Kasganj: A Story of People's Unity Fractured by Engineered Hate and Violence
The full text of a fact finding report on the Kasganj violence
Kasganj is a small town in UP, which is around 220 KM from Delhi and 340 KM away from Lucknow. It has a population of about 1.40 lakh people. Kasganj has no record of communal polarization or violence, except after the Babri Masjid demolition. People here have lived in peace and harmony for decades. Kasganj has also elected candidates from across the political spectrum, though Rajvir Singh, son of former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh, is the current BJP MP. Kasganj witnessed communal violence and tension on the 26th of January 2018, which continued for atleast 5 days thereafter.
A joint fact-finding team from Lucknow and Delhi visited Kasganj on February 2, 2017, under the platform, United Against Hate. The names of the members are listed at the end of this report.
In our visit, after talking extensively to local people of both the communities, it became clear that the situation in Kasganj was not any spontaneous clash between two communities, but was a carefully planned attack.
None of the political parties have played any decisive role in either diffusing the situation, restoring peace and normalcy, or in seeking justice for the people who have been directly affected by the violence which started on the morning of January 26, 2018, Republic Day, and continued thereafter.
Rather the police and administration, as testified by locals and ground evidence, played a partisan role, and allowed the mob led by Sankalp Foundation and ABVP to run amok and indulge in organized violence, specifically targeting Muslim-owned shops and property, including two mosques. The role played by the BJP MP Rajvir singh has been utterly partisan and prejudiced, almost inflammatory, and this has been recorded in the media.
The series of incidents in Kasganj:
* On 26 January disruption of the peaceful flag-hoisting ceremony by the Muslim community at Veer Abdul Hamid Chowk (named after the martyred Indian soldier of the 1965 war) by a motorcycle rally of the youngsters took place. These were mainly activists of ABVP and sankalp Foundation. This was followed by firing and violence in other parts of the city. This resulted into a death of a young man Chandan Gupta due to bullet wounds. Two other men Naushad and Akram were grievously injured and were hospitalised.
After the scuffle at the Abdul Hamid Chowk, and police intervention, the bike rally scattered – they ran away leaving the bikes which were impounded by the police. Till date there is no evidence to show that the police have arrested or questioned the bike-owners. “We are investigating,” said SHO Ripudaman Singh. No permission was apparently taken to take the bike rally through the Abdul Hamid Chowk. The designated route, reportedly, was not followed. Hence, it was planned move to create polarization and move towards violent confrontation.
That day the police deployment in the town was sparse as most were at Police Lines attending Republic Day celebrations. Police arrived on the scene of first confrontation at Vir Abdul Hamid Chowk of Hulka Mohallah about an hour after the confrontation.
. Inspite of gunshots being fired and confrontation between the two communities, police force was not deployed in the market areas or in Hindu-dominated colonies, while the Muslim-dominated colonies were sealed in with residents not being able to move about.
. Inspite of reports that the motorcycle rally of ABVP and Sankalp Foundation youth started from Prabhu Park at about 8am after firing of shots, no police questioned them or accompanied the rally.
. After the confrontation at Abdul Hamid Chowk, the ABVP/Sankalp Foundation rally participants came to the Bilram Gate crossroad (chauraha), found a trolley/tractor carrying bricks stationed there. They took bricks and hurled it at e-rickshaws, vehicles, shops, khokha vendors etc.
On 27 January – even though police force was accompanying the funeral procession, while returning through the Bilram market, the police force did not stop the looting and arson of Muslim-owned shops. Not enough force was deployed in the market even though it was on the return route of the funeral procession.
. One person said that most of the ABVP/Sankalp Foundation youth, who can be seen in videos, were from 3 localities – Sahabwala, Shawale wali gali and Chitragupt colony. Yet, no police force was deployed in these areas and the boys were roaming around the town and freely indulging in loot/arson.
28 January: A peace meeting was called and assurance was given by the District Magistrate that the Muslims should reopen their shops. But some Muslims were picked up by the police while opening or shutting their shops. The bias of the police force is confirmed in the minds of many and the fear of approaching the police or expecting any help from them is strong. Rising lack of trust in police is apparent and the police is not seen to be neutral, or observing the due process of law.
. 29-30 January: Many affected shopkeepers and homeowners tried to get FIRs registered in the Kasganj police station, but their applications were not accepted by the police and they were made to run from pillar to post, told to come in the evening, then the next morning, then told we will take your complaints after all the arrests are made.
. No protection is given either to the shops or homes of targeted Muslims or to mosques that were attacked. Police has not visited these sites to inspect or collect evidence.
. Home of the main accused in one FIR, Salim, has been broken into and raided by the police even though no one is at home. The house has been ransacked and left unsecured – no locks. Neighbours report that after the police left it unlocked, several people went in and looted the house and street dogs etc were roaming in and out. The delegation pleaded to the SHO to secure the home and put up locks on the door. Salim’s brothers are allegedly absconding. The locals however informed, Salim’s brother Wasim had left Kasganj a month earlier to attend tabligi jamat and he had not taken his phone as per the protocol of the Jammat. He was not even present in Kasganj during the violence. The youngest brother Nasim, suffers from depression and have now fled fearing his life.
. 2 February – The fact-finding team brings this to the attention of the SHO and requests him to secure the home as it is the responsibility of the house. The police officer says yes we will do it but does nothing about it for nearly 30 minutes. Finally, the delegation takes permission from policeman Mr Shukla, and goes to Salim’s house and the local residents put up locks on all doors.
. Mansoor Sherwani, owner of Sherwani shoe that was gutted, tried repeatedly to register a FIR about his burnt and looted shop. He was first asked to remove the information about the amount of loss mentioned in this complaint. Then his application was received, but no separate FIR is registered.
. There is no evidence if the CCTV camera footage from the alleged areas of attack/confrontation in and around the Tehsil Road have been secured by the police and attached/included in their investigation.
. Eye-witnesses claim that there were 70 motorcycles that the ABVP/Sankalp Foundation rallyists abandoned at the site of the first confrontation (Abdul Hamid Chowk) which the police picked up in three vans later in the afternoon. Policeman Shukla at the police station said they brought in 30-35 motorcycles. Either way, the owners of these motorcycles have not been brought in for questioning or arrested.
. First respondents from the Muslim community said that the CO, Mr Vir Kumar, helped a lot. No other police or administration official helped. SP Sunil Singh had warned the Hindu community/youth during peace meeting on 28 January that he will do his duty diligently. He was however, transferred on 29 January.
The fact-finding team, based on conversations with people across communities in the main market and other localities, and with the police, will like to make the following observations.
. Even though there is some scattered talk of an imaginary ‘border’ between Muslim and Hindus, there is also immense and widespread respect and concern for the targeted Muslims on the part of their Hindu neighbours, including shopkeepers in the market near Bilram Gate and Ghantaghar, also close to Kotwali Kasganj, the police station.
Many said they have been neighbours in the market for over 50 years, even more. In some cases, for over 80 years, and there are inter-generational relations between the shopkeepers and their families. There was unanimity among the shopkeepers that Hindus and Muslims have lived in friendship, peace and harmony for several decades. One Hindu shopkeeper was in tears because Sherwani Boots, opposite his small shoe shop, owned by veteran Mansoor Sherwani, was looted and burnt down. He said, “Sherwani sahib is a gentleman and a very nice man. I am really sorry for him. This should not have happened to him. I feel really disturbed by this tragedy.”
Another young Muslim shopkeeper, along with two Hindu shopkeepers, who are close friends, said, “We have always been friends and good neighbours. We share our food together. When I bring mutton from my house, my friends look forward to sharing the food.”
Another prominent shopkeeper near the burnt shop, two Hindu brothers, were sad at the loss suffered by Sherwani. “We are happy neighbours,” they said.
A sweets shop owner, whose shop he claims is 100 years old, felt sad that such violence has occurred in Kasganj, which is unprecedented. “We have no history of bitterness,” he said. A jeweler, a Hindu, indeed, said that he had asked his Muslim neighbour on the morning of the Republic Day to go home and shut the shop, since the signs were not good. A Hindu shopkeeper clearly said that at least 27 shops were attacked, assaulted and burnt. Two mosques were damaged and set on fire.
Ground Reality in the Town
· One Muslim shopkeeper whose shop was targeted, locks were broken, goods was looted with a small amount of damage by fire, said that his Hindu neighbours/shopkeepers came to the rescue – informed him about the shop, put locks on it again and no one touched the goods of the shop that were lying outside the shop for three days. The market was shut for days after the violence, in which only Muslim shops and khokas were targeted.
· His nephew was beaten and injured in the melee and thrown into a naala. Fire Brigade personnel rescued him on 26 January evening.
· He also added that there are organized rumours that Muslims shopkeepers are going to sell out and leave. Most shopkeepers did not endorse the rumours.
· Some shopkeepers adjoining on either side of the Muslim-owned shops, which are owned by Hindus, certainly displayed self-interest in stopping the fire otherwise it would have spread to their own shops. One was even putting up a brick wall where there used to be wooden partition between shops, to ensure that the fire does not spread to his shop the ‘next time’. Barki Cloth House was not burnt or damaged because its wall is next to the police station. Its owner, Salim, has been arrested. He is accused of the murder of Chandan (Abhishek Gupta).
· Most shopkeepers repeated that it is difficult to identify the arsonists and looters as it was a big mob. Sympathetic to the plight of their Muslim neighbours, but not willing to stick their neck out, or, to become witnesses and identify the perpetrators: this has been the pattern across the town.
· Police did not come to make inquiries even a week after the shops were set on fire and none of the neighbouring shopkeepers had been questioned about the arsonists and looters.
· Some shopkeepers lamented that not enough police force was deployed this time (as opposed to 1992) and if adequate police force had been deployed on 27 January, after the conflagration on 26 January, then the shops could have been saved.
· Some said that there were 500-600 in the funeral procession that was accompanied by the police force on their way back from the river after the funeral of Chandan Gupta on 27 January, when some of the young men in the procession, looted and set shops on fire, targeting Muslim shops only. Everyone acknowledged that only Muslim owned shops were targeted and no Hindu-owned shop was touched. Some said it seemed care was even taken to not attack too drastically any Muslim-owned shop if there was concern that the fire would spread quickly to neighbouring Hindu-owned shops.
· When a Muslim shopkeeper was asked about the situation at present – he said, “All of us feel deep fear and helplessness.” They don’t trust the police which has transparently appeared to be biased and partisan.
· When asked how the 26 January incident occurred – most looked helpless and said they don’t know and seemed perplexed, especially the small shopkeepers (khokhawalas).
· There was palpable fear and lack of confidence among Muslims to step out of their homes, communities and roam around the town. Most of their shops were still shut while the Hindu-owned shops were all open in the bustling market.
· Many Muslim homes were locked and families had fled, especially, with those having young males in the family. There is still no record of how many families or individuals have fled the town.
· No one wants to come forward to become a witness, and to report about the arson, looting and burning down of shops, for fear of being targeted themselves.
· In retrospect, many feel that the 15 August, 2017 rally, where for the first time the Sankalp Foundation youth and ABVP members raced through Muslim dominated neighbourhoods, was a ‘test run’ for a larger socially engineered plan of action on 26 January 2018, and they should have raised their voices back then. That they were tolerant and overlooked the 15 August ‘test run’, may have emboldened the youth to try something sinister
Questions About the Death of Chandan Gupta
· No one around the alleged site of the shooting near GIC College and Salim’s house is able to confirm if Chandan was shot in that area. There is no clarity about the spot. There is no clarity about the actual incident. There has been no evidence sited till this date about the role of Salem, or, if the bullets matched his alleged inherited licensed guns.
· The FIR for Chandan’s death was filed 14 hours after his death. The police has not explained why such inordinate delay has taken place.
· No one around the alleged site is able to confirm if the group of Sankalp Foundation and ABVP youth actually came into that area for a second time, after the confrontation at Vir Abdul Hamid Chowk. They are only able to confirm that the rally passed in front of GIC in the morning, went to the t-point of the market past the Tehsil building to the road where the police station is located, turned right and proceded towards Baddu Nagar and then later they heard about the confrontation. A shopkeeper near Salim’s house alleged that he saw the mob coming, while firing guns, and Hindus and Muslims, who had come to pick up their children, shouted at them and threw stones at them to make them go away. He said that he did not see Chandan being killed anywhere near this site. He was convinced that Chandan was not killed around Salim’s house.
There are no signs of physical confrontation, blood marks, bullet marks or police markings of where the body allegedly fell, or where he was allegedly hit.
Police statements in media are at odds with pictures of the deceased about the entry of the bullet. The wound is on the upper arm, not in the collar bone. The angle and location of the bullet wound are different. The post-mortem report is awaited.
Some shopkeepers in the Bilram Gate market said that they don’t believe that Chandan was shot anywhere near the GIC college or Salim’s house. One said he was shot at the railway station road. Another said that Chandan was probably shot accidentally by his own friends who were carrying guns and were waving them and shooting. Yet another speculated that there was police firing, in which at least one Muslim youth, Naushad was injured, and maybe Chandan was killed in the police firing. Exact location of police firing and Naushad’s injury could not be ascertained by our team.
Salim: The Main Accused
· All (Hindu) shopkeepers we spoke to spoke highly of the family and of Salim and were unsure of how he has been named in the FIR and alleged to be the main accused.
· Most said that the Barki family has no criminal background whereas Chandan had a bad reputation and had even been in jail (released just 3 months ago reportedly).
· Some shopkeepers speculated that there are some shopkeepers/competitors who are jealous of the success of the Barki Cloth House and could benefit if the family is ruined.
· There are photos of Salim participating in a Republic Day celebration at 9:30am at Ch. Mehdi Hasan School on Mulka Road. He left from there to collect his kids from school as soon as news came of the confrontation at Abdul Hamid Chowk. So, he was not at scene of the original confrontation, reportedly. Hence, locals argue, he had no run-in with Chandan and the group.
Role of Political Parties:
· Shantanu Chowdhry, who owns marble shop near Chamunda gate, wants to set up a gate of the temple on public land there to stop Muslims from coming and going. Some say this is the original and simmering flashpoint between the two communities and could be a possible source of anger among BJP supporters/ABVP/ Sankalp Foundation youth. Muslims have opposed the making of a gate in public space.
· No leader of any political party has reached out to the Muslim community, or the Hindu shopkeepers and locals, or tried to visit them and express solidarity even though messages were sent to them. There was no peace initiative by the political class, There is a deafening silence.
Damage to Property
· No damage to any Hindu owned property, shop or temple reported. In fact, the Chamunda temple, located in a Muslim-dominated area, was protected by Muslims of the area. There is an HP gas agency located behind the Chamunda temple, and the Muslims protected that too.
· Hulka mandir, located in a mixed colony, with a Muslim municipal corporator Sagir Ahmed, was also unharmed due to Ahmed’s efforts.
27 shops (4-5 big shops and rest khokhas) were burnt. All owned by Muslims. Two masjids: Kheria masjid and Bardewari masjid were harmed. No temple or Hindu property has been damaged.
In Jhanda chowk, where the major arson happened, Yogesh battery, Tufan soaps, Sindhi cosmetics had CCTV which could have identified the mob. But the police is not recovering them. The police did not come and talk to the shopkeeper who owns the shop next door to Sherwani Boots.
The Biased Role of the Police:
The way the police investigation is going on also reflects clear bias and prejudice and that is acting as a deterrent for people to come forward and lodge individual cases of assault and damage.
· The first FIR that was filed after the violence was FIR no59/2018. This was filed by SHO Ripudaman Singh. He mentions about the clashes in Bilgram gate and kotwali and how the police tried to intervene. Interestingly, however, the FIR names 4 Muslims, Nasiruddin, Akram, Akshat khan and Taufiq. But not a single hindu was named in the FIR, although the report mentions both communities were involved in the clash. These four long with three more were arrested next day. Case crime no 63/2018 was filed in this regard. Although the police verbally told us they were investigating the seized motorcycles, they have not named anyone from the hindu community so far. So the case in the long run will be run against the muslims who are named. Even if some of the hooligans from the hindu community are arrested, chances are that they will be released.
· No temples were attacked but two mosques were attacked, as we have mentioned earlier. The police report however, omits this fact of attack on a religious place which is a very serious crime according to CRPC, which can implicate someone for life imprisonment.
· The videos of the clashes have gone viral, yet the police report refrain from naming the hooligans who were on the bike rally and are seen firing with country made guns. 4 Muslims (Mohsin, Bablu Sheikh, Nasim and Salim) were arrested with guns and live cartridges. But not a single hindu were arrested with guns as per the police, despite the videos. All the hindus arrested so far have been arrested for the breach of peace.
· The police had arrested Mohsin s/o Babu Khan and have used his statements to implicate others. This is a serious contravention with law as the statement of any one in police custody cannot be legally used to implicate any other. Case number 65 is solely built upon the so-called versions of Mohsin (who is under custody) and with that the police is trying to justify that the muslims did fire bullets in self-defense, which hit Chandan and Naushad. According to this statement, Mohsin confesses that he along with 24 others were firing bullets and pelting stone which resulted in the death of Chandan and injury of Naushad. As per the other side, i.e. the hindus, it is vaguely claimed in the same statement that they were ‘creating ruckus’. This is not a pin pointed allegation of firing and pelting stone, which Mohsin allegedly confesses only for the muslims.
· The role of the police in Kasganj was suspiciously and conspicuously dubious on 27 January. After Chandan's death, there was bound to be tension, but the huge mob was allowed to create mayhem and run amok.
· In case number 67/2018, the police has filed a consolidated report about all the cases of fire and attack on Muslim shops and properties. They are refusing to file individual reports about each incident and trying to club everything into one case.
On 27 January, after Chandan Gupta's funeral, similar attacks were engineered in nearby Amanpur. An Idgah was broken but the authorities prevented the violence from spreading. The Idgah has been rebuilt and peace has been restored. But the entire inident in kasganj reeks of conspiracy, planned attacks and prejudiced role by the authorities. While some section of the state authorities played a more responsible role to restore peace majorly there had been deliberate lapses of duty by the police and administration which has precipitated the situation. The common people of Kasganj visibly were opposed to this attack and the resultant polarisation. The miscreants and people in powerful positions who incited and executed the violence must be identified and brought to books.
The ruling regime of centre and UP are both going to engineer many such incidents of communal violence, polarisation and hate mongering and targeting minorities in the days to come. The conscientious citizens must remain vigilant against such attempts and resist this nefarious ploy to communalise the country.
The Fact Finding team:
SR Darapuri (retd. IG UP Police), Adv. Asad Hayat Khan, Amit Sengupta (senior journalist)
Rakhi Sehgal (social activist), Hasanul Banna (journalist), Aleemullah Khan (senior journalist), Mohit Pandey (ex JNUSU President and member United Against Hate)
Banojyotsna Lahiri (Lecturer and member United Against Hate) , Nadeem Khan (Social activist and member United Against Hate), Khalid Saifi (Social activist and member United Against Hate), Shariq Hussain (Social activist and member United Against Hate)