Bulandshahr (Uttar Pradesh): In a passionate appeal to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Wakeel Ahmed, son of Ghulam Ahmed – who was lynched by Hindu Yuva Vahini members in Bulandshahr’s Sohi village last week – said, “Yogi ji must strictly punish those who killed my father. I do not want any innocent man to be implicated. My father was an innocent man. When an innocent man dies, it hurts a lot. I wish to convey to Yogi ji that if he is a well-wisher of the country, he must immediately ban the Hindu Yuva Vahini.”
On May 2, members of the militant Hindu group savagely beat up Ghulam Ahmed, who later succumbed to his injuries. The Vahini was founded in 2002 by Adityanath, who is currently its chief patron.
Bulandshahr is agriculturally rich, with wide roads connecting villages, numerous mango orchards, vast fields of sugarcane and vegetables and canals which hardly go dry even during the hottest summer months.
Passing through fields and villages, a meandering road led us to Pahasu. We are told that there used to be a small market in the town which was hit by a communal riot. The situation is peaceful now. A few kilometres away is Ghulam Ahmed’s village, Sohi.
The entrance to Sohi is next to a mango orchard, which Ghulam Ahmed had taken up to manage on contract. He was attacked while he was keeping watch here. There is a lull in the village. Only a couple of men can be seen about. We ask them for directions to Ahmed’s house. As we approach the house, we find two policemen resting on a charpoy under the shade of a neem tree. They have been posted here for security. They directed us to a group of people sitting outside Ghulam Ahmed’s house.
On the veranda, four or five people are sitting. Sacks have been spread on the floor for visitors. The people present look at us with suspicion. A distrustful Wakeel asks, “How can I believe that you are from the media?” He is calmed only when I show him my ID.
I ask him how it all happened. He quickly responds, “It is the Hindu Yuva Vahini goons who have done this.” He introduces me to the other men sitting there. Most of them are Hindus from the village. Retired accountant Ramesh Pal Singh says, “There are only four Muslim families in the village who have lived here for generations. There was never a dispute. This is the work of lawless elements from outside the village who do not want people to live in peace here.”
“This Hindu Yuva Vahini stokes communal riots,” alleges Wakeel. “They think they are above the law and that Yogi ji has given them licence to kill anyone. [They think] if someone is doing some evil, or transporting a cow, and he is a Muslim, kill him. They don’t hand him over to the police. They decide the punishment themselves. Where is it written in the law that you can form a squad and punish people. Then what is the point of having the police? Let us just give the police leave and post these men instead so they can kill anyone they want.”
Wakeel Ahmed’s anger is not against Hindus. He says, “It is better to rein in the Hindu Yuva Vahini as soon as possible. They can cause Hindu-Muslim riots any time they want. They can create disorder and destroy the country. Terrorists have no religion. They are terrorists too.”
Ramesh Pal proudly says, “Whether it is a wedding or any other occasion, no function in the four Muslim families is held without the Hindus. They do not serve meat in parties so that the Hindus can eat along with them. We invite each other to weddings. We depend on each other. The people in the village never want any such incident to happen. There were more people in Ghulam Ahmed’s funeral procession than there could be in a politician’s.”
An elopement which set off the tragedy
On April 27, Riyazuddin Khan’s son, Yusuf – Ghulam Ahmed’s neighbour – went missing with a Hindu girl from an adjacent village, Fazalpur. The boy’s elder brother, Yunus, says, “The day the two eloped, we had gone to the girl’s house to tell her family to control her. Yusuf had returned from Saudi [Arabia] a few days ago. We had taken a loan to send him away two years ago for this very reason. They had been hatching plans ever since his return. Two hours after we went to her house, they went missing.”
After returning from Saudi Arabia, Yusuf had started working at a barber’s shop. According to Yunus, “After they went missing, I again went to the girl’s house and told her father that they had run away. To which he replied, let her run away. Ever since that day, we have been looking for them with the help of the pradhan ji. If we could lay our hands on him, we would hand him over to the police ourselves. He has ruined us and disgraced the village. Ghulam Ahmed lost his life because of him. We want him to be punished. If the law calls for him to be hanged, let him be hanged.”
In fact, there is no law in India which prohibits two adults from different religions from falling in love and marrying each other. But here in Bulandshahr, the codes that operate are clearly different.
After the elopement, village head Anupama Singh’s husband Arun Pratap Singh and his men went out looking for the duo along with the boy’s relatives. The next day when they had gone out of the village, Hindu Yuva Vahini members came to the village and threatened the Muslim families.
Arun Pratap Singh’s brother, Pradeep Kumar is present at Ghulam Ahmed’s house too. He says, “Together, we were all searching for them. What the boy did was wrong, but his family never wanted it. We have been looking for them since the day they went missing. The family was constantly in touch with the police. The boy’s brother had even lodged a police complaint. But people from outside spoiled the village’s atmosphere.”
On May 2, Ghulam Ahmed was looking after the 14 bigha mango orchard. His son says, “We had all gone to the police station. We told them to help us as we were not able to find [the couple]. We told them we would hand them over to the police ourselves.”
“Papa had nothing to do with it. The boy had eloped with the girl. Even the boy’s family did not support him. They killed [my father] only to create a Hindu-Muslim divide,” said Wakeel.
“That day, five or six men wearing saffron stoles came on motorcycles and asked the women in the house the whereabouts of the boy and the girl. The women told them that the men were not at home as some had gone to the police station while others were out searching for the two.”
According to Wakeel and other villagers, the men then went to the orchard where they spotted Ghulam Ahmed. They forcibly took him a little distance away and severely beat him. After they left him nearly dead, he managed to call Anil Sharma (whose orchard Ahmed was looking after), who in turn informed Wakeel.
Sharma recounts, “I brought him to the orchard on my motorcycle and gave him water to drink. He was badly injured.” He was taken to a nearby hospital where he died. Wakeel says, “He was hit on the chest with a rod which left a mark there. He must have died because of the injury on his chest. He died before I reached there. He could not even speak. He might have told Anil Sharma something on phone or when he was with him.”
How did they know that it was Hindu Yuva Vahini members who attacked Ahmed, when there are no eye-witnesses? Wakeel says, “They had come to our house before killing him. Ever since the two had eloped, Hindu Yuva Vahini members had been threatening us. They hold meetings here. They even threatened us, saying that they can do anything and no one can harm them.”
“They had threatened us several times, saying that if we do not find the girl they would destroy u,” he added. “One of them was Gavendra. We recognise him. They used to come wearing saffron scarves.”
Hindu Yuva Vahini under the scanner
In his complaint, Wakeel has named Gavendra, who is associated with the Hindu Yuva Vahini, and other unknown men. On the basis of his complaint, the police picked up several men from nearby villages and finally, three of them were arrested.
The police located the couple who had eloped to Haryana and they have been presented before a court. Meanwhile, the Hindu Yuva Vahini district president, Sunil Raghav says that its members arrested by the police are innocent and have nothing to do with the murder. He alleges that some men have hijacked the saffron ideology and are trying to defile the organisation.
The population of Sohi is around 5,000 with only four Muslim families. An old man in Ahmed’s veranda says, “They have lived here for generations and no tension ever arose. People live in harmony and visit each other. There is love among us. They are poor and work as labourers. Whoever did this, has done grave harm.”
Ghulam Ahmed’s other son, Shakeel, says, “We had nothing to do with it. Our father was murdered just because he was a Muslim and the boy who eloped was also a Muslim. The people in our village could never do this. It was done by the Hindu Yuva Vahini. They are dangerous people.”
Ahmed’s widow is sitting surrounded by women, most of whom are Hindus. No amount of consolation seems to pacify her as she cries continuously.
Ahmed is survived buy his wife, four sons and a daughter who is married. Of his sons, Yasin, Shakeel and Salman work as labourers, while Wakeel is a carpenter. They are a landless family. Ahmed used to take up land from fellow Hindu villagers on contract and work on it. His sons used to work with him.
A day after Ahmed was lynched, there were reports claiming that the family is planning to migrate from the village, in fear. However, the Hindu villagers have denied these reports. Ramesh Pal Singh says, “No one is going anywhere. We are all together. Whatever happened is past. Migration is out of question.”
On the other hand, Wakeel says, “We are very scared. Our fellow villagers support us, but there are Hindu Yuva Vahini members in the village. We go outside the village for work. I am a carpenter and visit other villages for work. Will I take the villagers with me wherever I go? If they want to kill us, they can do it any time. We will go to some place where nobody knows us.”
On reports of migration, an official from the special branch of police intelligence, Girish Kumar, visited the family. He says, “The villagers were not aware of whatever happened. They were outsiders. Whether they were Hindu Yuva Vahini members or not, we cannot say because the Vahini has not been set up at block level. They do not have a trace here. Their activities have seen a rise only after Yogi became the chief minister.”
“Hindu Yuva Vahini is an organisation based in eastern Uttar Pradesh. It has come to be known here after Yogi became CM. But who were these people, only the police can tell. Whoever they were, they ruined the atmosphere of the village,” says Ramesh Pal Singh
However, the organisation’s local leader, Raghav, officially confirmed on the phone that the Vahini has been active in the area for a long time. “The organisation was named because it is active. The boys are members of Hindu Yuva Vahini and they are innocent. The opposition has carried out the incident intentionally. They had already made up their mind. Anti-social elements and the opposition have done it to defame the organisation.”
On Wakeel’s complaint, the police have registered an FIR against nine people in the case. According to local media reports, all of the accused have links with the Vahini. Till May 3, the police had arrested three youths – Honey Raghav, Pulkit Sharma and Lalit Sharma. District magistrate Roshan Jacob reprimanded the administration for its inability to nab all the accused. The prime accused, Gavendra, is absconding.
Senior superintendent of police (SSP) Muni Raj says, “Three men have been arrested. We cannot name the others as they might also go into hiding and it might get difficult to arrest them.”
Addressing a press conference on May 4, SSP Raj said, “On May 2, Sohi resident Gavendra reached Yusuf’s house along with five or six Hindu Yuva Vahini activists. When they did not find anyone at the house, they reached the mango orchard and lynched Yusuf’s neighbour Ghulam Ahmed to death.”
Commenting on the involvement of Vahini members in the murder, the SSP said, “No matter which organisation a criminal belongs to, he is a criminal before the law.”
One life gone, others on the anvil now
The police arrested the eloping couple from Palwal and brought them before the court. After recording the statement of the girl, the boy has been jailed and the girl has been handed back to her family.
According to Yunus, Yusuf was constantly in touch with the girl and even used to transfer money into her account. The girl, however, has another story to tell, one that is completely at variance to what one had heard in the village about the couple’s romance until then.
According to her statement, Yusuf befriended her under a different identity. He allegedly told her that his name was Vijay. She said that she had not eloped with him but had just gone out with him when on the way he kidnapped her and took her to Gabhana, Aligarh, Palwal and Allahabad. She alleged that he raped her in the hotel. After her statement before the magistrate, the police have filed cases of kidnapping and rape against Yusuf.
That the villagers do not want any kind of unrest is quite clear. They want to live in peace and condemn both the girl’s elopement and the old man’s murder in one breath.
But the village where communal harmony had managed to prevail for so long, stands witness today to rising ‘mob justice’. Not only did it claim a life, but it has also flared up communal tension.
After Yogi Adityanath was sworn-in as chief minister, he had vowed not to tolerate any kind of laxity in maintaining law and order. Whether this extends to Ghulam Ahmed’s case remains to be seen.
This article was originally published in The Wire Hindi and has been translated by Naushin Rehman.