The last time Saurabh Sisodia updated his Facebook account was on September 28. It was a selfie edited to include the Indian tricolour in the foreground, in support of the Central government’s Digital India campaign.
It was also the day a mob attacked and killed Mohammed Akhlaq and injured his son Danish. Saurabh rushed to Akhlaq’s house after an announcement from the local temple in Bisara village that the family had allegedly slaughtered a calf. For many, Akhlaq was a neighbour and Danish a friend.
Saurabh, 21, was arrested the day after and is among 10 others named in the FIR and charged with murder. His Facebook account has since gone quiet. As has the social media footprint of most young Hindu boys in this village. Following the lynching that steeped Bisara in infamy, this is now a village without youngsters. Most of them have fled fearing a police crackdown.
Like Saurabh, they all fit the same profile — under 25, educated and tech-savvy. So was Danish. They were part of a generation ready to graduate from traditional family occupations: farming, cattle rearing, shop assistants and mechanics.
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Just over an hour away from Delhi, Bisara, among the larger villages in Dadri tehsil, had its share of dreams that rode on its access to private English-medium education, eager young workforce and proximity to the national capital. But now, with every passing day after Akhlaq’s lynching, that dream fades.
“Is ghatna ne hamare gaon ko kalankit kar diya (This incident has disgraced our village). In Dadri and surrounding areas, we have become untouchables. The word Bisara has become dangerous,” says Vivek, who works as a technician in a motor company in Noida.
Two days after the incident, Vivek says, his manager asked him for “proof” that he wasn’t present in Bisara on the night of the killing. “Luckily, I was on the night shift at work and duty logs confirmed it. If I had taken a day off on September 28, I would have surely been fired,” he says.
Others haven’t been as lucky. A 22-year-old in Bisara who did not want to be identified says that two days after the incident, he was called by a leading educational institute in Greater Noida for a job interview. When I told them I was from Bisara, they asked me to leave, saying they did not want to risk their name in the newspapers.”
Every morning at 7, there is little room to wander the narrow, cemented streets of Bisara. School buses, auto rickshaws, vans and cycle rickshaws clog its three arterial roads as they ferry students to English-medium schools on the outskirts of the village. Bisara has a government inter-college and a primary school but parents prefer English-medium ones.
Bisara pradhan Sanjay Rana says parents take up jobs in Dadri town to fund the education of their children. “While most Thakur families in the village own some farm land, that is not enough to meet their expenses. So they go out and look for jobs that will ensure their children go to good schools,” he says.
According to Vivek, the technician in the Noida factory, education was their only hope. “There is nothing in this rural life anymore. Farming is too expensive. Cows and buffaloes are too costly to maintain. Our only option is to get to Noida or Delhi. That’s our dream,” he says.
With school comes tuitions as well. Almost every child in Bisara attends tuition classes — math, science, history and, of course, English — after and before school hours. Mohammed Akhlaq’s children Sartaj and Danish did too.
Sindhu Singh, a villager in Bisara, says his late son Rakam, a deputy director in the CBI, helped the two boys with their books. Pointing to a room on the terrace where his son would teach young boys from the village, he says, “My son taught both Sartaj and Danish. Sartaj was very bright. He used to come here everyday, sometimes twice a day.”
Sandeep, a 14-year-old in Class IX, says, “Between 5 and 6 in the morning, I attend English tuitions. Then for two hours in the evening, I have tuition classes for math and social science.”
His English tuition teacher is Subedar Major Kajhan Singh Sisodia, who retired from the Army in 1991. He takes classes in a small room with three beds and a couch in the middle. Danish came here for his English tuitions. “It is so strange — Danish and one of the boys suspected of killing his father studied together in this room,” he says.
Sub Maj Sisodia says teaching is hard work. “Five years ago, every student would devote one full hour for studies. Nowadays, I have to constantly watch them to prevent them from reaching for their phones. That’s the biggest distraction. Everybody has a phone and everybody has Facebook,” he says.
There is little else for a youngster to do in Bisara than ride around on a bike or stay glued to a phone.
“This is all they do these days. Heads bowed, hands on the phone,” says pradhan Sanjay Rana. He is standing with a group of elderly men at the gates of Bisara’s government primary school.
“It’s ridiculous. My son goes to the fields only for this. No farming, nothing. He poses there, puts up some picture and titles them: ‘Me on farm’, ‘Me on tractor’,” says a third.
But for a village that saw ‘good education’ as its way forward, the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq on September 28 has exposed a dark side: of hate, bigotry and deep distrust.
Now, days after the lynching, almost everybody in the village believes Akhlaq did slaughter a cow, something he had never been accused of before.
“We don’t care about the testing of the beef. We saw it and we have pictures,” says a Bisara resident.
Until the incident, nobody had linked the presence of a few right-wing outfits such as the Samadhan Sena in Bisara’s neighbourhood to the rise of communal tensions in the village.
Ved Nagar of the Gau Raksha Dal, which has an office in Dadri, acknowledges the role of social media and the youth in his organisation. “Around 50-60 persons from Bisara and nearby villages are associated with us, all of them between 17 and 40. They are our informers. We have over 150 groups on WhatsApp and if we notice any suspicious activity, we pass it around on these groups.” Like it happened that day in Bisara.
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