In fresh violence in Kasganj town of Uttar Pradesh, a day after a man was killed and another injured in a communal clash, a mob set ablaze about 10 shops, vehicles and a makeshift house on Saturday. A top police officer said that violence started around 11 am, about an hour after Abhishek Gupta, 22, who was killed in firing between two groups during an unauthorised rally to mark Republic Day on Friday, was cremated.
Today’s violence was in retaliation to Gupta’s death, police said, and most of the property targeted, including cars and shops, were owned by members of the minority community.
Said leading local advocate Mohammed Munazir Rafi: “Today’s attacks on shops and vehicles belonging to our community seem to have been planned in advance. They targeted these while the security forces were at the cremation ground.”
Earlier in the day, about 200 people took part in the funeral procession as Gupta’s body, wrapped in the national flag, was taken to the cremation ground, about 2 km from the town. When Rajveer Singh, the local BJP MP, arrived at 8:30 am, the crowd demanded compensation and a government job for the victim’s family.
Assuring his support, Singh, son of former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, claimed he got two youths freed on Friday evening. “Last evening, I went to the police station and got two of our youths out. I am with you,” he told the crowd.
A few minutes later, he received a call. Identifying the caller as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Singh handed over the phone to an activist of the Akhil Bhartiya Vaishya Ekta Samaj, Pradeep Chandra Gupta, who knows the victim’s family.
“Yogiji, aap inko Rs 50 lakh compensation, sarkari naukri aur shaheed ka darja ki ghoshna karein… lad rahe hain aapke liye aur ladte rahenge (Yogiji, please announce Rs 50 lakh compensation, a government job and martyr’s status for them… we are fighting for you and will continue to fight for you),” Pradeep Chandra Gupta told the caller.
At the end of the conversation, he said the chief minister had promised to look into the matter but did not assure anything.
The cremation finally took place at 10 am. About an hour later, a mob targeted shops and vehicles in Kasganj town, setting them on fire.
However, Principal Secretary, Home, Arvind Kumar maintained that there were only sporadic incidents of arson on Saturday. “The situation is under control. Around 400 policemen, including constables and senior officers, are camping in Kasganj to ensure peace is maintained,” he said, adding that Section 144 CrPc has been imposed in the area.
He said five companies of PAC, one company of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) and additional police personnel from other districts have been deployed in Kasganj area.
Meanwhile, six persons have been arrested in connection with Friday’s violence. Police have registered two cases so far. The first FIR, naming four persons and including 100-150 unidentified people, for rioting, assault and breach of peace, is based on the complaint of the SHO of Kotwali Police Station.
The second FIR names 20 people and is based on the complaint of the victim’s father. It includes IPC sections 302 (murder) and 124 A (sedition) — for disrespecting the national flag — apart from rioting and assault.
Besides those arrested, Kumar said 40 others have been detained.
“All those who have been arrested are Muslims. Investigations are going on,” said IG Dhruva Kant Thakur.
Recounting the incident, an eyewitness, Suraj Singh Lodhi, said the victim was carrying the national flag and had raised his hand when he was shot. “A shot was fired, the bullet brushed his arms and pierced his chest,” he claimed.
Senior police officers said the victim, a B.Com. Final Year student, was among the 25-odd people who had planned a rally to mark Republic Day. Rakesh Kumar, Additional District Magistrate, Kasganj, said on Friday that the “Tiranga Yatra” rally was taken out without permission from the administration.
“There was a minor scuffle between Hindus and Muslims over the procession, followed by stone pelting in which a few motorcyles were damaged. The police arrived at the spot and separated the two groups. However, the procession took a detour and passed through a Muslim-dominated area, where the residents thought that the participants had come to retaliate. This triggered the shooting incident,” said Kasganj Additional SP Pavitra Mohan Tripathi.
Meanwhile, the victim’s father, Sushil Gupta, said they would have been celebrating the youth’s birthday today. “If not for his death, we would have celebrated his birthday…everything is gone now…I am thinking of selling our house and leaving…Sab pakshapaat kar rahe hain (Everyone is taking sides),” he said.
— With inputs from Manish Sahu, Lucknow