Rekindling the lives of the victims of Kasganj violence
To bring fore the issues emerging out of the bloodshed at Kasganj in Western Uttar Pradesh in India on January 26, 2018 Media Vigil Trust and People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) organized an event at Press Club of India in New Delhi. “Folk School in the support of survivors of communal violence and torture in Kasganj” received support from United Nations Trust fund for victims of Torture (UNTFVT) and International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).
The hall was packed to its capacity, activists, journalists, lawyers, academicians, students participated and listened to the deliberations and testimonials with rapt attention for 3 hours. It also included the victims of Kasganj violence who narrations jolted the sensibilities of the participants. The violence in the riot and in its aftermath, perpetrated by the police patronized by the ruling party in the centre and state had heightened the trauma, uprooting the families, their identity and livelihood. Keeping in mind the syncretic traditions of Kasganj, the event aimed to strengthen the Hindu-Muslim amity, create a narrative of togetherness in the current vulnerable, fragile and easily polarized discourse in India.
New pattern of communal violence
Taking the centre stage, Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, Founder & CEO of PVCHR, opened the session, he revealed, “In Kasganj, the moment the violence broke out, the young men who had instigated it went underground. In the aftermath of the riot, around 120 caught by the police, out of which 80 were Hindus and 30-40 belonged to Muslim community.”
For taking stock of the ground realities, Dr. Lenin along with his team rushed to Kasganj after two days of the violence breaking out in January. Further, he added, “Interestingly, Kasganj violence sets up a new pattern in communal riots in India. This new era riot started taking its shape much before 26th January 2018. Young men from both Hindu and Muslim community from Kasganj started an online debate on social media, few months back. The Gorakhnath temple in Kasganj was made the centre of activity through which the Hindu youth were drawn to connect them with BJP’s student wing ABVP functionaries in Uttar Pradesh.Actually, this temple, which was once abandoned and found in dilapidated condition, was repaired, the priest was taken into confidence and finally the custodian of the temple the present Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was involved. It was a six month process, even before the social media debate started. Thus, the riot was allowed to take place by jobless youths belonging to the both sides of the community. Kasganj violence is a part of the major conspiracy to destroy the cottage industry and further pauperise the Muslims. In Kasganj, shops and livelihood sources of the poor Muslims have been torched or looted. None of the fact finding teams which visited Kasganj, after the violence had tried to do a follow-up what happened to those who were arrested. Those shops, which were torched did they get any compensation. Those who fled their homes have they returned or not. The egregious manner in which the trauma continues to haunt the victims and their families reveals a new emerging image of communal violence in today’s time. Mostly unheard by police, politicians, activists and even lawyers, the victims have innumerable stories haunting them, making it treacherous for them to accept their new identity, reality and mayhem.”
Delineating on ‘new age riot’ Nadeem Khan, a prominent activist of ‘United against Hate’ campaign said, “Kasganj riot was not a traditional riot. It was an attack by the selected youth belonging to majority community on the minority. But interestingly, both Hindus and Muslims showed solidarity to prevent it from further escalating into major violence. Kasganj violence reveals how Hindu youth were turned into an aggressive violent mob.”
Further he added, “23 First Information Reports (FIRs)were lodged for a single bullet fired, but without any evidence. Those youths, who were arrested and put behind the prisons, their houses were ransacked and looted during the three days of Kasganj violence. However, the fact is that the violence and its escalation reveal that it was patronised by the police and the state right from the beginning. Unfortunately, we will see more such experiments and ‘planned’ riots in the coming months till 2019 General elections.”
Atul Saxena, a native from Kasganj, explained how media further aggravated the situation and played the role of devil’s advocate creating hyper-reality. He revealed, “Local Newspapers, local TV channels reporting on Kasganj violence played up the riot. Till 26th January 2018, Kasganj had no history of communal violence. Even in Muslim majority where there is Chamundadevi temple, a sensitive location, there has never been any communal discord reported ever.”
Rajiv Yadav of Rihai Manch explaining about the hierarchy of FIRs and the power play involved, he said, “FIRs lodged against Muslims, OBCs and Dalitsis well evident. The present Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister through the Kasganj violence has been assiduously trying to build up a communally polarised constituency so that he can reap up the dividends in 2019 General elections. In this situation it’s quite necessary to give legal support to the victims.” However, Rihai Manch is a resistance against repression, as they describe it – formed panels of lawyers to provide legal assistance to people trapped by police deceit.
Women from Kasganj donning hijab attended the event to tell their tale of woes. These women were accompanied from the families and cuddling infants in their arms. Women with expectant look at the event retained their silence. They were curiously trying to understand if this initiative could bring justice to them. However, the quest for justice for Kasganj violence is quite arduous and painstaking, it’s tough and the path tumultuous. Many among them whose son, brother or father had been incarcerated for days together on false charges and the egregious violence has now negatively impacted their lives and rendered them helpless
Testimonials by the victims of police violence
Rahul Yadav, who was arrested in the aftermath of 26th January violence, said, “I am PVCHR functionary in Kasganj. On 29th January at 11 pm, policemen in a large contingent violently knocked at our door. I was trembling with fear, when they were calling my and father’s name. I gathered some courage and opened the door. Then, 20 to 25 policemen pushed me aside and barged inside our house. Still that late night knock by the police at our door reverberates in my mind and it shivers up and down my spine”
Further he added, “We three brothers were caught by neck and rounded up. Then Inspector General (IG) came at our residence and instructed to his men that we should be taken to the police station. Reaching there, we werewe were pushed behind the bar as if were hardened criminals. I tried to plead with the policemen to tell them that I am a PVCHR functionary and we were law-abiding citizens. But it all fell in the deaf ears.My father was also arrested. Police personnel were constantly using abusive language and were trying to break our morale. After our arrest, my mother and sister wept inconsolablyfor 3 days and spent sleepless nights.
In the midnight at 12.30 a.m. my father and brother, Nishant Yadav were called up by the IG for interrogation. During the interrogation, my brother was thrashed by two policemen raining incessant blows from the belt. My father stomachedall the humiliations by the IG and the police personnel. Both of them were constantly intimidated and threatened into submission. My father was kept in a separate cell whose whereabouts we didn’t know.”
“Our cell in which we kept had an obnoxious smell and it had not been cleaned for years together, even an animal won’t stay for a while. We were released after 3 days. Our days in the prison had shaken us badly. My youngest brother Atul who studies in 12th Class could not overcome that traumatic phase and appear for 12th Class board examination. Still his days in the prison haunts him. It has shaken all of us from within and we are unable to ponder over how we would get justice? FIR should be lodged against those police personnel who pushed us behind the bars,” said Rahul Yadav
Maham, a young lady narrated her woes, “In the aftermath of the riot, the police barged inside our house and forcibly took away my 72-year old abba (father) and 18 year old brother. Within 15 days of their arrest my mother was heartbroken and she could not withstand the emotional trauma and she passed away. My father has shop but it’s closed.Our family has been destroyed. We are three sisters and day-by-day its becoming quite difficult as we have no money and have no hope for justice.Now, I and my two other sisters are completely alone, helpless and forgotten.” She broke down in tears.
57 year old Naseem Banu,. She is a widow and has 6 sons and 3 daughters. Naseem’s third son, 15-year old Salman was sleeping and was down with malaria and typhoid. He works as a conductor of the bus, which Naseem’s husband owned. When the violence broke out at 12 noon on 26th January 2018, Naseem were sitting huddled together by locking the door.. Then, Naseem came to know that the windscreen of the bus was damaged, tyre was deflated,engine which was recently repaired and the battery were stolen. .Just after 4 days, the police suddenly barged inside their home. At that moment, Naseem’s eldest son was not present. The police insisted on taking Salman for interrogation. Naseem requested them as Salman was seriously ill. Even then, the police constantly pressurised to take Salman for interrogation. All the persuasion fell on their deaf ears. Then police constantlypressurised for the arrest of Salman. Her eldest son called the CO and handed over to Salman to himwhile narrating the trauma, Still now Salman is in jail, Naseem fainted with grief, after trying to speak and broke down in loud sobs in front of the media.
On the side lines of the event I met 62 year old Illyas Ahmed, who recounted his woes, “On 30th January at around 1 a.m. in the midnight, suddenly a contingent of 40 policemen violently knocked at my door. They were shouting ‘Netaji, Netaji’I opened the door, then all of them barged inside. Two of the policemen tightly grabbed my both the arms and told that IG had called me for interrogation at the police station. Listening to that my wife started crying. Then police chowki Incharge Indu Verma tried to console my wife that nothing untoward would happen.”
Further he added, A police van was standing and I boarded it. I was taken to Kasganj Kotwali and lodged in a lock-up. Next day, policemen came and told that I have been at Kasganj Women police station. After a while, I was taken to the women police station. Then, policemen forcibly de-boarded me from the van and started raining continuous blows with wooden cane in presence of Superintendent of Police (SP) and other police officers. Others arrested were also beaten up. When they were raining incessant blows on me I asked what my fault was. Then, the policeman retortedthat I was hiding the goons and was myself a hardened criminal. I told them I knew nothing about it. After raining 10 to 15 blows andforcibly huddled me ina police van. I was taken to Amarpur police station and lodged in a cell. Police personnel threatened me that cases would be registered against me and my life would be made miserable. Till 31st January 2018, I was beaten, abused and intimidated. Then I was released. I want that a complaint should be lodged Cases against Chowki Incharge Indu Verma and Vikrant Singh should be lodged, that which I want.”
The impact of this abysmal tragedy can be easily gauged from the fact that the reports filed by the National Human Rights Commission in regard to the Kasganj violence have yet not been heeded. The fact finding missions by MediaVigil and People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) have revealed how most of the arrested youngsters involved in the Kasganj violence were unemployed. Those who are still in jail are facing torturous conditions.
“More than 11 FIRs are filed on those jailed which makes it very difficult for them to be free in the near future. No one is ready to listen to us. Those who actually caused the riot are free but the innocent ones are jailed,” complained Shanu, a young victim of Kasganj violence.
Act for political power
Kamal Farooqui from All India Muslim Personal Law Board said “It is not Hindu-Muslim violence but an act for political power. Even what happened in Muzzafarnagar was not an extempore. It’s time we realize that the country is going towards dangerous crossroads.”
Explaining how women are the largest victims in any riot, Sunila Singh, a human rights activist stated “Women and children should never be the victims. It is a dangerous trend how media is unable to analyse the violence correctly.”
In a nutshell, the event was able to create a platform for the victims of the Kasganj violence and narrate the trauma that they were suffering. In a time where they are hardly heard by the lawyers, police or politicians, it is essential to know their narrative and the injustice done to them.
Concluding the event, the chief guest Navaid Hamid, president of All India Muslim Majlise Mushawarat,an umbrella body of Muslim organizations said, “The real happenings of Kasganj violence had been deliberately hidden. It was done to shield the culprit by putting innocents behind the bars. Through the testimonials in folk school, we could understand the unfortunate incidents in Kasganj. Still now, the communal harmony exists but people feel frightened and terrified. Youths should be trained to use the social media in an appropriate manner without harming others.”
The ‘Folk school in the support of survivors of communal violence and torture in Kasganj’ provided a platform for victims and activists to come together and understand the aftermath of the Kasganj violence, the empathy needed for rekindling their lives is a long, difficult and unknown process. The ambiguity between police action, state-mediated silence and dementia of the local media makes it even more menacing in its impact.
However, the Law Commission of India has recommended the Centre to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and frame a standalone anti-torture law directly making the State responsible for any injury inflicted by its agents on citizens.
Though India had signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) in 1997, it is yet to ratify it. Efforts to bring a standalone law against torture had lapsed. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has been strongly urging the government to recognise torture as a separate crime and codify the punishment in a separate penal law.
The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017 tabled in Rajya Sabha on 15th December 2017 provides a wide definition to torture not confined to physical pain but also includes “inflicting injury, either intentionally or involuntarily, or even an attempt to cause such an injury, which will include physical, mental or psychological.”
The Bill has recommended punishments for torture ranging from fine to life imprisonment on the perpetrator. In case a person in police custody is found with injuries, it would be “presumed that those injuries have been inflicted by the police.” The burden of proof is on the police to explain the injury on the under-trial.
The bill proposes to give the courts to decide a justiciable compensation for the victims taking into consideration his or her social background, extent of injury or mental agony. The compensation should suffice to pay for the medical treatment and rehabilitation of the victim.
If the bill is enacted, then the victims of police torture would get justice.
About the author:
TarunKanti Bose is a highly vocal journalist, researcher and a media trainer who extensively uses the media to educate India’s marginalized communities on issues of critical importance with special emphasis on youth, women and children. Through intense interaction with the media over the last three decades he has enormously contributed more than thousand articles and feature stories on issues of social importance. His writings and ideas are published in a wide spectrum on both the print and the internet such as The Hindustan Times, The Telegraph, Hindu- Business Line, The Week, Economic Times, Deccan Herald, Pioneer, Free Press Journal, Statesman etc. He has also vibrantly kept his footprint in the internet media especially in Academia.edu, Villagesquare.in and Hashdoc. He has covered issues ranging from droughts leading to farmer suicides in central India through displacement of indigenous communities by uranium mining in Eastern India to radioactive leakage from atomic power plants to rivers endangering lives of local communities in western India. He also covered issues like female infanticide creating huge skews in male female ratios in many parts of the country, starvation deaths caused by dismal performance of the public distribution system, cross border smuggling of cattle, essential materials in connivance with politicians in India Bangladesh border regions. He undertakes high degree of risks to his life in featuring these stories to the nation. He has a blog www.tarunbose.blogspot.in and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org