New Delhi: After nearly 200 Muslims were booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in Uttar Pradesh’s Khaira Bazar village in connection with a recent clash, most of the community has fled fearing arrest. The Muslim-dominated village is in Bahraich district, which borders Nepal.
According to an Indian Express report, a clash broke out on October 20 while a procession for Durga idol immersion was passing through the village. A local resident, one Ashish Kumar Shukla, who was part of this procession, lodged an FIR against 80 named – all Muslims – and several unnamed people. In his complaint, Shukla alleged that the accused attacked the procession using swords, pistols and bombs, injuring about 60 people.
According to Karamatullah, a 55-year-old farmer, when the procession reached Jama Masjid, some in the group threw gulal on Muslims who were standing 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,” he told Indian Express.
Jagdish Kumar Jaiswal, who is of the same village, however, disagrees. “People of another community attacked the procession without any provocation,” he told the daily.
Police have arrested 19 and identified about 50 others from the village. However, now officials are claiming that the stringent UAPA was invoked incorrectly and would be removed from the FIR, the English daily reported.
The ground situation remains tense with heavy police force being deployed in the village. Local shops have been shut down and most of the houses remain locked.
One Jaituna claimed that while the clash occurred between Hindus and Muslims, the police registered FIR only against the latter. “No FIR was lodged against people in the procession who engaged in brick-batting and attacked our houses and shops. Police are harassing us,” he alleged.
All youths in the village left “after the police started raiding our houses,” he said, adding that those who were found were taken into custody. His two sons are also in jail. Former village head Mohammad Rasheed is among those that have fled the village along with his entire family. Head cleric of Jama Masjid at Khaira Bazar, Hafiz Abdul Bari, has also left the village.
Ravindra Kumar Singh, the additional superintendent of police, Bahraich, said that so far over 70 Muslim youth have been identified as being involved in the incident. “It was confirmed after scanning eight videos from locals,” Indian Express quoted him as saying. When questioned why no Hindus had FIRs against them, Singh said there was no evidence of a clash between the two groups and in the videos that officials have obtained, “people in the procession are only seen chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and not being involved in violence.”
According to Hari Narayan Verma, the husband of present village head Sarita Verma, the village has about 65% Muslims. “I do not know if the attack was planned,” he was quoted as saying.
Note: In an earlier version of the story, the village was incorrectly named as Khair.