A fact-finding team has highlighted how the city’s residents looked out one for another even as suspicious police action made the situation worse.
New Delhi: As Kasganj continues to burn in communal fire, there are a few tales that still evoke faith in humanity. Pradeep and Khalid’s is one such story.
The two friends were on their way to see Khalid’s ailing grandmother in Kasganj when they were picked up by the police. They tried to plead that they had no role in the riot as they were residents of Shahbazpur, located around 50 kilometres away from the riot-affected town in the adjoining Badayun district.
Their appeals remained unheard. However, what followed from thereon is not only a telling comment on the police administration but also on friendships that stick.
Their advocate Hasin Ahmad told a fact-finding team which recently visited Kasganj that the two friends were discriminated on the basis of their religion. While Khalid was booked under severe sections like attempt to murder and slapped with the harsh Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Pradeep was charged with section 151 (disrupting peace) and was offered to be released on bail.
Ahmad said that Pradeep raised his voice against such unfairness and refused to accept his release. He opted, his lawyer said, to go to jail with his friend Khalid.
Similarly, in yet another such story, Md. Akram, who lost one eye during the riot, said that the mob which attacked him will not shape his perception of Hindus. Akram, who was headed to Aligarh from Lakhimpur Kheri, had stopped at Kasganj before he was attacked. And that brief moment restored his faith in humanity.
When he entered Kasganj at around 6.45 in the evening, he looked for a place where he could read namaaz. He asked a tea-shop owner whether there was place to pray. On this, the shop-owner, a Hindu, happily offered him his room to perform his Friday prayer. He also told him that he should not go further as there were communal disturbances ahead.
However, Akram decided against it as he saw a few vehicles moving towards Kasganj. On his way, he asked another Hindu man for the direction towards Kasganj. The man immediately asked him to go back even as a mob had by then had already located the “Muslim-looking” Akram.
At the Aligarh medical college where Akram is admitted, he had narrated to The Wire how he was attacked and how the police had initially refused help.
In the midst of the hate that kept growing every day in Kasganj, from the last week of January to the first week of February, these stories narrated by a All India People’s Forum’s (AIPF) fact-finding team which visited Kasganj recently are clear exceptions. Still, their significance lies in understanding in the nature of a communal riot.
That is what the team’s report indicates – that Kasganj riot unfolded like a pre-planned attack on Muslims. That Hindutva forces took the lead and the state police actively played a complicit role. And, most importantly, that the common people had no role to play in the riot that raged for over a week.
Police discrimination on the basis of caste and religion
The report points to multiple cases in which the state police were lenient in terms of pressing charges against accused who were Hindus. More serious charges, however, were framed against Muslims. On top of this, the fact-finding team also says that even among the Hindus, accused persons from the dominant Lodh community – the constituency’s BJP MP Rajveer Singh and MLA from the saffron party, Devendra Singh Rajput, belong to this caste group – have faced much lighter charges than those who belong to other caste groups like Yadavs.
“There were numerous instances of caste and communal bias on part of the police that the team documented. Many told us that youth were being indiscriminately arrested by the police, and the religious and caste identity of the youth determined which sections they would be booked under,” the report says.
“Lodha Rajputs and other upper caste Hindus would generally be booked under Section 151 and released on bail. OBC and Dalits would be booked under section 147, 148, 149, 336. 436. 427. 34 IPC and Section 7 of the UAPA; Muslims would, in addition to the above sections, also have sections 307 (attempt to murder) and in some cases 302 (murder) booked against them,” the report added.
For instance, the report cites the case of Raj, a para-medical staff member at one Dr. Naveen Gaur’s clinic. On January 27, both Gaur and Raj were arrested when they were shutting the clinic on the request of police.
Raj’s father Rajvir Singh Yadav told the team members that while Gaur, who is a Lodh, was charged with section 151 and subsequently released on bail, Raj is facing serious charges of rioting and UAPA. He further said that while Raj was picked up from the clinic, the police has falsely stated in the FIR lodged by SHO Ripudaman Singh that he was arrested “at Ghantaghar where along with a mob had been involved in arson and vandalism at a shoe shop.”
Similarly, Anuj Tomar, the report alleges, said that his brother Alok Tomar was arrested in the afternoon of January 27 when he had stepped out to buy medicine for his father. Anuj said that his brother has spent the whole of January 26 sleeping at his home after having been warned by his friends not to step outside because of the riot.
Similarly, a number of such cases in which innocents have been allegedly arrested and slapped with false charges, have been listed.
“We also found out that a number of minors who were arrested have not been kept in the juvenile prison. This violates the jail act,” said Kavita Krishnan, a political activist, who was part of the team.
She said that while they found a number of such allegedly false cases, they heard people complaining that the actual culprits have escaped the attention of the police. “The bikers who disrupted the republic day celebrations in the Muslim colony have not been arrested yet. [The clash between the Hindutva activists on bikes and Muslims in Baddu Nagar became the trigger for the riot]. They had left their bikes at the scene of the scuffle. We have the photos of the number plates of those bikes, which the police has confiscated but has not bothered to trace their owners yet. Is the state police serious,” she said.
A case that went unheard
The team members met a labourer who is currently fighting for his life at the Aligarh medical college. His family members informed them that 45-year-old Chhotan was found behind the bushes that line the main road in Chittera village in an unconscious state with a serious head injury.
Chhotan had left his home in Ganjdundwara near Kasganj on January 28 to open his roadside chicken shop. Since he is the sole earning member of his family, he had no option but to open his shop which had remained shut for the last two days because of the riot, his wife Shehnaz told the team.
“When he failed to return by nightfall, his wife alerted the neighbours who set out in a jeep to search for him. They found him lying in bushes…his assailants apparently fled thinking the jeep was the police,” the report says.
“He is in the ICU of the JN medical college hospital, Aligarh. He has had to have head surgery and was on a ventilator. He is now off the ventilator but is still in critical condition and unconscious,” it adds.
The report notes that although a FIR has been filed, no district or police official has visited the hospital or his home.
The fact-finding team – comprising minority rights activist John Dayal, political activists Kavita Krishnan and Leena Dabiru, senior journalist Kiran Shaheen, farmers’ leader Prem Sngh Gehlawat and student activists Vijay Kumar and Tabrez Ahmed – told the media that neither the district SP nor the collector met them.
“After we met a few people at Kasganj jail, the police stopped us from visiting anywhere else, detained us for an hour at a police station, and then escorted us out of the district’s boundary. Therefore, our report does not carry the versions of the police,” said Dayal.
He added that there were enough cases for the situation to merit a judicial probe.