NEW DELHI: Kairana, a sleepy town, in Uttar Pradesh found itself in the headlines after local politician Hukum Singh insisted that there had been a migration of Hindus. In the media cacophony that followed, the villagers who had been living in harmony for decades could barely find a voice. The Citizen caught up with filmmaker NAKUL SINGH SAWHNEY who visited Kairana with his team to record what the people, and not the politicians were saying in what has emerged as a bold, honest documentary. Excerpts from an interview with the filmmaker:

Q. What is 'Kairana, After the Headlines' about?

A. Kairana, After the Headlines, attempts to look at the town beyond the binaries of 'Hindu versus Muslim'. After the controversy raked up by Hukum Singh about the Hindu exodus, even though many people disproved the list, but the town in public perception is now about Hind-Muslim conflict. This is a classic case of politicians falsely raking up communal tensions and then tiding over the many real issues that afflict the people of an area. It's an attempt to look at those issues.

Q. The recent NHRC report claims that there has been a 'Hindu exodus' in the area. Has there been a exodus from the area at all? What reasons do people in your film have to give for that?

A. It was Hukum Singh who claimed that there was an exodus. The NHRC report doesn't really talk about or validate the exodus theory, though it does give some credence to other theories of Hindutva organisations like Muslim men selectively molesting Hindu women. And it also claims that the law and order situation deteriorated in Kairana after the riots victims of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar-Shamli massacre were displaced and many relocated to Kairana.

It is important to note that in the midst of so much religious violence in 2013 Kairana (which is in Shamli district) remained peaceful.

It is true that there has been large-scale migration out of Kairana. However, no one claims that it was because of Hindu-Muslim tensions. Kairana suffers from the lack of the most basic facilities. No decent government schools, colleges and hospitals. No employment opportunities. Many people have migrated for better opportunities. There is a big law and order problem as well. In 2014 many traders in the area got extortion threats. Three were killed. All three happened to be Hindu traders. But, protests ensued. The market was shut in Kairana for over a week in protest. Muslims participated in that protest with just as much vigour. Those killings were never communal in nature. It never took that turn. Hukum Singh hardly participated in those protests at that time. He just made a brief 5 minutes appearance. Unfortunately, Hukum Singh and BJP are now trying to give it a communal colour. Muslims are just as vulnerable to the crime in the area. In fact, an even larger number of Muslims have migrated out of Kairana in the last decade or so.

Even the NHRC report's claim about Muslim men molesting Hindu women is flawed. In my conversations with the women (and even men there) they said that both, Hindu and Muslim women are vulnerable to sexual harassment and both, Muslim and Hindu men are responsible for it. Even in the 2013, BJP selectively highlighted incidents of Hindu women being molested by Muslim men to vitiate the atmosphere. We're seeing something similar again.

Q. What has been the role of the mainstream media while reporting the Kairana incident?

Varied. Some news organisations immediately exposed the many discrepancies in Hukum Singh's list. While some, like Zee News, were behaving like BJP mouthpiece. They were unrelenting even after the list was exposed. However, like Hukum Singh, they too had to change their position and say that migration was because of law and order.

Q.What is the take of marginalised voices of Kairana- peasants, workers, women, Dalits, poor Muslims on the divisive politics in the region?

Almost all of them reject the exodus theory. Many are deeply upset that their real issues are being sidelined because of this unnecessary exodus theory.

Q. In the light of the upcoming UP elections, what are the real issues that affects Kairana that the politicians are trying to gloom over by communal politics?

Unemployment, poverty, education, caste oppression, gender discrimination- pretty much the same issues that affect most of UP. The farmers in the rural belt of Kairana are going through a deep agrarian crisis. Specially the sugarcane farmers. All these issues will be glossed over because of the violence.