Two Kashmiri men selling dry fruits in a Lucknow market were assaulted and verbally abused Wednesday evening by a group of men linked to Vishwa Hindu Dal, a little-known local religious outfit, police said.
Five men were arrested Thursday in connection with the incident, including the two main accused who have been identified as Bajrang Sonkar and Amar Mishra, and the Dal’s president Ambuj Nigam. Sonkar has a “criminal history”, with around 12 cases registered against him, including charges of theft, loot and murder, said police.
The victims have been identified as Afzal Nayak and Abdul Salam Nayak, both residents of Kulgam. They said they come to Lucknow every year with their families to sell dry fruits between November and March and that this was the first time they faced such a problem.
A video clip of the incident shows Sonkar and Mishra, wearing saffron kurtas, verbally abusing the two victims and assaulting one of them with a lathi. The clip also shows a local resident trying to save the victims while the accused are heard asking for IDs of the Kashmiris and accusing them of “throwing stones at the Army in Kashmir”.
The youth who intervened to save the two Kashmiris requested anonymity. “I am not a hero. God will accept my deeds if he finds they are good,” he said.
Police said an FIR has been registered against the accused at the Hassanganj police station under IPC sections 147 (rioting), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace). The other two accused have been identified as Himanshu Awasthi and Anirudhh Kumar.
On Thursday, based on the medical examination of one of the victims, his statement and the video, IPC sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.) and 307 (attempt to murder) along with 7 CLA (Criminal Law Amendment) Act were added to the FIR, police said. Nigam faces an additional charge under IPC section 120 B (criminal conspiracy).
A separate FIR was registered at the Hazratganj police station against Awasthi for posting the video of the incident and posting objectionable comments. The FIR was registered under IPC sections 504, 505 (statements conducing to public mischief), 506 (criminal intimidation) and section 67 of the IT Act.
ADG (Law and Order) Anand Kumar and with ADG (Lucknow zone) Rajeev Krishna met the two victims and offered legal help.
SSP Kalanidhi Naithani said the accused claimed to have registered the Dal as a trust last year. “We believe that people connected with the trust were involved in the incident. So far, it appears that the trust’s members did this under the influence of some ideology. We have traced the criminal history of Sonkar till 2011 and he faces around a dozen cases of theft, loot and murder in 2001, and under the Arms Act,” he said.
Earlier, the Dal’s chief Nigam said: “We are BJP supporters and our members did this because there is anger in the minds of people against Kashmiris because of all the things happening there.” Asked about the Dal’s activities, he said they were engaged in “religious awakening” and “working against anti-national elements”.
The incident in Lucknow follows a series of attacks on Kashmiris, mostly students, in different parts of the country immediately after the Pulwama terror attack on February 14. The attacks triggered widespread outrage and led to the Supreme Court directing all states to take “prompt action” to prevent such incidents.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Uttar Pradesh DGP O P Singh said: “I can give an assurance to all Kashmiris that they will not feel unsafe in Uttar Pradesh and police is committed to give them safety and security.” SSP Naithani said around 200-300 Kashmiris come to the district every year to sell dry fruits.