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Kasganj violence: Beware of communal polarisation

Another life lost as Uttar Pradesh turns into a tinderbox.

 |  5-minute read |   28-01-2018
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Uttar Pradesh is on the boil again, after a Hindu youth was shot dead following clashes between two communities on Republic Day. With shops and vehicles set on fire for the third straight day, internet services in the district have been snapped till 10pm on Sunday.

Kasganj, and the reactions to it coming from politicians and certain sections of the media, are proof of what happens when you turn a state into a tinderbox, and let politicians stoke it to polarise vote banks.

According to reports, 22-year-old Chandan Gupta was killed, and another youth, Noushad, sustained bullet injuries, over an argument about chairs placed on a road.

On January 26, Republic Day celebrations had been organised by the Muslim community in Badu Nagar locality. A group of VHP and ABVP activists entered the area as part of a bike rally, and insisted on taking a route that had been blocked by chairs placed there for the Republic Day event.

According to The Indian Express, a video in the possession of some residents of Baddu Nagar shows a group of around 60 people, some of them carrying the Tricolour and saffron flags shouting: “Bike toh yahin se jayegi (The bikes will pass through here).”

This led to a clash, shots were fired, and Chandan Gupta was killed. Since then, shops and vehicles have been set ablaze, section 144 imposed in the town, schools closed, and 49 people arrested.

Hate mongering

The aftermath of the incident saw dramatically, and dangerously, different sequence of events being narrated.

Social media has been afire with claims that Gupta was shot for chanting "Bharat Mata ki Jai" and that the Muslims were raising "Pakistan zindabad" slogans. No video footage showing any of this has so far come to light.

According to local additional superintendent of police Pavitra Mohan Tripathi: “There was a minor scuffle between Hindus and Muslims over the procession, followed by stone pelting in which a few motorcyles were damaged. The police arrived at the spot and separated the two groups. However, the procession took a detour and passed through a Muslim-dominated area, where the residents thought that the participants had come to retaliate. This triggered the shooting incident.”

Additional DG (law and order) Anand Kumar has said, “It seems the (stone pelting) incident was not pre-planned but a spontaneous one.”

However, Rajveer Singh, the local BJP MP who has been camping in the area, had a more incendiary version to offer. “Friday’s attack was a planned assault on the youths who were taking out Tiranga Yatra on two-wheelers. The youths were attacked with acid bottles, stones were pelted and shots were fired at them. It is important to find out how so many stones and acid bottles were used in the attack on youths in city area, where there is proper regulation on the sale of acid.”

Chandan Gupta, 22, was killed in the clashes. Photo: India TodayChandan Gupta, 22, was killed in the clashes. Photo: India Today

Singh has not clarified from where he received the information about acid bottles.

Some reports claim that the violence since the death of Gupta was planned and targeted only Muslim-owned properties, with the attacks coming when the security forces were busy with the youth’s cremation. All the 49 men arrested are Muslims.

It is unclear why the administration has not been able to curb the violence in three days.

Communal polarisation kills

While the Kasganj incident will become clearer as police probe it, the clash is another proof that the price of communal polarisation is often paid in blood. Uttar Pradesh has been simmering for months now. The state has been so high-strung that a petty clash – brawls over right of way are common enough in north India – quickly took on a communal colour and a life was lost.

Yogi Adityanath’s swearing-in as chief minister seems to have been taken by many to herald the beginning of the saffron raj, where “long-suffering” Hindus “subjugated by minority-loving politicians” can finally claim their “rightful place”. The establishment, from prime minister onwards, has fanned this sentiment, either through actual statements or conspicuous silence.

This year will see several key states go to polls, and a polarised society is an easy way to ensure that communities vote as blocks. 

However, there are costs to keeping communal passions perennially on the boil. Hindus and Muslims have been living side by side in UP and other parts of India for centuries. But when political leaders repeatedly tell you that Muslims are Pakistan-loving traitors waiting to turn India into another Pakistan, or that Hindus are untrustworthy and will harm you at the first available chance, you tend to believe them. And act on the sentiment beyond just choosing whom to vote for.

Unnecessary and frequent calls to a community’s honour and pride keep a society on the edge, where every small clash has the potential to spiral out of control. And a life lost is a life lost, no matter which community is at the receiving end.

Kasganj happened because Hindus are being taught that they owe it to their community’s depleted pride to practise a visible, aggressive brand of Hinduism, and because Muslims have been told they are unsafe as the majority distrusts them as anti-nationals.    

Worryingly, the incident, instead of serving as a sobering call, is being turned into kindling for future violence. At such a critical time, when politicians should have been appealing for peace, the clash is being framed as a narrative of a Hindu killed because he was chanting a patriotic slogan.

This is not just irresponsibility, but criminality. Politicians, and people at large, need to remember that a polarised, divided society is dangerous, and competitive patriotism has absolutely no winners.  

Also read: Karwan-e-Mohabbat 2018: Lynchings expose the hollowed out promises of India’s republic

Writer

Yashee Yashee @yasheesingh

Senior sub-editor, DailyO

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