Kasganj is surprised, in deep shock and disbelief. It is yet to reconcile to the collective trauma, phobia, and the simmering shadow of violence, that has come to haunt and stalk its social, cultural and political landscape.
This laidback and bustling mofussil township in Uttar Pradesh, near Aligarh, almost 220 km from Delhi, is unable to understand why their town was chosen for the sinister experiment of communal polarisation by those who had earlier chosen to enact a similar social engineering project in Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur in western UP, prior to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Out there, almost 60,000 people, mostly Muslims, were displaced and rendered homeless as ‘internal refugees’, women were gang-raped and a fake narrative of ‘love jihad’ was manufactured.
This was a sinister and successful experiment which bore them fruits in the elections. The worry in the current scenario is whether Kasganj was chosen as a preparation for 2019, with all the rhetoric of ‘achche din’ having failed.
Undoubtedly, Kasganj seems to have been deliberately chosen, because it has refused to toe any particular political line. A small town of just about 1.4 lakh people, with everyone living in close proximity, makes it an easier target to control.
Kasganj is not a BJP stronghold, though its current MP is Rajvir Singh, son of former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, who presided over the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992. The town has also elected Samajwadi Party and BSP candidates in the past. The irony is that the only blot on the secular and harmonious history of this town has been the sporadic violence which erupted after the Babri Masjid demolition. Before, and after that, the town hasn’t witnessed hate politics or communal divisions.
Across the bylanes of the town, where Muslims and Hindu traders share shops and inherited spaces, the shadows of the violence on Republic Day and the day later, remain etched. A flag-hoisting ceremony in a Muslim locality, with permission from the authorities, was violently disrupted by a bike rally led by Salkalp Foundation and ABVP cadres, with tricolour and saffron flags, shouting, among other slogans, ‘Pakistan Murdabad’. This was a direct and transparent provocation, on a route without police permission to spread mayhem. The Muslim community requested them to join the flag-hoisting ceremony, which was refused; instead, they wanted to take the bike rally of about 70 bikes, through the pubic function. The police intervened, and the rallyists left the area hurriedly, leaving the bikes. (To this day, the police have not verified the owners of the bikes.)
Then what followed was organised violence by the same group, first, using bricks on a tractor at Bilram Gate, then at other places, accompanied by firing and violence. Consequently, a young man was killed – shot dead. There is, however, no evidence, as yet, as to how he was killed, who killed him, and in which location he was shot. The location attributed by the police, near the house of Salim, the accused, along with others, has not been marked for forensic evidence. There are other claims that the young man was shot somewhere else and not at this spot. While the post-mortem report is awaited, it is reported that Salim, who owns a cloth house and is revered by locals, had two inherited licensed guns which he has never used.
The next day, on January 27, 2017, after the funeral, with the atmosphere tense and the possibilities of ‘revenge’ stalking the town, the partisan response of the police was displayed in full glare. From the funeral spot to the market, about 3 km, a group of armed Hindutva cadre, were allowed to run amok. Shocked Hindu shopkeepers said 27 shops owned by Muslims and two mosques were burnt. Most Hindu shopkeepers were silent spectators. During these targeted attacks, Hindus came forward to restore normality, putting up locks, protecting whatever was left. Indeed, not a single Hindu shop or property, or temple was harmed. Besides, the famous Chamunda temple, located in a Muslim-dominated colony, was protected by the Muslims.
This was no communal riot. In this sweet narrative of Hindu-Muslim shared spaces of brotherhood, dignity and tolerance, where festivals and social spaces were shared in harmony for decades, with close human bonding for several generations, an organised wave of poison has been nastily injected.
The Muslim community has been traumatised. Even those who have lost their shops are unable to come forward and lodge a complaint. Witnesses are afraid to complain. The police has been refusing to accept FIRs by Muslims, or forcing them to run from pillar to post. Many Muslim shops are still shut. Majority of those arrested are Muslims. There are alleged reports of fake evidence, like cartridges etc being planted on them.
Surely, the truth is there for all to see. If this is not a sinister social engineering project to ghettoise and terrorise a community, and create ruptures in a peaceful society with brazen acts of organised injustice by the ruling regime, then what is it? Acche din?
(The column first appeared in last week’s edition of National Herald on Sunday).