In early May, at the
crack of dawn, Sadhu Lal and his two brothers were tending to their wheat crop
in Nagle Nag village in Uttar Pradesh’s Etawah district. Sadhu was at the far
end of the field when he heard the gunshot. He turned, and saw two men standing
a little apart from each other, not far from his brothers. They had
country-made guns, and they were shooting. Sadhu saw his elder brother Prabhu
fall. Sadhu hit the ground immediately. Shots were fired in his direction, but
he escaped. Fortunately for him, he was out of the range of the killers.
He counted 12 shots, each fired coldly before the shooters escaped. When he got up, he saw his two brothers lying dead in the fields their family had farmed for more than 20 years. Each had been shot three times.
Sadhu and his brothers were one of the few Dalit families that owned land in the Yadav-dominated village. The warnings had come earlier; so had the threats. A Yadav family had told them to cut down their water usage so that the tubewells of the Yadavs could continue to pump copiously. The family couldn’t afford this; it would mean the destruction of their crops. The Yadavs’ response was deadly.
The police arrived in the evening, almost 12 hours after the shooting. They wanted to send the bodies for an autopsy—a legal requirement in cases of unnatural deaths. The family of the dead men wanted the cops to first register a case and arrest the culprits. “This was to ascertain the reason for the deaths, they said, even though everyone could see they had been shot,” Sadhu told me.
The family resorted to sitting on dharna at the special helipad built in Saifai—hometown of Samjawadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and his kin. They refused to hand over the bodies, and blocked roads till the police registered their complaint.
“I recognised one of them immediately and told the police as much. But he still roams freely in Saifai. His family has made sure he does not visit the village,” says Sadhu.
Six weeks after the murders, no action had been taken against the offenders.
The killing of
Sadhu’s brothers became possible and is even directly a result of what happened
on March 6 last year. On that day, the Samajwadi Party (SP) won a landslide
victory in the UP legislative polls, taking 224 seats in a 403-member Assembly.
It was a decisive vote for change against the incumbent Bahujan Samajwadi Party
(BSP) and Mayawati, made possible partly because of SP leader Akhilesh Yadav’s
massive campaign promising better administration. Fifteen months after the
39-year-old was sworn in as the youngest chief minister of UP, such hopes seem
like a mirage.
Samajwadi rule has seen a sharp increase in violence and rioting, mainly against Dalits and minorities. The killing of Sadhu’s brothers is just one example—the notion that it is now payback time for the Dalits after years of shelter under the BSP runs deep down the SP command chain.
Issues of use and distribution of water in the fields, caste violence, and a gun-toting culture have all seen a revival under the new government. According to state government data, in its first 45 days, there were 699 murders in the state. In the period between April and November last year, there were 3172 murders. Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state, close to 20 crore, according to the 2011 Census.
“This figure (for murders) too is an eyewash. The police do not register half of the complaints or simply mark the killings as natural deaths in many areas,” alleges Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Suresh Khanna, a vocal critic of the SP government. In 2011, there were fewer murders in the whole year—3161— compared to the eight months between April and November last year. While UP has topped the figures for attacks on women, the figures for the eight-month period took it to a different level—an average of five rapes every day (registered complaints) during the period.
“SP’s rise to power always leads to an upsurge in crime,” says a senior UP police officer who does not want to be named. “Party workers are unleashed on helpless citizens across the state. This is also because they are kept under check when Mayawati is in power.”
State Congress leader Pramod Tiwari says, “The return of the SP to power means the rule of law turns into the rule of goons and criminals. This is what we have been seeing in the state.”
While crime and politics in UP, especially after the JP movement, have never been apart from each other, the present government’s tenure has seen one feeding off the other.
The SP workers blame the violence on BSP and Mayawati. “She marginalised the Yadavs, Thakurs and others who constitute a majority of the SP voter base. Some repercussions will be there,” said Munna Singh, SP worker in Etawah, justifying the killing of a Dalit in the first week of May. “Do-chaar log toh marenge hi idhar udhar (a few people are bound to die here and there).”
Police involvement in crime has also been on the rise, with more than 30 cases registered against them. Most prominent is the one against Inspector Sanjay Rai, who hired gunmen to kill a woman constable’s 12-year-old relative after she resisted his advances. Rai was exposed after the two contract killers were nabbed in Azamgarh. Rai has been on the run ever since.
In another case, eight policemen, including a sub-inspector, were booked for cattle-smuggling in the Nindru area of Bijnore district. Cases of policemen involved in loot and robbery on trains have been registered at many places in the state. On June 9, four Railway Police personnel on duty in the Satyagrah Express are said to have robbed the passengers they were to protect.
In all this, there is perhaps one incident that will forever be the subject of all-that-is-wrong-with-UP conversations in living rooms everywhere. On June 8 and 9, 39 constables under Chitwaragaon police station in Ballia district reported for duty but did not work. Instead, they sat on dharna for equity in service conditions and perks. They wanted an equal share in bribes that the station house officer had collected.
All that the ADG (Law and Order) of the UP police has since said is that “appropriate action” has been taken against the guilty policemen.
The Samajwadi Party
has for long been a so-called rough diamond. Originally inspired by socialist
leader Ram Manohar Lohia, the party today has hardly any ideals save electoral
success. Akhilesh, seen by many in the party as a surprise choice for chief
minister, is derisorily known in the party as the “acting CM” because various
other power centres and factions hold sway over parts of the state and
While Mulayam Singh Yadav or “Netaji” is the unquestioned leader and is busy preparing ground ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, his son Akhilesh has not found acceptance among the rank and file. Seen mainly to have the support of the youth cadres of the party, the chief minister, according to other senior leaders, remains marginalised.
Mulayam’s brother Shivpal Yadav and senior leader Azam Khan are known to have harboured ambitions of becoming chief minister and had been quite upset when Akhilesh was chosen. As a result, Mulayam has now elevated Azam Khan in the party and included him in the group preparing for the Lok Sabha elections. “He has been promised a ministerial post if SP becomes part of the coalition that attains power next year,” a party insider said.
Shivpal Yadav, on the other hand, has been given the role of “money man”. He has taken over the role Mayawati’s brother performed in the previous government—all government contracts, tenders and allotment of land is done under his supervision, and it is said that money freely changes hands.
The state has packed the infomation commission with party loyalists and made its head a former bureaucrat convicted of corruption.
While Akhilesh is said to be a novice when it comes to handling power and managing the affairs of government, Shivpal is not.
“He almost runs a parallel government and Akhilesh is only ordered to do certain things, never asked,” a person part of the chief minister’s office said. “But Akhilesh is learning the tricks slowly. Now he might be lying low but he will strike once he gets a chance. It is still early days,” he added.
On June 4, in a press conference, party president Mulayam Singh, perhaps only partly in jest, said solving the state’s law and order problem wasn’t too difficult a task, that he would have accomplished it in 10-15 days, it was all about making “DMs and SPs accountable.”
He turned towards Akhilesh and said, “Are you listening? I am saying this for you.” Akhilesh smiled and the reporters laughed.
Since March last
year, armed with a strong mandate and a weak chief minister, the SP cadres have
been rebuilding their strength, wealth, and reminding people just how powerful
they can be.
They have a plan for this, and organisational support that sanctions and facilitates it. They do what they please, safe in the knowledge that their word is law. The primary task of workers at the ground level is the subjugation of the BSP cadre, which brings Dalits straight into the line of fire.
While BSP cadres stay united and close to each other in urban areas, they mostly stay out of the way of SP men fearing assault or false cases slapped on them by police.
The SP men go about their business in a straightforward way: there are clear lines between friends and enemies and the mantra is simple—friends have to prosper, enemies have to suffer.
Anyone directly or indirectly associated with the party is considered a member and is divided into a particular group. Members with the muscle to organise a large number of men at short intervals, round up vehicles, gather weapons—and are attached selectively to every group. These groups are used during rallies, party events and other functions. When not involved in party work, however, they become a headache for the law and order machinery. Caste loyalties run deep in UP’s hinterland and these groups target Dalits openly. The killers of Sadhu Lal’s brothers were part of one such group.
In every constituency, there is a clear chain of command and a meeting of party workers is called every month to assess the work done. At times, instructions are handed down to specifically target certain areas seen as voting for other parties, especially the BSP.
“Every worker is a leader in his area and is given instructions accordingly. He has the right to organise his group however he likes. Senior leadership simply gives the directions. How the work is done is of least concern (to them),” says Rajkumar Bhati, district head of Gautam Budh Nagar.
So if a worker feels people from his locality are not too supportive of the SP, there is a list of things he might do, the first being to disrupt peace by somehow accusing a local leader of the BSP or any other party of something, and then going berserk. Police work hand-in-glove with them while giving the impression that they are actually trying to broker peace. After a few arrests and warnings, mostly to workers or leaders from BSP or other parties, the police leave. By this time the SP workers and the local leader has received a good volume of publicity, his next step is to organise a function where senior district or state leaders are invited and a show of strength takes place.
“A few new programmes or the inauguration of a new project in the locality is enough of an occasion for such functions,” says Bhati. Based on the performance of workers during such functions and based on the popularity of a particular person—the report card is provided by the police—leadership roles are given to them, which includes unleashing violence when required. This in turn lets the worker and his group of men enjoys sufficient immunity with party leaders as well as with the police.
While SP also has a
galaxy of politicians with criminal records, Raghuraj Pratap Singh, better
known as Raja Bhaiya, tops the list. He is said to have been involved in
murders, extortions and many other illegal activities.
Using his clout in the SP and the BJP previously, he has managed to eliminate or discourage all his rivals in the Pratapgargh district, which falls in the Awadh region of the state. Such is his hold over the five assembly seats in the district that except for the BSP no other party ever puts up candidates against his loyalists. Under BSP, he was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in 2002 but released from jail and all charges against him dropped within 30 minutes of the SP coming to power a year later. As the Food and Civil Supplies Minister and in-charge of the prisons department in the present government he returned to his ways and is alleged to have run the prisons department like his fiefdom, with SP workers lodged in jails under various cases being provided special facilities and also being allowed to move in and out of the prisons freely. Singh had to resign from his ministries after the murder of the Zia-ul-Haq, the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of Pratapgarh district on March 3 this year.
The SP’s reign of
violence started even before the new chief minister could take oath. In Dadri,
a town in Gautam Budh Nagar district, which includes the “flagship” towns of
Noida and Greater Noida, SP workers targeted Dalits in Ramgarh village. Dadri
is considered a bastion of Mayawati since her village Badalpur is a part of it.
In the 24 hours leading to the swearing in of the new government, more than a
dozen Dalits were beaten up by SP workers over the right of passage of lower
castes through an upper caste street in the village. When the Dalits protested,
the village head and other people attacked the Dalits, injuring more than 20
people, six of them critically. Among the injured were women and children.
A case was registered and a few people were picked up even as additional police were deployed in the area. After more than a year, the accused are out on bail and the case has not moved ahead in the courts either.
“The fact is that any Dalit who stood up to the upper castes like Gujjars and Thakurs in the village when Mayawati was the CM was rounded up and beaten along with all the family members. Caste violence takes centrestage when Mayawati is out of power. It bursts out into the open when she is defeated since under her rule the police do not spare anyone who indulges in such acts,” says Dr. Rupesh Verma, a social and political activist from the neighbouring Sadopur village, which also falls under the Dadri tehsil.
In another incident, five Dalit and backward caste women, inaugurating an adult literacy centre for Dalit women in Digwara village in Lalitpur district, were abused and severely beaten up by local SP member Sahib Singh Yadav. The women work for the Sahjani Shiksha Kendra (SJK) in partnership with Nirantar, a well-known voluntary organisation in the field of education.
SSK and Nirantar have been working in Lalitpur since 2002 for the empowerment of Dalit and Adivasi women and girls through literacy and educational interventions. SSK is the only women-headed organisation in the district, staffed primarily by Dalit and OBC women from the area, and working with nearly 3000 Dalit and Adivasi women. The women—Meena, Kusum, Gyasi, Nirmala and Urmila—were in the village to promote female literacy. About 30 women from the village had gathered for the ceremony when Sahib Singh reached the spot and physically and verbally assaulted them.
The local administration and the media called the riots yet another example of mutual hostility between Hindus and Muslims, but it was a calculated attack by those who have a political stake in such violence.
A woman volunteer with Nirantar, requesting anonymity, explained, “It is not as if it was the first time that these women had been in the village and the region. These efforts have been going on for years now but nobody challenged or abused them since there was always some police protection or at least of police action against them. Now, however, there is none. The Yadavs, who hardly send their daughters to school, let alone their womenfolk, are opposed to the initiatives because of fears of their women ‘going astray’ or Dalit women interfering in the village elders’ diktats from time to time. These men simply do not want the centre to become operational.”
Sahib Singh, who had earlier also been the village head but lost to the head of another Yadav family from the village recently, first used caste-based abuses like “chamarni”, “basorni” and sexually explicit language, calling them whores among other things.
“All of a sudden many other men too gathered and watched as he kept on abusing. He kept saying that we were there to disturb the peace of the village and some men seemed to agree with him too. This only encouraged him to go a step further,” the volunteer from Nirantar said.
He threatened to kill them if they returned to the village again, and when the women refused to leave, assaulted them with lathis. Two women sustained serious head and body injuries in the assault with one of them having to have seven stitches on her forehead. When the women were forced to leave, Sahib Singh threatened the villagers with dire consequences if they gave any statement against him.
The police have failed to take any action against Yadav. Weeks after the incident he is roaming free. This is not the first such incident in the area. Last year, barely months after the SP came to power, another Dalit woman activist of the SSK, Sandhya Ahirwar, was abused and physically assaulted in neighbouring Madawara town by upper caste men. A complaint was registered with police but she was pressured into withdrawing it “for her own good”.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and other human rights organisations have taken note of the incidents in Lalitpur. The AHRC has written to various authorities in India and abroad, including the UN Special Rapporteur, on the situation of human rights defenders as well as on the rights of indigenous peoples, calling for intervention.
“The recurring incidents show that human rights defenders, particularly Dalit and Adivasi women, are vulnerable to caste-based and gender-based violence. Also, this is a serious violation of the constitutional commitment to equality and freedom given that the women have been attacked for working with the Dalit community. The incident also raises the issue of safety of women activists who fight for the rights of marginalised communities such as Dalit and Adivasis as they are challenging oppressive structures of patriarchy and caste,” it has said in its letter.
At a gathering in Saifai organised by the SP to celebrate one year’s rule in UP, Mulayam Singh spoke of how the government had taken a series of measures for the welfare of women. Ironically, crimes against them have been on the rise ever since the party came to power. A recently-released report by the United Nations on women’s sterilisation has claimed that UP is among the worst states in the country when it comes to forced sterilisation.
police and the civil administration is an important part of letting the cadres
run free—both the SP and the BSP do it. In power, both parties have flouted
Supreme Court guidelines on transfers and security of tenure of police
In reply to an RTI application, UP’s director-general of police (DGP) said that the DGP is transferred once every year in UP. This is in violation of Supreme Court orders given on September 22, 2006, on the PIL filed by Prakash Singh. The court had directed all state governments to set up a police establishment board, provide a two-year term to a DGP and a minimum tenure to other police officers, and establish a police complaints authority and a state security commission. It also wanted a separation of the investigation and law and order branches. A high-level committee headed by Justice K. T. Thomas was later set up to examine if states had implemented the directives; it expressed strong displeasure over “poor response of most state governments”, UP being among the worst.
On providing a fixed term for the DGP, the state government said that while the top cop is selected from the three senior-most IPS officers, it may not be possible to provide a fixed tenure of two years. The state government argued that according to the law on transfers, a minimum tenure of three years has been given to an official of the rank of assistant commissioner and below, while for those above the ACP rank, a two-year tenure has mostly been provided.
This is incorrect. As per details revealed through the RTI reply to Nutan Thakur, 44 senior police officers have been transferred more than 40 times in their tenure—on an average, an IPS officer becomes a DGP after 32 years. The officers who have been shunted in and out include two DGPs, 14 Additional Directors General of Police (ADGPs), 13 Inspectors General of Police (IGPs), ten Deputy Inspectors General of Police (DIGs), and four Superintendents of Police (SPs). The dubious record for most transfers is held by 1983 batch officer K. L. Meena, an ADG, who has been transferred 59 times in his career—an average of two transfers per year, while the DGPs are Arun Kumar Gupta (45 times) and Vinod Kumar Singh (43 times).
The UP home department did, however, issue an order on the establishment of a police complaints authority, but the body was never constituted. The SC had asked the state government to set up the authority headed by a retired high court judge at the state level to look into complaints against officers of the rank of superintendent and above. But the state government said it would not be able to separate the law and order and investigation wings due to “practical difficulties”.
While it is a fact that postings of officers largely depend on the whims and fancies of their political masters, this data exposes the disregard governments in UP have for senior police officers. The present government, however, is way ahead of its predecessors. Between March and May, more than 350 officers, including several senior IPS officers, have been transferred.
While some have been priority postings for men loyal to the government, most others have been to safeguard the interests of the SP and its workers. Former UP DGP Vikram Singh said transfers are accepted as a norm by now. “They cause immense harm to the state’s interests. But this is how things work in UP,” he said.
The government is
not content controlling the medium of its administrations—civil and police
setups—but it also wants to control the message. The SP government’s handling
of the Uttar Pradesh State Information Commission is an example of a
government’s disdain for the citizens’ right to information. Through a series
of questionable appointments, it is now full of people with dubious
The party had termed the appointment of Khadijatul Kubra, an Information Commissioner (CIC) under the Mayawati regime, as a political appointment but has itself gone a step further by attempting to fill all but two posts in the UPSIC with its loyalists.
The most controversial among these has been the attempt to appoint tainted IAS officer Neera Yadav, recently sentenced to three years in jail for involvement in the Noida Land Scam case of 1995. She had earlier been sentenced to four years of rigorous imprisonment in another land scam case, in which she was granted bail by the Allahabad high court pending the hearing of her appeal.
Neera Yadav, a former Chief Secretary and 1971 batch officer, was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Noida in 1995 when she violated norms in allotting a prime plot to an industrialist. She entered into a criminal conspiracy with 1983-batch IAS officer Rajiv Kumar, then Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Noida, to change land use of a plot earmarked for a guest house and also increased its area in violation of norms, CBI has said in its investigations. In a separate case, it was alleged that Yadav, during her tenure as Noida chairman, got herself allotted a plot in violation of norms.
“The allotment was done despite the fact that her application was incomplete in many respects and submitted after the scheme’s closing date,” the CBI has said. It has also been alleged that she got two plots allotted in the names of her two daughters though knowing that Noida Authority rules permitted only one plot of land for one family. Neera Yadav is said to be a close aide and part of the coterie around Mulayam Singh’s family. With cases piling up one after the other, she had opted for voluntary retirement but the state government still saw fit to appoint her as chief of the UPSIC.
The state government handpicked eight names for information commissioners in the UPSIC in August last year. The meeting of the three-member panel for the selection of information commissioners and chief information commissioner was held at Akhilesh Yadav’s residence in Lucknow. The panel included the chief minister, minister for health and medical education Ahmed Hasan, and Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Swami Prasad Maurya, who was hardly given a say as he was informed of the names in the meeting itself. He refused to comment on the appointments but hinted that they had been political.
The state’s decision on these appointments was opposed strongly by RTI activists, who are under constant pressure and have been denied information on numerous occasions on one pretext or the other. Urvashi Sharma, founder and coordinator of the Uttar Pradesh Campaign for Saving RTI, has been fighting tooth and nail on various forums to bring in more transparency in the UPSIC but to no avail.
She was among the first to oppose the appointment of Neera Yadav as state CIC. She and other activists approached the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court. It stayed the appointments of information commissioners pending the decision by the SC on having members from judicial backgrounds as information commissioners. However, the Lucknow bench also passed an order on April 15 asking the state government to finalise names different from the ones it was about to declare, within three months. No action has been taken till date. Amitabh Thakur, another RTI activist from Lucknow, says this delay has meant that only two information commissioners are currently working at the UPSIC. This has also helped the officials from various departments take advantage of the situation and deny even basic information to RTI applicants.
“It is alarming how consistently a large number of senior officers of the UP government are being penalised for contemptuous acts by the HC and other agencies like the CIC. What is worse is that these acts do not seem like stopping at all,” Thakur says.
The only region that
has been prospering is the Etawah-Mainpuri region—home turf of Mulayam—where
too violence against Dalits goes unnoticed or unattended most of the time. As
senior Etawah district worker Nandu Yadav, or Nandu Bhaiya as he is known,
says, “What can one do if Dalits do not accept the dominance of the SP? They
have to be taught to fall in line. We are here to support Akhilesh Babu in his
attempts to bring development.”
Addressing the huge gathering at Saifai during the celebrations to mark one year of the SP government, Akhilesh announced establishment of a girls inter-college in Saifai, construction of Safai bypass, a sports college, and a market for farmers called “Apna Bazar” in the town. He also addressed the 7767 beneficiaries of the Rs.1000 monthly unemployment allowance and the 2000 girls given Rs.30,000 each as part of the Kanya Vidya Dhan scheme after distributing them their cheques. In all, Rs.1.3 crore were distributed as part of unemployment scheme and Rs.6 crore doled out under the Kanya Vidya Dhan scheme.
The show of largesse at Saifai and distribution of money under various schemes has been restricted to the town and some pockets of influence in the state. The state has barely motorable roads in the hinterland. State highways have not been re-laid for almost two years, even though Saifai-Mainpuri is presently witnessing construction of 25-metre wide roads where good roads have existed and no immediate need for laying of new roads was required.
The government has spent big money to promote its own achievements, and even implementation of government programmes are done with much fanfare. The reply to a RTI query revealed that the expenditure on holding functions to distribute the allowances to the unemployed was more than the amount distributed to the beneficiaries. The scheme had created a wave of goodwill in the run-up to last year’s assembly polls and brought rich dividends for the SP. The Training and Employment Directorate of the state revealed an expenditure of Rs.12.29 crore on functions at various places while the allowance disbursed by the government to the unemployed youth added up to only Rs.8.54 crore till November 2012—a clear Rs.4 crore less than what was spent on functions, advertisements, lunch packets, transport, etc.
What is alarming is that Rs.192 crore meant for 2,34,240 unemployed youth is yet to be released and the amount to be spent on functions is expected to be huge since the party is planning to distribute them ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in an even bigger scale.
On the lopsided expenditure on the scheme, SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said, “The expenditure should not be read as having been made only on this scheme. The CM has also addressed other issues. And it is, after all, our job to publicise our achievements so that the masses are aware of the work the state government is doing.”
It is certainly noteworthy. Among the things it did was to distribute free uniforms and other accessories to children in state-run schools. It spent so much on this scheme that the education department had no money to prepare question papers for the board examinations. It couldn't provide answer sheets either. So children were made to bring their own paper to write the exams. Teachers and invigilators had to write the questions on blackboards in the classrooms.
The darkest blot on
the SP report card is the communal divide in the past 15 months. At least 113
incidents of rioting and arson were reported in the first year of SP rule. A
figure that high has not been recorded for more than two decades. A professor
from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), who does not want to named, calls the
present situation the worst since the early and mid-1990s when the Babri Masjid
“While minor cases of rioting have been reported every year, this time riots have happened in areas that were peaceful even during the Babri Masjid demolition. This is a disturbing trend perpetrated by political motives,” he says.
The first incident took place in Bareilly, considered the seat of Sunni Muslims and known for communal harmony. The violence started in March 2010 when the BSP was in power. A mob allegedly incited by BJP MLA Rajesh Agarwal tried to disrupt and later burned down shops of Muslims on Barawafat, which marks the day of death of Prophet Muhammad. The BSP government had imposed curfew.
The peace held till July last year. Devotees of Shiva, also known as kanwariyas, are alleged to have instigated violence in many parts of the city on their annual pilgrimage to Badrinath and Kedarnath. The rioting is said to have been sparked by an altercation over a petty issue between some kanwariyas and a group of Muslim boys. How the kanwariyas managed to gather in large numbers wielding weapons within no time has never been revealed. Two boys were killed, many injured and Muslims of the town took to the streets and pelted stones at the policemen. The neighbouring town of Aonal also witnessed clashes between kanwariyas and Muslims. Curfew was imposed here too.
On the second day, the numbers of the kanwariyas grew exponentially, something Muslim leaders from the city describe as a strategy by the leaders of the Rashtriya Swaymasevak Sangh and the Bajrang Dal, which has substantially increased its presence in the district over the past five years. Even as Muslims kept their shops closed and remained indoors, kanwariyas ran riot in the Joginwada and Chawal Mandi areas, looting shops and stores, and burning them.
The police resorted to lathi charge and firing rubber bullets but the mob kept growing and additional forces had to be called in to quell the looting on the third day.
The police made more than 75 arrests, most of them kanwariyas suspected of looting, but not one leader from the Bajrang Dal or the BJP was arrested.
Instead, a Muslim leader from the BSP, Achhan Ansari was arrested for allegedly instigating Muslim youth and later booked under the National Security Act.
Kamran and his brother Imran, both zari workers, were close to the area where the initial clashes took place on the first day. When the kanwariyas returned, wielding weapons and stones in large numbers, they were caught in the crossfire and attacked with swords and lathis. Kamran escaped, but Imran was seriously injured and died the next day.
“We had no clue why we were attacked. Someone had told us that there had been altercations between some kanwariyas and local boys a few hours before. We were there to just have chai and head home after that,” Kamran told me. “I can identify some of the men who attacked us but only if the police arrest them first. We know there was no Hindu from our localities in that crowd. They were all outsiders who had come with a plan.”
Sitting in his workplace in the old city area, he says he tries not to venture out during the day anymore.
“Chai ab yahin bana lete hain. Bas subah aate hain aur shaam ko jaldi se jaldi is mohalle se nikal jaate hain. (We prepare tea here now. We come in the morning and leave the area quickly in the evening),” he says with a grim look on his face. Three others were killed in the rioting.
Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, a cleric from the Barelvi sect, who heads the political organisation Ittehad-e-Millat Council, was accused by BJP leaders from Bareilly of inciting Muslim youth to violence, a charge he has vehemently denied and been cleared of. The SP has since tried to woo him by appointing him as vice-chairman of the State Handloom Corporation with status of minister of state. However, he has refused to take up the post unless the chief minister sets up a detailed enquiry into rioting in the state, a demand not heeded. “There is no use accepting the post till Muslims, targeted in nearly 50 major riots during the Akhilesh regime, get justice. There is a dire need for a probe into these incidents,” he said, adding that the BJP, which has objected to his appointment, is afraid of the investigation since many of its party leaders will be exposed.
A murkier picture of political involvement emerged in Faizabad in October last year during the riots, which the locals claim was the first in its history; “at least as far as we can remember”, a local said. While nobody was killed, the incident has left a deep scar.
Faizabad is the headquarters of the eponymous district, and is just six kilometres from Ayodhya. It did not witness a single riot even after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. “The community stayed close to each other and people held each other’s hands during the most difficult phases,” says Ishtiyaq Alam, a shopkeeper whose mobile shop was burnt down during the riots.
The bilingual weekly Aap ki Taaqat, published from Faizabad, had been conceived by the secular Hindu and Muslim traders and readers of the district almost ten years back. On December 29, 2006, it was launched under its editor Manzar Mehdi with the slogan 'Hindu-Muslim do bhai, Hindi-Urdu do behen' (Hindu-Muslim—two brothers, Hindi-Urdu—two sisters) on its masthead. The slogan could not save the weekly during the riots on October 24. The newspaper’s one-room office on the premises of Chowk Masjid was gutted in the fire that also consumed 11 shops and godowns. Mehdi had set up the weekly almost single-handedly with the support of well-wishers from across Faizabad and Ayodhya.
The eight-page paper was a “flame of communal harmony” and even though it had a small circulation, its content distinguished it from any of the so-called mainstream Hindu or Urdu papers in the region, says Iqbal Mustafa, manager of the Faizabad Public School.
“Doctors, businessmen, and traders, both Hindu and Muslim, supported the paper. Almost 75 per cent of my readers were Hindus and would regularly advertise with us. It was a shock for the people of the town when the paper was attacked,” Mehdi says.
“The paper had reports on local events and special stories highlighting communal harmony in the twin towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad. People used to read it with interest. We functioned from a one-room office on the first floor. There was never any threat to us. Nobody ever raised an objection to our reports,” he says.
While almost everyone in the city says that the people who caused the riots were outsiders, Mehdi says they could not have been rank outsiders since they did have a decent knowledge of the areas. “They might have visited a few times,” he says.
It is clear to the people of the town that the perpetrators on that fateful day were from the saffron brigade, most probably from Allahabad, the BJP bastion barely four hours’ drive away.
“They made every attempt to hide among the people celebrating Durga puja which was going on then,” says Alam. The violence broke out during the procession carrying idols of Durga for immersion in the Sarayu river. The violence was reportedly the work of a flash mob of rioters who had mingled with the crowd. The rioters broke open the locks of a mosque at Chowk, the heart of Faizabad’s business area, and ransacked it. Built in 1780 by Nawab Hassan Raza Khan of Awadh, the mosque is seen as a symbol of communal harmony in the city.
The local administration and the media called the riots yet another example of mutual hostility between Hindus and Muslims but it was a calculated attack by those who have a political stake in such violence. The restraint displayed by most residents is evidence of it, says Mehdi, arguing that locals saw through the conspiracy. Strangely, the next day, Subhash Chandra, Inspector-General of Police, Lucknow Range, said, “The exact reason behind the violence is not yet known and efforts are on to identify those who incited the mobs on both sides,” when it was clear that there had been no rioting by people from the city, leave alone the Muslim community.
The tension began when some men allegedly molested a girl watching the procession go past. Soon the locals intervened and there was a major altercation between the two groups—both from the procession, presumably Hindu.
“Then suddenly some people started shouting, asking all vehicles to stop, alleging that Muslims had thrown stones and one of them had fallen on the idol,” says Kamal Kumar, a sweet shop owner who was part of the procession. It came to a halt, people started running helter-skelter, and in the commotion that ensued, a mob began torching Muslim shops. Altogether, 42 shops were gutted in the Chowk area, and most of them belonged to Muslims. Seven people, including two policemen, were injured.
What came as a shock to locals was that outsiders took over the management of the Durga puja procession as the police enforced selective curfews in the district. Suddenly, loudspeakers were heard saying, “UP bhi Gujarat banega, Faizabad shuruaat karega (UP too will become Gujarat, Faizabad will lead the way).”
Among the outlets targeted that evening was Star Bakery, which had come up in place of Star Hotel, the town’s first victim of Hindu communalism after independence. The owner, Mohammad Bashir, was dispossessed of the property in late 1949 by the then District Magistrate of Faizabad. Bashir’s property was turned over to someone who started an eatery called Gomati Hotel. But Bashir, who opened a bakery at home to sustain himself, did not give up. He went to court and won his site back. Today, it houses that bakery, run by his grandsons under the supervision of Bashir’s son Mohammad Ahmad. He says he will fight back to have the bakery running again and that “the communcal forces will not be able to hijack our city, just as they couldn't in 1949”.
Apart from Faizabad town, two other locations in the district—Bhadarsa and Rudauli towns—saw similar attacks that evening. Though Rudauli escaped with only minor damage, at Bhadarsa as many as 55 shops were torched by a mob, all belonging to Muslims.
A local politician from the BSP claimed that the district had become a target for RSS and BJP after they lost the seat in the assembly elections and that attempts at causing ill-will among the communities had begun then itself. “Gorakhpur MP and Sangh hardliner Yogi Adityanath was sent to Faizabad and Ayodhya only to stoke emotion. His Hindu Yuva Vahini in the district was a clear signal that there was going to be some flare-up soon,” he said. Despite all the efforts, the BJP could not win over too many residents. Then, on September 21, three old statues vanished from Devakali temple in the district. “No Hindu can steal an idol of any god or goddess,” declared Adityanath and a bandh was called for by his followers.
Adityanath issued a warning to the district administration on October 12. If the stolen idols were not recovered within 48 hours he would march with his followers to Faizabad. He later withdrew his threat. The missing idols were recovered on October 22, with four people arrested for the theft, all Hindus: Karamjit Maurya of Ambedkar Nagar, Vijay Narain Pande of Azamgarh, Subhash Kumar Yadav of Jaunpur, and Jaipujan Sharma of Jaunpur.
“This loss of face could have been the reason the BJP and RSS took such a drastic step,” the BSP leader said.
Press Council of India (PCI) chairman Justice Markandey Katju later set up an enquiry into the attack on Mehdi’s weekly. The enquiry was conducted by Sheetla Singh, editor of a Hindi daily from Faizabad called Jan Morcha. She came to the conclusion that the riots in Faizabad, Rudauli, and the surrounding areas were not accidental, but the result of a conspiracy. The 19-page report says that the conspiracy was based on “communal ideology” which is why “the riot did not limit to a place, but spread to (an) area of 50 km. Administrative failure and lack of willpower to tackle communal riots is also responsible for it.
“The attack on the bilingual weekly Aap ki Taaqat was not because of any article or ideology but because of religion of the editor,” the report submitted to the press council on February 8 says. Singh’s report also condemned unprofessional reportage by newspapers, commenting on the trend in the media not to follow the code of conduct on riot reporting. Singh also suggested that officers accused of dereliction of duty and inability and lack of will to control the riot should be prosecuted and not given decision-making posts in the future; she also suggested that a judicial enquiry be set up to make sure that all the culprits were punished.
The AMU professor, however, reads a little more into the rioting under Akhilesh Yadav’s rule. “If you look closely, there has been a specific attempt to shield or ignore violence committed by the BJP. And it is also clear that the incidents have happened mostly in regions where the BJP has lost and the RSS and VHP-type organisations have become or, for that matter, been weak. There are enough indications, in the current political scenario at the Centre, that the BJP will emerge as the largest party in the coming Lok Sabha elections. The SP might be trying to warm up to the Sangh Parivar and the BJP ahead of the elections. Mulayam Singh’s move to leave UP to his son Akhilesh and pursue his ambition of being a bigshot at the Centre might be behind these moves,” he says.
He might not be off the mark. The SP has been a game changer for various parties on many occasions and its emphatic win in the assembly election has raised the morale of the party to make its presence felt at the national level.
These changes in the party’s attitudes have resulted in desertions. The Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid , Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari, has broken ties with the party, including his MLC son-in-law withdrawing from all positions in the state government. The political consequences are yet to be known but it is certainly a sign of Muslim disenchantment. Bukhari, after breaking ties with Mulayam Singh, has said Mulayam had sought his support and promised 18 per cent reservation for Muslims, but failed to protect even their basic rights.
The government also
finds itself in a spot on the report of the Nimesh Commission set up to probe
the arrest of two Muslim men in connection with a terror probe. Even though the
report has been handed over to Akhilesh Yadav, his government claimed it had no
clue to the report’s status and location.
In a recent RTI query, the state home department had claimed that the report was yet to reach the department even when it was handed over to the CM on August 31 last year. Muslim organisations have been demanding its release and implementation.
Former chief justice of the Allahabad high court, Justice (retd.) Rajendra Sachar, had also demanded that the government table the report. RTI activist Urvashi Sharma has filed numerous RTIs and appeals and demanded information on the status of the file but the latest reply says that the report has not been received by the state government. “Clearly, something is amiss. Either they just want to sit on it or the government is too afraid of implementing it in the present scenario,” she says.
The report, which runs into more than 1000 pages, includes statements from 116 witnesses and documentary evidence. The police witnesses include officials from the Lucknow police and UP’s Special Task Force. The commission was constituted to probe the police claims that Tariq Qazmi of Azamgarh and Khalid Mujahid of Jaunpur were arrested on December 22, 2007, near the Barabanki railway station and that they were involved in the serial court blasts and were members of the Harkat-Ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HuJI).
The families of the two, however, challenged the claims, insisting that Tariq was picked up on December 12 from Azamgarh and Khalid on December 16 from Jaunpur and that the two were kept in illegal detention for five days and forced to admit their involvement in the blasts. The commission had met the accused and the families to record their statements. While the SP leadership has often promised to implement the report and get Muslim youths wrongly accused of terror charges freed, nothing has been done yet. All that Mulayam Singh has done is to declare that 300-400 Muslim youths have been released since the SP came to power. “Most of them are thieves, pickpockets, and small-time goondas,” a senior police official pointed out.
Manzar Mehdi has since moved on and is on track to re-launch his weekly. He has found support from all quarters, mostly his readers, and finances for the paper have been arranged. Among them is well-known poet Shahid Jamal. “This paper carried reports which symbolised peace and hope, and which had a direct connect with readers. It is a beacon of hope for our Ganga-Jumni tehzeeb; it will be back on its feet soon.”
Nawaz Deobandi, a prominent Urdu poet, sums up the situation in the state as:
“Ab toh khandahar
hai khandahar hi kaho doston,
Sheesh mahalon ke aasaar rahen apni jagah.”
(It is now a ruin, so
it should be called, friends,
The promises of palaces of mirrors can stay where they were.)