Communal clashes: How Uttar Pradesh celebrated Republic Day

By K I John

Any form of communal coherence collapsed in the Kasganj district of Uttar Pradesh, amidst the 2018 Republic Day celebrations which took place therein. During the clashes between the two communities, the death of a 16-year-old boy known as Chandan Gupta sparked further violence and rioting. The police said that over two dozen of the troublemakers from both communities had been detained and prohibitory orders under Section 144 had been issued. In the wake of this incident Congress leader Pramod Tiwari, speaking on behalf of the Congress, demanded an independent judicial probe by a sitting High Court judge, into the source of these clashes.

What took place

There are varied accounts of how the clashes began and what caused them to ensue. One account of the incident says that the spur of violence was caused when one community objected to the Tiranga Yatra (flag march) by another community in their area. Around 36 volunteers of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) had taken out a bike rally with tricolours in their hands and were booed at while passing through a Muslim dominated locality. The group had reached the Mathura-Bareilly highway near the Bilram Gate area when some unidentified people hurled stones at them. A verbal altercation followed, which soon turned violent. The angry mob went on a rampage, damaging more than 12 vehicles and property, a district official said. The agitated people also tried to set afire a place of religious worship and some religious texts.

However, another account of the incident was that the clashes broke out after residents of the Muslim-dominated locality of Baddu Nagar in Kasganj arranged chairs on the road and were getting ready to unfurl the tricolour, and workers of Hindu outfits reached the area and allegedly demanded that the chairs be removed to make way for their bikes. The Muslim community was peacefully observing flag hoisting in their locality when a bunch of rowdy motorcycle riders came there with tricolours.  It was also stated that several people from the community told the youngsters to not loiter around in the area or create a ruckus and leave peacefully. The youth insisted on roaming the roads of the area and hurled religious abuse, after which the situation began to deteriorate. Further accounts insinuate that a group of bike-borne men, believed to be associated with Hindutva groups, disrupted a Republic Day programme in a Muslim-dominated colony. They came waving saffron flags and the Indian tricolour and got involved in heated arguments with the residents of the colony.

The first incident of gunfire exchange took place later on Friday in another locality, which led to the death of one person, identified as Chandan Gupta. Further incidences of arson and rioting continued in the town over the next two days. Soon after the last rites of the deceased Chandan Gupta were completed on Saturday morning, a rioting mob burnt multiple shops and buses.

The political perspective

The Congress on Sunday demanded an independent judicial probe presided over by a sitting High Court judge to investigate into the communal clashes. Congress leader Pramod Tiwari alleged that callousness and mismanagement on the part of the Uttar Pradesh government and local administration led to clashes between two communities in Kasganj. He expressed that the continuing violence threatened the peace in the entire state. “How did this happen, who did it? The truth will come out only when an independent judicial probe is conducted by a sitting high court judge.We demand an independent probe by a sitting high court judge into the incident,” he said. “Till when will incidents of gangrape continue under your rule and in the BJP-ruled states. When will you apprehend the culprits and give them exemplary punishment?” he asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath warned those behind the violence. “Our government is committed to providing security to each and every citizen.” He said, “Those spreading anarchy will not be spared. Strict action will be taken against the perpetrators of violence.”  

The Governor of Uttar Pradesh Ram Naik termed the Kasganj incident as a “blot” on the state and requested the government to initiate measures to ensure such incidents did not take place again.

The tipping scales of communal hatred

Regardless of which perspective one views the current situation, it cannot be denied that it stems from an ongoing battle of communal hatred, waged from time immemorial.

A report, titled ‘Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India’ and sponsored by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), claims that religious tolerance has deteriorated and religious freedom violations have increased in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime. The report states that the religious minority communities and Dalits face discrimination and persecution in India where hate crimes, social boycotts and forced conversion have escalated dramatically since 2014.

“Under Congress Party and BJP-led governments, religious minority communities and Dalits, both have faced discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of jurisprudential consistency. In particular, since 2014, hate crimes, social boycotts, assaults, and forced conversion have escalated dramatically,” said the report.

Hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed in the last few years, especially under the banner of cow slaughter. The BJP’s campaign for cow protection appears to have emboldened vigilante groups whose actions are often ignored or even justified on occasion by their respective leaders. In 2017 alone, 86% of those killed in cow related hate crimes were Muslim. This rampant wave of Islamophobia is unwarranted and needs to be fully addressed.

Where the nation stands

The Indian government, has on occasion, at both on state and national levels, ignored its constitutional commitments to protect the rights of religious minorities. The existing scenario depicts a broad rift within the country which renders it unstable in other areas of progress. Acting as an anchor behind every motive, religious tension is misused as a fulcrum to catapult favour for political parties. With religious sentimentality and emotional leverage dominating the forefront of political campaigns, the need to address and safeguard the citizens’ democratic rights, take a backseat. Whether the country will continue to face bloodshed on the pretext of religious fervour, or whether the masses will look past the veil of sentimentality and see rationality, is entirely up to them.

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