A team of journalists and activists, deputed by The Milli Gazette, on 14 June 2016 visited the town of Kairana in Western Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district which is in the national news due to the claim by the local BJP member of Parliament Hukum Singh that 346 Hindu families have been forced to flee Kairana town due to threats from the Muslim community. This claim aroused much media and political interest and focused lights on the law-and-order situation in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
After Hukum Singh’s allegations, National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the UP government for its report on the alleged exodus, while the UP government itself ordered a probe into the issue.
When our team reached Kairana, we got the news from the nearby Kandhla town that a similar list of 163 Hindu families has been released by BJP and its allied right-wing groups spelling out similar allegations.
The Team interacting with a Hindu sweet’s shop owner
The Kairana list had the names of four dead persons and 68 who left Kairana long ago. It also includes name of 20 families which are still living in Kairana. This indicates that these allegations are part of a well-designed plan to polarise the society ahead of the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections next year.
The mouthpieces of RSS and different sympathisers of the RSS-BJP contributed heavily in rumour-mongering to create a communal divide on the ground in order to to strengthen the BJP. RSS mouthpieces Organiser and Panchjanya made Kairana their cover page issue and compared it with the displacement of Pandits from the Kashmir valley. The role of some journalists and media agencies has been highly objectionable in propagating these allegations. We found that the Kairana issue was the focus of a week-long propaganda by the Hindi daily Dainik Jagaran, which was later picked-up by Zee News and others. They kept publishing stories without any verification on the ground.
Qalam karegi dhamaka (the Pen will do a blast) – The state of journalism in small towns
On the day of our visit, Hukum Singh, an accused in the Muzaffarnagar anti-Muslim riots of September 2013, took a U-turn. Now he claimed that the alleged “exodus” of Hindus from Kairana was “not communal” but was rather connected with the poor law and order situation in the region. This again was a lie since the deteriorating law-and-order situation should cause similar exodus from many towns in the region.
The Saharanpur Range DIG Police, A.K. Raghav, sent a report to the state government on 11 June 2016 regarding this issue. He revealed that the whole effort of the local MP to polarise the situation in the town and neighbourhood is devoted to the intention for his daughter to contest the upcoming assembly elections. DIG Raghav indicated the possibility of some big communal incident in the near future. In his report, the DIG said that these groups are giving the communal angle to a every small incident. In one particular case, where a woman was raped and murdered, two Hindu names cropped up as the accused but there was political pressure to drop their names and arrest Muslims instead for the crime.
At the other hand, Shamli District Magistrate asked the SDM and Circle Officer of Kairana to probe the allegations that “jihadi elements” had forced the migration of Hindus from the town. This action came after the VHP joint general secretary Surendra Jain said on 13 June that “Jihadis are being encouraged to carry out their activities”.
Famous for its role during the 1857 revolt and the 19th century Indian classical music ‘Kirana Gharana’, this town has 80.74% Muslims, 18.34% Hindus and the rest belong to other faiths according to the 2011 Census. This is the area which had given temporary refuge to the large number of Muslims displaced during the anti-Muslim Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013.
Our team found that there are many untold stories which are not coming out, and that behind this whole communal game there is a plan to win the 2017 UP assembly elections.
A Muslim hotel serves afternoon lunch to customers during Ramadan fasts
The day of our visit was the 8th day of fasting in the month of Ramadan. We noted that eateries were open and people were eating on the roads in this Muslim-dominated town. There was no sense of any tension on the roads, markets and mohallas contrary to what was being shown in some news channels. We also failed to see any “For Sale” signboard or writing on the walls of any house.
MS Gill, SHO, Kairana Police Station — Never got sleepless nights because of Muslims
Kairana Station House Officer (SHO), M.S. Gill, told us “It’s not true to call it ‘Hindu migration’. It’s usual these days. Everywhere people are moving from one place to another to explore better prospects. Interested parties are raising such issues keeping 2017 elections in mind.” Kairana police station’s sub-inspector Tanwar said that “Media has hyped the issue unnecessarily. Community leaders from both sides assembled nearby and appealed for harmony.”
A Hindu sweet shop owner, 56, who preferred anonymity, told us: “Yes Mukim Kala gang demands ‘protection money’ and my elder brother shifted from Kairana because he had received extortion threat. But criminals target rich people irrespective of their caste or religion.” Wasim, 42, a local resident, said, “Hukum Singh has been trying to create communal violence here since 2013. But let him do whatever he can, both communities share a bond and no one can disturb this.”
One important finding was that there are political rivalries within BJP and RSS leaders in this region. For claiming more power and space within different structures, they launch different hate-mongering drives against Muslims to stay in the limelight and outdo each other. Locals said that ever since Prime Minister Modi’s rally at Saharanpur on 26 May, Hukum Singh is trying hard to be in the news. The reason being that the BJP Union Minister of State Sanjeev Balyan and Meerut area MLA Sangeet Som did not allow Hukum Singh to share the stage with PM Modi on that occasion.
Our team visited markets and narrow streets in Kairana’s mohallas and also met top Police officials of the town. We came to know that 21 Hindu marriages were cancelled in Kairana thanks to the BJP rumour-mongering. Kairana SHO, M.S. Gill told us: “who will send his daughter to Kairana if such rumours are spread?” He also observed that in his four-month duty in this area, no singal communal incident occurred and that no complaint related with communal hate or crime was made. He said that there was no exodus of Hindus in this Muslim-majority area even when the 2013 riots took place. There was also no such activity even after the murder of businessmen for extortion of money. He said, I am hearing the word “palayan” (Hindi for exodus) for the first time in my life. He further said, we found more Muslims than Hindus participating harmoniously in Ramnavami and Balaji Shobha Yatra processions in the town but no one talks about it in media. He added, there are extortion cases by local goons, particularly the Muqeem Kala gang, but his major targets are Muslims, not Hindus. He runs an extortion racket in the name of protection money. He continues to do this from inside jail where he is lodged since October 2015 along with his sharp shooter Sabir.
Our team was told by local people that the exodus cannot be blamed completely on crime. As the name of Muqeem Kala gang arises in discussion, it is clear that such gangsters only touch the super-rich irrespective of community. We were told that once Muqeem got only 40-50 thousand rupees during a heist. He preferred to throw the money back on the victim.
Local traders told us that due to limited options available, families from both communities are shifting to other cities, mainly to metros, in search of better prospects. The team was told by local people that many of the families mentioned in the list migrated primarily due to economic reasons which is a global phenomenon now. Delhi is situated at the distance of just 98 kms, which prompted many families to shift to the fast running metro which provides better prospects.
In 2014, there were a total of 22 murders in Kairana. But there were only seven Hindus on this list while the rest (14) were Muslims and one was unknown. When three Hindu businessmen were killed in 2014, there was a 7-day-strike by the market association which has a large representation of Muslim traders.
In this whole episode, an interesting perspective noted by our team is that the locals seem to enjoy the attention they are getting from media amid hope that the poor condition of the town will get highlighted and something will be done about it.
We were told again and again that the reason of the migration, not “exodus”, is the economic factor and changing aspirations of the new generation in this age of globalisation. Civic facilities are non-existent in Kairana; people have to go to Panipat or Meerut for healthcare as well as shopping. There is no scope of work here, therefore around 5-7 thousand locals travel daily to the nearby town of Panipat to earn their daily wages.
Traditionally, this was an area of Jain and Hindu money-lenders but people these days don’t go to them and prefer to borrow from easily-accessable banks with a less percentage of interest. A traditional sweet-maker (halwai) in Gumbad mohalla, a BJP supporter, told us that there is no business in the town. Earlier, people used to come here for shopping from Haryana areas but they stopped after the 2013 riots. When we asked about his family, he said that his elder son is a bank manager in Ahmedabad, the younger one is studying for CA and his only daughter is married. He lives here with his wife and waiting to sell his property for the right price, and will settle down with his sons. What he didn’t tell us also important. His sons are not inheriting the profession of their father as there are new avenues and prospects for a much better life. Like him, many are willing to leave the place. It is not the case of Hindus alone, 150 Muslim families, according to local police sources, too have migrated to other places in the hope of a better life for them and their children.
After this “Hindu list of exodus”, local Muslims too have issued a list of Muslims who left the town showing that the migration was mainly for earning a better livelihood outside.
The ruling classes in Delhi and Lucknow are not listening to such voices. They didn’t pay attention for the uplift of the town and now they are playing the polarisation game. They promise development but deliver hate and fear instead trying to divide society which easily gets influenced due to illiteracy and lack of trust manfuctured by the right-wing extremist groups which spread rumours to garner votes and grasp power.
Uttar Pradesh Police is yet to file even an FIR against the BJP MP who made such ruckus without any logic and proof.
1. U.P. Police should without delay file a case against Hukam Singh on the charges of fabricating a false list and disrupting communal harmony.
2. In the run-up to the assembly elections next year, Police and administration in the whole of Uttar Pradesh, especially in eastern UP, should be alert as the BJP and its allied outfits will spread rumours, polarise society and cause riots.
3. Media, especially Hindi press and news channels, should exhibit more responsibility and check the facts on the ground before rushing to publish baseless rumours as facts.
Members of the Fact-Finding team: Ovais Sultan Khan (social activist), Pushp Sharma (journalist), Mazin Khan (journalist), Kauser Usman (journalist) and Mohammad Anwar(social activist)