I, Amit Tiwari, have grown up and lived most of my 36 years in Kasganj. I work primarily as a land surveyor, which keeps me occupied for around four months every year. But journalism is where my heart lies, and I work out of Kasganj also as a freelance journalist. Journalism is empowering, especially if you work in a small town. I see it as a means to empower the poorer village citizens, who I believe face tremendous pressure if they speak their mind, more so in the current political milieu.
I ventured into journalism around eight years ago. I contribute to several news publications in the district and beyond. My family is originally from Fatehpur, a village around 30 kms from the main city. I have been married for 12 years and have two daughters—the older one studies in Class 5, while the younger child has just started going to UKG. My parents still live in the ancestral house, while we live in Kasganj.
What happening in the aftermath of the tiranga rally on January 26 in Kasganj is unfortunate and unprecedented. While overtly things are appearing to be returning to normalcy, a sense of mistrust between the Hindu and Muslim communities appears to have taken root. In Kasganj around 80 per cent of the population are Hindus and the rest Muslims.
Members of both the communities have re-opened their shops after a long-drawn curfew, but the locals are apprehensive. Whenever there is movement of police in the market now, the traders frantically rush to their porch in anticipation of something terrible.
My profession requires me to observe events and talk to people, and a new trend is that Muslims don’t visit the predominantly Hindu neighbourhoods unless they are in a large group, as is the case with Hindus, who no longer frequent markets with shops owned by Muslims. The inter-community relations have suffered because of the events which led to Chandan Gupta’s killing. What is worse is that the suspicion between the communities is here to stay.
From what I have gathered, the sectarian violence was pre-planned. I can’t say for sure if it had the blessings of the top leaders, but the people who planned it on the ground were closely associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). During the bike rally that they undertook, Vishal Thakur, locally known as close aide of BJP MP Rajveer Singh, was riding pillion on Chandan Gupta’s Bullet motorcycle. Thakur is absconding now, and he hasn’t been mentioned in a single police complaint.
The violence which happened on January 26 was a huge, or if not rather deliberate, intelligence failure on the part of police and local administration. Ayush Sharma, a (rebel) office-bearer of Sankalp Foundation, of which Chandan was a part, had been warning the state leaders and the local superintendent of police about the impending violence. He had sent messages on Facebook to Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the local SP on January 20, stating that a sectarian clash was being planned. Members of the Sankalp Foundation had been publicising about the tiranga parade in the lead up to Republic Day. The event was being widely shared on social media, including on Whatsapp groups. Even the Muslims were aware of it. The police could have easily prevented the death of Chandan Gupta, had they had decided to do their duty.
Another issue which was being discussed for a month or so, until the riot erupted, was that Rajveer bhaiya had failed to introduce any new developments as far as the infrastructure in Kasganj was concerned. He had failed to repair roads, commission the building of a new hospital, or technical and educational institutes ever since his election in 2014. Everyone was talking about his failures and there was a growing consensus that he didn’t deserve a re-election. However, now the emerging feeling in the Hindu community is that the BJP has to be kept in power here in 2019. Development seems to have taken a backseat in the minds of voters.
At the epicentre of violence also lies the aspirations of some youngsters like Chandan and Ayush to make it big in politics. They used to get drunk at a water tank, which is a famous landmark here, as they discussed politics. This idea of planning a tiranga rally came about in one such get-together. They were of the view that a BJP government, a local MP and MLAs would offer them full backing, should they carry out such an adventure.
I have never voted in an election. I don’t believe that things will ever change. However, now we all know that the BJP will prevail in the next elec-tions in our district, which comprises three assembly constituencies. They are being, very conveniently, helped by the police and local administration.
If a riot like the one which happened on January 26 happens again here, it will be on a much larger scale. What some of the families here did was that they sent their children and loved ones to the neighbouring villages. While it was mostly Muslims who ran away fearing police brutality, I know of certain Hindu households who packed up and made a beeline for surrounding towns. I, for one, will send away my daughters and wife to our ancestral village if such tensions flare up again. I don’t want my children growing up seeing these negative things. While they are away, I could focus on my work better and hopefully help improve the situation in the town.
(The story first appeared in this week’s print edition of National Herald on Sunday).