By Sushil Kutty
There is an uneasy calm in Kasganj. It was not a coincidence that this town in Uttar Pradesh witnessed an unprecedented communal riot on January 26, Republic Day. Since then its bustling markets have gone silent, remained shut. The largely Hindu-dominated trade lies crippled. But it was the large Muslim shops that were looted and burnt.
Muslim businessmen and workers, those left, are not venturing out. They have better sense. They numbered nearly 25,000 when the saffron-clad motorbikes zoomed in on R-Day. A bunch of Kasganj Muslims were about to unfurl the tricolour. A dialogue ensued. The to-and-fro went like this: ‘Stop, we gotta pass, our Tiranga Yatra.’ But ‘Hey, we’re almost done unfurling the tri-colour.’ ‘Nope, you’re in the way.’ ‘Get lost, not this year.’
The motorbikes lay for more than a week just where they were dropped on January 26. Pictures tell the story. But the fallen returned to make a comeback within half an hour. This time in larger saffron numbers. The rampage left one killed, several injured. The cops at the time were unfurling their own ‘Tiranga’, 50 kilometres away. The police, when they arrived, were told “Muslims shouted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’.”
By evening, the alienation of the minority community was complete. The two communities were till January 26 tied together by trade. Those connections snapped on the Republic Day. Kasganj Muslims – all of them – are the big losers. Kasganj Hindus – a select few – are the big winners. Muslims locked shops, and shut themselves at home. Hindus offered a pittance and bought Muslim-owned shops. Talk about coincidences!
Mainstream media fed the narrative. The first stories that went out: “Hindus were beaten up by Muslims of the area for organising a ‘Tiranga Yatra’.” Social media picked up from there. And it got vituperative. Dirty. Nasty. Negative. Dangerous. Communal. Why? Why would the Muslims pick up a fight which they could not have won? And what were the white, green and orange balloons – colours of the tri-colour – doing on the town square in the Muslim locality of Baddu Nagar of Kasganj? There was also an Indian flag there, unfurled. Couldn’t the ‘Tiranga Yatra’, the mo-bikes wanted to take out, taken a different route?
Clearly, it was the ‘takeover’ commencing. The motorbikes were the vanguard. Sent to start the spat. That done, they left the motorbikes and fled the spot, shouting ‘Go to Pakistan’. What followed was a march on Muslim localities. Bricks, stones, country-made pistols and rifles marched. People on the road, unaware of the “spat”, were caught unawares. A number of them ended up in hospitals. Passing “outsiders” were set upon. “Muslim shops” were attacked. The Muslims retaliated. The battle raged.
Chandan Gupta was shot dead. His body returned home in a tricolour. Cries rent the surcharged air, “he’s a martyr; he’s a martyr!” The Muslim killer of “Martyr Chandan” fled Kasganj. The police found the gun(s) at his home.
The police “took charge of the situation” an hour into the clashes. The mob “remained out of control” till then. Then BJP MP Rajveer Singh took on the role of town ventriloquist. “Martyr” Chandan Gupta’s lifeless body started speaking! Singh is the stalwart son of former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh. He took the words out of Muslim mouths: “The riot was pre-planned”. He ordered an enquiry!
Singh’s ventriloquism fanned the riots in subsequent days. More shops, “particularly those owned by affluent Muslims”, were looted and set on fire. The signs remain: Muslim-owned shops gutted; Hindu-owned establishments open to trade. Is Uttar Pradesh going the Gujarat way? Muslims are supposedly selling and running. Hindus are apparently buying and occupying. The police are allegedly biased. The politicians are fanning hate.
Kasganj was one of the “great” communal stories unfolding, and a national disgrace at that, about atrocities committed on human beings by human beings. It was abundantly clear there was bias at play. The police were locked into the stronger-by-numbers narrative. Lazy overpaid journalists trotted out stories with the offer “pick your poison, we’re the vessels”. There was too much information filtered through other people.
Time was when journalists and journalism were about truth and nothing else. Not on Republic Day, 2018. Reporters could have covered the story six ways to Sunday. But they chose to tell only the motor-bikers’ story. They did not see the motorbikes of a people fallen!