediately left. Their fear proved to be true,” Aqeel, a local resident, said.

Police had earlier said a group called Dharm Jagran Samanvay Sangh was found to be actively involved in the vandalism. Police are ascertaining more details about the group and its members, and their possible link in connection with the incident.

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