Most of the youths in the Muslim-dominated village of Khair in Bahraich district bordering Nepal have fled fearing arrest, after the police booked close to 200 people of the community under UAPA in connection with a clash on October 20.
The clash took place while a procession for Durga idol immersion was passing through the village. One Ashish Kumar Shukla, a local resident who was part of the procession, got an FIR lodged at Baundi police station against 80 named (all Muslims) and 100-200 unnamed people. It alleged that the accused — armed with pistols, bombs and swords — attacked the procession and 50-60 unidentified people were injured.
The police have arrested 19 people from Khair and claimed to have identified 52 others. Police officials, however, now claim the UAPA was invoked wrongly, and that they will drop it from the FIR.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) is a central law that is usually invoked on acts posing threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the country.
Heavy police force including PAC has been deployed in Khair, and shops are closed. The village bears a deserted look, with most of the houses locked. The other houses are inhabited by the elderly, women and children. Many who have stayed back allege harassment by the police.
“There was a clash between Muslims and Hindus, but police registered FIR only against us. No FIR was lodged against people in the procession who engaged in brick-batting and attacked our houses and shops. Police are harassing us,” alleges 63-year-old Jaituna. “All youths left home after the police started raiding our houses. Those who were found were arrested. My sons Ramzan Ali (30) and Nankau (28) are in jail,” says Jaituna, who is left with two daughters-in-law and 10 grandchildren.
Those who have fled include former village head Mohammad Rasheed (45) and head cleric of Jama Masjid at Khair Bazaar, Hafiz Abdul Bari (43). “Rasheed’s family too has left. Police broke their doors and windows when women and children were inside,” says Mohammad Hasan, a neighbour.
Farmer Karamatullah (55) says, “When the procession reached near Jama Masjid, some persons in the procession threw gulal on Muslims on the roadside. The latter objected, and a heated argument took place. But people intervened and the matter was resolved. Then some members in the procession again threw gulal inside the masjid, which led to an altercation. Both groups clashed.”
Jagdish Kumar Jaiswal of the same village has another version: “People of another community attacked the procession without any provocation.”
Village head Sarita Verma’s husband Hari Narayan Verma says, “The village has 65 per cent Muslim population. I do not know if the attack was planned.”
Additional Superintendent of Police, Bahraich, Ravindra Kumar Singh, says, “So far, 71 Muslim youths have been identified as being involved in the clash. It was confirmed after scanning eight videos from locals. So far, 19 accused have been arrested.”
On why there is no FIR against the other group (Hindus), he said, “We have no evidence that two groups clashed. In the videos, people in the procession are only seen chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and not being involved in violence.”
He adds that UAPA had been wrongly been invoked, and they are probing how this happened. “We are now invoking Criminal Law Amendment Act,” he says.
When contacted, DIG, Devipatan Range, Anil Kumar Rai admitted that two groups clashed that day. “No one suffered serious injury. There is no restriction on lodging FIR from any side. If a complaint is lodged by another group, FIR will be registered,” he said.