Kairana- A case of polarization and Stigmatization of the Muslims
In June this year, in the BJP National Executive meeting in Allahabad, BJP President, Amit Shah expressed concern over the alleged migration of Hindus families from Kairana due to ‘harassment’ by Muslim criminals. According to the BJP, 346 Hindu families have fled from Kairana – a Muslim majority town in western Uttar Pradesh due to threats and extortion from Muslim criminals. Soon after the list of 346 persons was released by the BJP MP Hukum Singh, making the issue a national one, BJP Party chief Amit Shah said at a massive rally in Allahabad, that only the BJP can defeat the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and exhorted the state not to take “Kairana lightly.” (Biswas, 2016). Some BJP MPs like Sangeet Som even went to an extent of comparing the situation in Uttar Pradesh to Kashmir where the Kashmiri Pandits fled from Kashmir. “To the people who are migrating from Kairana, I just want to give them a message that they are safe in Uttar Pradesh. And we will not let Uttar Pradesh turn into Kashmir. I want to tell them that they should stay here and not migrate.,” Som said (The Financial Express, 2016). What the BJP is attempting by creating this narrative is, at one level stigmatising the Muslims by criminalising the community and on another level, weave a political discourse for electoral gains where it berates the Samajwadi Party for not being able to uphold law and order in the state of UP. Further it also accuses the Samajwadi Party of Muslim appeasement by favouring Muslims.
Let us here examine the role of the NHRC in this controversy. The NHRC team investigated into the alleged exodus. Out of the list prepared by Hukum Singh, three residential localities were selected and at least six alleged victims/displaced families/persons were randomly chosen for verification. The team also had telephonic verification from at least four displaced families mentioned in the list, who had migrated to distant places like Dehradun (Uttarakhand) and Surat (Gujarat)” (Rai, 2016). The NHRC has not provided details of which families they interviewed or the how it arrived at its conclusions. Since 346 is not a large number, all of these 346 could have been spoken to. The findings based on interaction with few handful families amounts to gross generalisation. This raises many questions about the methodology followed by the NHRC and the accuracy of its findings. Some of the findings of the NHRC were questionable and reinforces the stereotypes and victimisation of the Muslim community. These findings are as follows:
- After resettlement of about 25,000-30,000 members of Muslims community in Kairana town from Muzaffarnagar post the 2013 riots, the demography of Kairana town changed in favour of the Muslim community. This finding is absurd given that the 2011 census states that the total population of Kairana is about 89000. It would be impossible to absorb a population of 30000 in Kairana which could require massive infrastructure and facilities. Also, the demography of Kairana which is already a Muslim majority area can’t change with an addition of 200 families as some studies have estimated after its investigation (Mander, 2016).
- 24 Muslim youth passed lewd comments and molested Hindu girls in Kairana district. Investigation into this issue was uncalled for since no Hindu girl had complained to NHRC to look into the matter. Again it’s unclear who did the NHRC speak to and how did it arrive at this finding. Attributing such blames to the Muslim youth in the light of the 2013 riots where similar allegations were used as a trigger point for communal violence further reinforces the propaganda of the Hindu nationalists and demonization of the Muslim community.
The findings of the NHRC are questionable since elaborate fact finding was conducted by respected newspapers like the Hindu and Indian Express before the NHRC investigation. The findings of these newspapers are also contrary to the findings of NHRC. The Hindu report stated that out of the 346 families listed by Mr. Hukum Singh the Shamli administration has probed 119 of which it found 68 had left Kairana 10-15 years ago for employment, business, education of children, health and other services. Four persons on the list are dead, while 13 families were found still living in Kairana. The Indian Express report stated that “BJP list of ‘Hindus’ forced out includes those who died, migrated for better job.
The National Minorities Commission (NMC) also visited the region to verify the findings of the NHRC. The NMC found most of the findings of the NHRC baseless. It pointed out that there is no official records to suggest that 30000 riot displaced Muslims have settled into Kairana. Some local NGOs have pitched the number of the displaced families who have settled in Kairana at 200 (Rana, 2016).
Similar fact finding or studies were conducted by two civil society groups. One fact finding was undertaken by a team which included of advocates, scholars from JNU, activists from organisations like Sadbhav Mission, Hind Majdoor Sabha, Sanyojak Shanti Dal, National Movement Front. Another fact finding was undertaken by a team led by Afkar India Foundation.
The findings of these two fact findings can be summarised as follows:
Migration due to poor livelihood options:
As mentioned above, prominent newspapers like Indian Express investigated into the allegation of the exodus. They found out after checking with the Shamli District Magistrate and police that out of the list of 119 families, five dead, 12 still present, 46 moved out since 2011, around 68 families have migrated from the area 10-15 years ago. They moved out because of economic reasons (Indian Express, 2016). It is interesting to note that there is a lack of industries in the area and thus not uncommon for residents to migrate to other bigger cities of Panipat and Sonipat for better livelihood opportunities.
Crime not related to any religion or community:
The claim of the BJP that the Samajwadi Party has failed to maintain law and order and is soft on Muslims needs to be problematized. BJP assuming the higher moral ground by blaming the Samajwadi Party of not upholding law and order would be hypocritical given its own track record. After BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, the cow vigilante groups have become emboldened since no action is taken against them. This has become a serious problem of law and order. In BJP ruled states like Gujarat, cow vigilantes can with impunity mercilessly beat up Dalits in Una and upload the video on WhatsApp, over skinning of a dead cow. This is not an isolated case, two weeks prior to the Una incident, cow vigilantes also made Muslim men eat cow dung mixed with urine in BJP ruled Haryana. In March, two cattle traders were beaten and hung from a tree in BJP-ruled Jharkhand (Sharma, 2016). Similarly, Muslim women were beaten up in BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh over rumours that they were carrying beef (Indian Express, 2016). Apart from the violence perpetuated by cow vigilantes, the execution of youth alleging them to be SIMI cadre under questionable circumstances recently in Bhopal also betrays subversion of law by the State itself. The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh termed the police and jawan who died in the encounter as “martyrs” thereby leaving no scope for criticism and demanding accountability from institutions of army and police by civil society (Sharma R. , 2016). No punishment is meted out to BJP’s own MPs and ministers who have given hate speeches. Samajwadi Party has been treating Muslims as a mere vote bank. In the first half of 2015 itself UP witnessed 68 instances of communal violence where mostly Muslims have been victimised (Dabhade, 2016). Prior to this 129 communal incidences were recorded in 2014 alone (Engineer, 2015). However, Samajwadi Party has taken little action against rioters or offered any security to the Muslim community in spite of garnering their votes on the promise of security thus paying only lip service to the community. Another such example is the higher relative ratio of non convict Muslims to convict Muslims in prisons. The All India average is 1.29 while that of the State of Uttar Pradesh is 1.45 (Kishore, 2016).
While there are criminal gangs active in the region posing a threat to businessmen, it would be completely wrong to give it a communal hue by essentializing their religious identity or relating their activity with their religion. The allegation that the gangs are Muslim and targeting Hindus has been investigated into and in this regard the findings have been stark.
It was found that a mixed group of criminals consisted of Hindu and Muslims are active in the area and a separate criminal gang consisting only of Hindus also exists in the region. Further, there are several looting and murder cases against these Hindu criminals. Amit from village Khandravli, under the jurisdiction of the police station of Kandhla, is the head of the gang. This gang was booked for extortion and threatening people’s lives. Secondly, Vipul alias Khooni from Bhabissa also runs criminal gang and he is also one of the top five most wanted criminals of kandhla police station. There are two others from Jasala village named Sonu and Rahul in top five most wanted criminals list, charged with serious offences such as dacoit, murder and extortion. It is interesting to note that despite the claims made by Mr Hukum Singh, four out of the five most wanted criminals in the region are Hindus. An award of Rs 50000 was being offered for any information that led to the arrest of another criminal in the list by the name Rahul Khattar. He was later shot and killed by the police after he tried to extort money from Mr. Chaman Siddiqui from Kandhla. The Muqeem gang, which is claimed to be a Muslim gang, has allies with the Dujana gang in Ghaziabad lead by Anil Dujana. Anil is from Greater Noida his criminal record is spread over Ghaziabad, Meerut and Bulandshahar while also maintaining considerable influence over all of western U.P. He is renowned criminal in the area. He is accused of several murders, robbery, and kidnapping cases. He and the members of his gang are at present convicted and sentenced incarcerated.
There are also many gangs in UP that have political protection, and interestingly, the people in these gangs belong to the Hindu and Muslim communities equally. At the same time that three Hindu businessmen were murdered, eleven Muslim individuals from around that area were also murdered, out of which three Muslim women were raped and murdered. The well established and economically well off have accepted their dominance over the area for their own protection. There has also been an instance where in protest of the violence and extortion both the Muslim and Hindu communities protested united and also organised Bandhs. However, legal action was still not taken on the accused. This clearly indicates towards the political patronage that the gangs enjoy and dismisses the communal angle that is being assigned to it in order to polarise the votes.
No concern for survivors of Communal violence:
What can possibly explain the reason of such falsehoods and manipulation targeting the Muslim community? The answer lies in the upcoming State Assembly elections in UP. By raking up such issues and spreading false propaganda, the BJP is trying to polarise the communities for votes. Interestingly Muzaffarnagar which is close to Shamli was the epicentre of communal riots in September 2013. The riots resulted in large displacement of Muslims from the region to other towns. The BJP was the biggest benefactor of the riots since it managed to bag 71 seats out of 80 in UP in 2014 general elections. The BJP is hoping for a repeat electoral performance by spreading fear and distrust about the Muslims having targeted them for consumption of beef and “love jihad” throughout the country and particularly in UP and painting the Samajwadi Party as appeasing the Muslims.
The gravity of the false and vicious propaganda of the BJP can’t be understated. By raising the Kairana issue, BJP is doubly victimising the Muslim community. It has torn apart the social fabric of UP and sowed seeds of fear and distrust. The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 had left around 75000 people displaced from their homes A 2016 report –Living Apart: Communal Violence and Forced Displacement in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli– based on detailed ground research, found an estimated 50,000 still scattered all over Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, and other districts, of which nearly 30,000 victims were in IDP (internally displaced people) colonies, never able to return home (Hasan, 2016). Allegations by BJP of exodus due to Muslim criminals are adding insult to injury and mocking at the survivors of the riots and subsequently displacement. Instead of helping the survivors of Muzaffarnagar riots get justice and be rehabilitated, they are facing double burden- one of displacement and the other of stigmatisation by attributing to them criminal acts. It should be noted here that the modus operandi before 2013 riots too was speeches insinuating eve teasing by Muslim boys of the Hindu girls, reckless hate speeches by BJP leaders and generally painting an alarming picture (in present scenario comparing UP to Kashmir) where the Muslims are feared and distrusted. There is a narrative weaved around Muslims which criminalise and label them.
One wonders why BJP speaks only of Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus in Kairana who they claim are “displaced”. Why is there no mention of the rehabilitation of the survivors of Gujarat riots of 2002 or of the Kandhamal violence? The survivors of these communal riots have still not been able to return to their houses and live in destitution, fear and insecurity. Their plight is far greater than politics for votes. Yet polarisation and marginalisation are still been actively used for vote bank politics and Kairana is a case in point.