“We have secret information that during the Kanwar yatra you might create trouble…with this red card we are informing you that if you create any trouble during the Kanwar yatra, action will be taken against you. You will be held accountable.”
This is what “red cards” given to at least 250 residents — Muslims and Hindus — of Khelum village in Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh by police over the last week say. Apart from the police’s red cards, meant to deliver a “psychological message”, the district administration has identified 441 locals who “may cause trouble” and have had them sign “symbolic” bonds of Rs 5 lakh if they disturb the peace.
The measures, which have set off panic in the village and prompted 70 Muslim families to leave, come a year after violence marred this village during the annual Kanwar Yatra that is underway. During the yatra last year, clashes between Muslims and Kanwarias who passed through a Muslim-dominated neighbourhood in Khelum village left dozens from both communities and 15 security personnel injured. Two FIRs were registered — one naming 29 Muslims and another naming 14 Hindus.
The Kanwar Yatra will go through the same route this year. And while Hindus in the village, who are confident of a peaceful yatra, are not worried, the red cards, the frequent searches at homes and Rs 5 lakh bonds are an indication of trouble for most Muslims in Khelum.
On Tuesday, the road leading up to the village is deserted – shops are shut, houses locked from outside and few roam the streets. Muslims reside on both side of this road and it is through here that the Kanwarias are scheduled to pass before reaching a temple at Guleria village, some 8 km away. Khelum has a population of 5,000, and Muslims, primarily engaged in farming or as labourers, account for 70 per cent.
After clashes erupted at Kasganj in Etah district between Hindus and Muslims after an unauthorised Tiranga yatra on motorcycles rode through a Muslim-dominated colony, then Bareilly District Magistrate R V Singh had questioned the “trend” of raising anti-Pakistan slogans in Muslim localities to foment communal trouble. The Kasganj violence left one man, Abhishek Gupta dead.
Singh in his Facebook post wrote, “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 Khelum village in Bareilly. Stones were pelted, and complaints were lodged.”
Two days later, Singh was summoned to Lucknow, apologised and deleted his Facebook post. The state government had also promised strict action against him.
On Tuesday in Khelum, a resident, Sahid Hussain found at his house a red card signed by SHO Aliganj, Vishal Pratap Singh. “I was not even there the last time the incident occurred… In the last fifteen days, police have conducted multiple checks in many houses and issued red cards. A fear has developed…I left my house a week back with my family to another village…Occasionally, I come back to check on my house,” he said.
Hussain is not alone in wanting to leave Khelum. Locals say that at least 70 other Muslim families have left fearing another bout of violence during the Kanwar yatra. Amar Singh, who lives close to the temple has also been given a red card. “I got the red card from the police a few days ago, but I am not worried about it. The police are only doing their job,” he said.
Bareilly SSP Muniraj G said: “The red card is not legally valid. Most of the people from both the communities who were asked to sign a bond were issued red cards to let them know that they are under our surveillance.”
He also said that he was not aware of Muslims leaving the village in fear and claimed that “they could have left for their own work”.
Police, however, have turned the house of Hasmat Khan, who left last week into the main surveillance control room. On Tuesday, in one room, two policemen watched a monitor showing footage from CCTV cameras and also had a wireless set through which directions are issued.
Khan said that police had asked if they could use his house as a “resting place”. “Police said that it was raining so they needed a place to stay. However, when I paid a visit, I saw a control room was being set up at my home. An antenna was also installed on the roof.”
Aliganj SHO Singh said: “We have put the route under-surveillance and installed CCTV cameras. We have a set up a control room at Khan’s house.”
According to the district administration, they had asked Muslims not to leave the village and had assured them of peace in the area. Bareilly District Magistrate VK said: “It has come to our knowledge that people have locked their houses and left the village. They fear that if there is any kind of violence they will be falsely implicated. This mentality has been created by some people. We have assured them that no action will be taken against anyone not involved, but they have not listened.”
Aonla SDM Vishu Raja said that they had held multiple meeting with Hindus and Muslims. “No one was ready to compromise…We have taken preventive measures under CrPC 107/16 against 441 members of both communities, who were asked to sign a symbolic bond of Rs 5 lakh which they will have to pay in case there is any disturbance of peace,” he says.