Monday, June 1, 2015

Kandhla : The communalization of a protest against communal harassment

Kandhla : The communalization of a protest against communal harassment.

1.    The contex
2.    Introduction
3.    Sequence of event
4.    The Causes
5.    The Rumors and the Reality
6.    The roles of various protagonists and antagonists
7.    Conclusion
8.    Demands and suggestions

1.    The context

On May 1, 20015, some anti-social elements misbehaved with one of the Jamat-e-Tabligis travelling in Janata Exress from Delhi to Saharanpur. Jamatis, instead of going to Saharanpur got down at Kandhla station in Shamli district. After medical aid in the local office of the Tablig, went to the local Police Station where the M LA from Kairana, Nahid Hussain was already present there in connection with some other case. Citing the repeated incidents of the Muslim passengers, he called for the Rail Roko protest bthe next day. During the protest, there were minor incidents of brickbat and Police action leading to injuries to some protesters. The outfits of the Sangh Parivar began spreading hateful rumors against the Muslims and threatened direct action on the “failure of state machinery” in “protecting the country”.

In the sequence of attempts to communalize the protest against the consistent communal harassments of Muslim passengers between the Bagpat and Shamli, a youth arrested from Pune tweeted that the protest was an attempt to repeat Godhra and called  for killing 3,000 Muslims. It sounds like an attempt at geting the backdoor validity to their narrative of the Godhra. According to his statement to Police, as published in the news papers, he is an activist of BYM, the youth outfit of the BJP and that among the followers of his tweet is the PM, Naredra Modi. The BJP MLA from Thana Bhavan, Suresh Rana held a meeting in the Jain temple and provoked them to avenge the Muslims.

Concerned with the events and the rumors and taking cognizance of the stories doing the rounds in newspapers, channels and social media, Janhastakshep: A campaign against fascist designs, decided to send a fact finding team to uncover the truth by:
Ascertaining and understanding the exact sequence of events; comparing and contrasting the rumors with the facts; Investigating the role of state agencies in preventing the frequent violent attacks on Muslim passengers or otherwise; investigating the role of various political interests in the existing political context of the region and try to comprehend socio-political factors (if any) that led to the episode; understanding the motives of various protagonists and antagonists; and investigating its linkages with the designs of broader communal polarization.

The team visited the sights of the incident – the Railway station, the railway crossing and the cabin, the Police Station and interacted with common people from both the communities; the station master, Bishan Singh and other employees at the station; passengers waiting for the trains there; the cabin man, Munnilal who was manning the cabin at the time of incident; the members local Tabligi Jamaet, who had helped the injured Omar Farooq Ali in his treatment and had taken him to the Police station for lodging the complaint; the assistants of Municipal Board chairman Haji Wahid Hasaan who was out of station and had telephonic conversation with the Kairana MLA, Nahid Hasan, who too was out of station;  victims of 2013 communal violence from the nearby Ranikheda camp; and the SHO of the town, AK Chauhan.

The team led by Professor Ish Mishra of Delhi, University consisted of wellknown political columnist, Rajesh Kumar, Senior Journalist, Parthiv Kumar and Dhanajay Kumar, Correspondent, Nai Duniya.

2.    Introduction

  The fall of the Jnata Party Government that came to power consequent to the JP movement and the disintegration of the party in 1980 was a tragic moment in the Indian history.  After the split, the erstwhile Bhartiya Jansangh, reorganized itself as Bhartiya Janta Party(BJP). To dilute its conservative, communal credentials and to achieve broader acceptability, it adopted, though without defining, the Gandhian Socialism, as its guiding principle. But after massive victory of the Congress, under Rajiv Gandhi, in the aftermath of the anti-Sikh pogrom, resorted back the hard Hinduttva line. Ever since it has been resorting to communal polarization of the society and reaping the electoral crops. Rathyatra, Babri demolition, Gujrat and Muzaffarnagar have become the history culminating into the ascendance of Narendra Modi, the main protagonist of Gujarat mayhem to the post of India’s Prime Minister. Gladdened with the rich electoral harvest of Muzaffarnagar communal onslaught on Muslims, the Sangh Parivar, through its various fronts continues to perpetuate the communal mobilization through small scale coomunal attacks on small scale. The consistent harassment of Muslim passengers, the protest by Muslims and rumors of the repetition of Godhra, though did not work out, seems to be the part of the broad communal design.

Kandhla is a small quite, town surrounded by villages and the orchards in Shamli district in the western UP, the stage of 2013 communal mayhems and the victim of the seize within, along with Muzaffarnagar in 2013, in the eve of 2014 elections. The Rani Kheda camp is just 10-12 KMs from here and the Lakha village that had witnessed the worst massacre leading to the loss of 26 lives, is not very far. One of the common denominators in the narratives of members of both the religious communities is that this town had never witnessed any communal tension and despite the police action on the protesters and rumors, though not completely untouched, but by and large, remains free from communal tension. But so were the affected rural areas of Shamli and Muzaffarnagar areas till September 2013. The railway station, the place of protest and police action is little away from the town virtually in the jungleThe area has sizeable Muslim population. The MLA of Shamli, the assembly constituency under which this town lies, is Devendra Singh of and the Municipal board chairperson, Wahid Hussan also from the same party. Earlier, BSP leader, Haji Islam was the Municipal Board chairperson, whose supporters, as we learnt were responsible for stone pelting on the railway cabin.   The adjacent Kairana assembly constituency is represented by Samajwadi Party’s Nahid Hussain In fact most of the protesters had come from Kairana and as we found out  had left with him after the assurance of action within 24 hours by the administration. As mentioned in the following pages, theire intra-party and inter party electoral dynamics too were the factors of the episode.  There is competition between local SP and BSP leaders for enhancing the support base among the Muslims, there is also seesaw between local SP leaders. BJP, it appears is interested in perpetuating the communal electoral polarization created by 2013 riots. A BJP MLA from Thana Bhavan, having nothing to do with the place and held a closed door meeting with his supporters and the rumors of second Godhra floated on social sights.

3.    The Sequence of events (With approximation of the timings)

May 1, 2015

 5.00 PM
 6 members of Jamaet-e-Tablig from Maharashtra boarded Farukhnagar-Saharanpur Janta Express from Delhi Jn. They undertake this journey every year and usually they take Utkal Express from Nizamuddin that goes via Meerut. This time they were late in reaching Delhi and missed the train.

6 PM.
One of the Tabligis, Omar Faruq Ali Khan wanted to go to toilet and asked for way from the passengers near the washroom a around Instead of giving space to go to toilet, they started abusing him and when he objected to it, they beat him up, tore his clothes and beard and snatched Rs. 20400.  As the team learnt from station master and others, the incident took place near Sujra station and the attacker’s obdurately travelled till Baraut. The scared Tabligis could take care of their companions only after the attackers got off.

7.15 PM
The Tabligis, on advice of a co-passenger, instead of going to their destination, got off at Kandhla  for primary medical aid and also to lodge the complaint in the Police Station. As there is no police or GRP post at the Station, they reached the Jama Masjid in the town and narrated their ordeal. After the primary medical aid, as told by Maulana Zakaria and others present in the mosque, they took him to the Police Station. They also told that harassment of Muslim passengers, including women, had become a routine between Bagpat and Shamli in passenger trains. Repeated complaints had gone in vain.

7.30 PM
With local people they reached the Police Station, the MLA from the adjacent Kairana, Nahid Hasan was already present there in connection with the enquiry of progress in another case – a rape case. In the meanwhile the chairman of Municipal Board, Haji Wajid Hasan also reached there. Both belong to the Smajvadi party.  When the Police showed reluctance in lodging the complaint, these leaders announced a Rail Roko protest next day. This was also confirmed by the SHO, AK Chauhan. The Kandhla Police immediately communicated this to the district officials at Shamli.

May 2, 2015

6 AM
 Around 150 protesters reached the railway crossing near the station and sat on Dharna on the rail tracks. Apart from above mentioned 2 SP leaders, also present there were The Shamli  MLA(SP), Devendra Singh and BSP leader and the former chairman of Municipal Board, Haji Islam. Though the Dharna was peaceful, yet it obstructed the passage of trains. Gradually more and more protested started joining and soon the number reached over a thousand. The DM, SP and other officials had reached the spot. This was the common narrative of everyone including the SHO.

8.30 AM
After the assurance of action against the culprits within 24 hours, by the district official, the protest was called off and people began to disperse. But Haji Islam, along with his around 50 supporters did not leave.

8.50 AM
The crowd started pelting stones and also damaged the Haradwar Express train standing there. But no passenger was harmed or attacked. This followed the Police action and tussle between the police and the protesters in which many people including few Police men were injured. One passenger, with bullet injury was seriously injured. This was the common narrative of all the people we met. What is not the common narrative is about who fired the shot that injured Deen Mohammad?

9.15 PM
 Few confiscated vehicles parked outside the Police Station were put on fire. About the responsibility of this arson also, we got contrasting narratives from members of the Muslim community and the Police. A  Sub inspector of Kandhla Police station present at the time of the disturbance told that when the protesters proceeded towards the Bikaner-Haradawar Express standing at  the gate, the stopped them and there was no attempt by the protesters to harm the passengers. As confirmed by Bishan Singh, the stationmaster, there was no attempt to harm any passenger waiting for the trains on the platform.  

4.    The Causes
The immediate cause of the incident was the attack on the Tabligis but the harassment of Muslim passengers since 2013 communal violence in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, has become a routine on this route. The attack on Tabligis became the triggering point of cumulative anger.  This narrative of the members of Muslim community including the assistants of Wajid Hasan and the local Tabligis was directly confirmed by the station master, the cabin man and diplomatically by the SHO who told the team that hooliganism by the local passengers in western UP had been an established fact and the people are divided on religious identities. What he did not tell was the absence of Police effort to destabilize this “established” crime. Eave teasing and humiliation of Muslim women is also routine on this rout. Around a year and half ago, in the similar incident of attack on Tabligis, 5 hoodlums were arrested at Baraut by 5the GRP but the matter was hushed up with the intervention of the Rashtriya Lok Dal MLA from Chhaparauli, Veerpal Singh Rathi.  

5.    The Rumor and Reality

A.   Romor:  protesters had come with truckload of weapons.

The reality: There was no evidence of this, the rumor probably began taking round on the behest of be Suresh Rana, the BJP MLA from Thanabhavan constituency, who had held a meeting of his supporter in the Jain temple of the town, as mentioned before. What exactly transpired in the meeting could not be known. According to Mr. Chauhan, the SHO, the meeting was in connection with some attack on Jain temple, but he could not produce any report or complaint of the attack. Suresh Rana does not hide his communal credentials and nefarious designs. According to news reports published from Saharanpur, he had warned that if the administration does not take action against the protesters, the public will take action. The protest was totally peaceful for the first 2.30 hours. According to the Station master, there was no attack on station or the passengers. There was no harm done to train 74002, Shamli-Delhi standing at the platform or hundreds of passengers waiting there for other trains. At 8.50 there was stone pelting by the protesters on the cabin and the Bikaner-Hardwar train. No harm was done to any passenger in the train. There was no report of any unpleasant incident anywhere else in the town either. Had protesters come with weapons they would use it but the team found no evidence of it. Even the SHO said the the protest was peaceful. Had the protesters carried the truck load of weapons, some of them confiscated by the Police but there was none.

B.   Rumor: Kandhla protest was an attempt to repeat “Godhra” and that the train going to Hardwar was attacked on religious basis as it was carrying the pilgrims.

Reality: The rumor seems to have emanated from Suresh Rana who told in interview to papers published from Saharanpur that it was an attempt to repat Godhra. As mentioned above that the youth arrested in Pune, Amritesh responsible for rumor mongering on social media belongs to the youth wing of BJP and is connected with Modi on tweet. Presence of Rana at the sights of various communal incidents from Muzaffarnagar to kandla adds to his communal credentials. The team found no evidence that bthe protesters had any design or paln to harm the passengers.   It is obvious that it was a clear threat of Gujrat’s “action-reaction” repetition and were planned with wider communal designs.

6.    Some questions

A.   The attack on the Tabligi too place at Sujra station, why did they not get down at Kashimpur or Barau before Kndhla?

The Tabligi did not get down before Kandhla,  as told by Haji Mujammal Khan, the attackers were travelling till Baraut flouting the aura of the muscle power and they feared further attack and humiliation. They wanted to go to their destintion, Saharanpur butd on advice of some co-travelers they got down at Kandhla for help. Also, as the team found out, the founder of the Tabligi Jamat, Md. Ilias Kandhalvi was from this town and they expected compassion and help from the fellow local Tabligis.

B.     Another question which struck us was, as we were told by, Sher Singh, the Dhaba owner at the bust stand and confirmed by others we met that most of the protesters were from outside. How such mobilization took place in such a short time?

 The people present at the time in the mosque, used social media to inform their acquaintances and the said SP leaders had begun the preparation in the night itself using their human and electronic resources.

C.   Who put on blaze the confiscated old vehicles out side the POLICE station?

The Police blame the protesters where as the members of the Muslim community blame it on Police. The time between final dispersal of protesters and the arson is much shorter and as the police force was at the sight of the protest, the question is when they could have put the Police Station on fire why the burnt only worn out confiscated vehicles?

D.   Why the peaceful protest became violent after 2.30 hours?

According to the assistants of Wahid Hussain, chairman Municipal Board, after the SP leaders had left with their supporters, a group of 50-60 protesters with Haji Islam did not disperse after the protest was called off. We could not meet Haji Islam as he too was not in the town, but we learnt from Muskeem from Ranikheda camp, assistants of Wajid Hasan and others including the SHO that the BSP leader wanted to have an edge over the SP leader as better defender of Muslim interests.

E.   Who fired the bullet that hit Deen Mohammad, a protester?

 The Police version is that firing was done by the protesters. But the question is why a protester would fire at a fellow protester? The shot was fired from a country made pistol, as confirmed by the forensic report. One young boy told the team in the Masjid that someone has a photograph showing a uniformed hand holding a Katta – the country made pistol. He could not produce the picture.  According to the Muslim leaders, the Police fired with a country made weapon so that they could save themselves from the charge of firing.

7.    The roles of various protagonists and antagonists

A.   Police and administration

The role of Police and the administration has been quite negative as no official attempt was made to bridge the communal gulf between the communities that has permeated the society since 2013. The Police did not take adequate steps to curb the ongoing harassment of Muslim passengers despite the repeated complaints. The police was hesitant to lodge the complaints of the Tabligis that became the immediate cause of the protest. The security arrangement in trains on this route is very lack luster. The team did not find any presence of Police or GRP men at the Kandhla station.  The station master and other rail workers are scared to live in the quarters. Munnilal, the cabin man, is quite scared as the incidents of general criminal nature are quite common.

B.   The BJP  The rural areas and towns of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, Uttar Pradesh, as has been well reported, witnessed severe communal violence. Many Muslims fled their villages and many of them are still living in various camps in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, even after 2 years of their communally coerced dispossessions. The sporadic incidences of communal violence, sometimes well organized and sometimes chaotic, have continued since then, particularly after 2014 parliamentary polls, ostensibly, to create and perpetuate communal electoral polarization. Last year, organized riots with active participation of various fronts of the Sangh Parivar in Kanth (Moradabad district) and Saharanpur on the eve of assembly bye elections, are the glaring examples, of well organized ones. Sporadic, unreported, chaotic incidents of harassment of Muslims by communal lumpens in the rural areas, has become common feature of the region’s sociology. Continuous harassment of Muslim passengers in local trains between Bagpat and Saharanpur is glaring example of sporadic communal violence. One such incident, on May 1, 2015, involving the attack on a Tabligi from Maharashtra, proved to be the triggering point and led to protest by local Muslims and rumors by Sangh Parivar of Godhra’s repetition on social media. One Amitesh was arrested for posting on social media, alluding to dangerous communal design to perpetuate the communal polarization that began on the eve of the 2014 elections.

C.   Smajwadi Party

Though there is no evidence that SP leaders, Nahid Hussain, Wazid Hussain or Shamli MLA Devender Singh present there provoked people for violence but in conformity with SP tactic of exploiting the insecurity, instead of applying pressure for action against culprits they were competing in making mass base. According to some sources including the SHO Nahid and Wazid are competing for importance in the party. Hurried decision of Rail Roko campaigj seems to be par of it.

D.   BSP   

The rivalry of dominance between SP and BSP for dominance, it seems, prompted Haji Islam to stay back after the protest was called off, and provoke his supporters for stone pelting, to project himself as better wellwishwers of Muslims.
E.   RLD

With BJP emerging as the main force in western UP, desperate Lok Dal is trying to regain its support base by placating the Hindu voters, The act of its MLA Birpal, in getting released the arrested attackers on Jamatis, one and half an year ago, is clear indication of that. According to the members of the Muslim community, in one similar act of harassment of Tabligis, the culprits were arrested  but under the pressure of the MLA mentioned above, the matter was hushed up. 

8.    Conclusion

At the very outset we conclude that it was not a communal incident. It was a protest against continued harassment of Muslims and apathy of the administration. Its communalization by BJP and the Sangh Parivar was viciously politically motivated.  Ever since 2013 communal violence and massive exodus and displacement in western UP and its electoral fall out, the Sangh Parivar through its different fronts seems to keep communal tension alive in the area by sporadic and organized communal violence or by communalizing trivial conflicts involving the members of two communities and rumors. The rumors regarding Kandhla can be seen in the sequence of in the sequence of communal tensions caused in Kanth in Moradabad district and Saharanpur on the eve of assembly by-elections. The coming days till 1917 Assembly polls, there might be many incidences of electorally motivated communal tensions.

9.    Demands

1.    The culprits of attack on Tabligis must be immediately booked under the relevant section of IPC.
2.    The Janhastakshep demands judicial enquiry in the matter that who provoked the 50-50 protesters who indulged into stone pelting and the police action, particularly about who fired the bullet that seriously injured Deen Mohammad, a protester. 
3.    Identification of rumor mongers and strict action against them
4.    Appropriate arrangement of security in the trains, particularly in the stretch between Bagpat and Shamli from where the frequent incidents of attack on and harassment and humiliations are generally reported. 

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