Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Communalism in Uttar-Pradesh

Dynamics of communal politics in Eastern Uttar-Pradesh By V.B.Rawat

Mau riots in October 2005 have shaken the entire constituency, which is famous for Banarasee saris. Mubarakpur town of this district is actually famous for weavers who are living in miserable conditions as the handloom sector faces doom from the mechanization process and demand for the Sari business reducing regularly. Mau is also known for Kalpnath Rai one of the mavericks in India politics but respected in the constituency as a ‘developmental man’. Today, Mau is represented in the UP Assembly by Mukhtar Ansari, one of the many assembly MLAs having various criminal charges. Ironically, Ansari comes from a very respected family of freedom fighters.

It is important to understand the dynamics of caste politics in Poorvanchal and how it is now looking for new identity for its operations as the continuous assertion of Dalits and backward communities have threatened the very caste and communal dynamics in the region. From Varanasi, Ghazipur to Azamgarh, Mau, Poorvanchal, once upon a time, was, domain of Communist Party of India. However, it is another matter that despite their cries for land reform, like Bihar, the comrades could not develop alternative Dalit-backward leadership in the region. Their leadership was caged in the status-quoist upper caste leadership who had large land holding and who were least bothered to disturb the existing equilibrium. The result was the emergence of new parties like Samajwadi Party, BSP and Rastriya Janata Dal in Bihar. The dominance of Bhoomhars, a powerful land owning community in both Eastern Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar, was threatened. The Thakurs and the Brahmins also felt the heat of Dalit assertion in the political circle. Unfortunately, the dominance of these upper caste communities, though, was challenged successfully by the Dalits and backwards, in the politics, the NGOs, civil Society, bureaucracy, business and trade unions, continued to be in the powerful grip of Bhoomihars, Bramins, and Thakurs. The Mafias of these communities became respected leaders of community, which allowed them unrestrained freedom to ruin the natural resources of the area. From Dhanbad to Varanasi, the operation of Coal Mafia are well known. The political connections are not necessary to be dealt here with but they are open secret. This caste Mafia did not get any threat from the Dalits and backwards, as their leaders did not take them in to account. The challenge came from another set of Muslim Mafia.

The Muslim Mafia was equally powerful and had political ambition. The Dalit, backward Muslim perception worked for them and therefore ‘secular’ politics was the best way and who could have been better secular than Mulayam Singh Yadav. He not only supported them but also brought them in his party. ‘ The only party fighting the ‘communal forces’, in the country, Mulayam would often retort and justify such elements. When disgusted with Mulayam, some of them switched to BSP for help who was more then willing to provide support. A majority of them, however, remained with the power elite at the moment, the backward caste and annihilate any one come in their way. The murders of Dalit political leader Raju Pal in Allahabad is a case example. UP has been witnessing such murderous assault on political rivals for the past few decades but one has rarely seen that even after first murder, second leader was also murdered from the same community in Allahabad, the Pal community, the shepherds, who always lived on the margins. There is no action so far. Perhaps none would ever be caught. One should not ignore the fact that a few years back Phoolan Devi was also killed on a broad day light in Delhi and her death was always a mystery.

It is under this light that for the Bhoomihar, Thakur, Brahmin communities, the best way was to go the Hindutva way and project them as the champion of the Hindu community. However, due to defeat of the Hindutva gangs and caste becoming more potent weapon then the religion, their leaders had a second thought. Many of them switched their loyalties to both the social justice parties: Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party.

One need to understand that these all had stakes in Railways and its coal business. The gang war between another Thakur from Banarase Brijesh Singh and that of Mukhtar Ansari are well known to be documented. It is alleged that Krishnanad Rai joined Brijesh Singh in their common war against Mukhtar Ansari in the region. Krishnanad Rai was BJP MLA from Mohammdabad, the traditional constituency of Mukhtar Ansari before he switched to neighboring Mau, but the war continued.

Political connections of Mafias in Uttar-Pradesh have brought the state into a shameless position where developmental and ideological perceptions mean nothing. Caste identities are being encouraged under the false garb of pride with a political manipulation in mind. Those who can capture booth and purchase the Sarpanches and district Sarpanches are in high demand. The Mafias in Uttar-Pradesh know it well that their communities are solidly behind them. They have carefully crafted Robin Hood image for themselves. They help ‘poor’ people. They have become so rich that most of them may not be involved in small time robbery or kidnapping. Since they travel in imported cars and have a huge following of their devotees, the supply for big money comes from bagging the government contract. Nobody feel betrayal if they betray the government. Hence most of them have high stakes at the government corporations, Railway contracts, timber market, coal mining, sand mining, petrol pumps, sugar factories and many more unexplored things. Looting the government funds does not create ruckus in the masses. The masses are happy in the absence of small gangsters to trouble people. Mohammdabad has 24 hour electricity whenever Mukhtar Ansari is in town. It is beyond imagination for the people of Uttar-Pradesh, particularly those living in rural areas, to have even 8 hour supply. In Seewan, Bihar, the constituency of Mohammad Shahbuddin, no doctor can extract more fee from the poor people. Colleges have sports hostel, rare for Bihar and schools open in time. There are no local gangs, which can operate that powerfully to disturb peace in the area unless he is against Shahabuddin. The Kols of Bundelkhand often narrate heroics of Dadua, another dreaded man who send at least five members of parliament and double of them to assembly in Uttar-Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. His caste men Kurmis call him a ‘rebel’, who joined rebellion to fight ‘social justice’ though the Brahmins of the region consider him a dacoit. Traveling to Mau recently, I was amazed to hear from a Brahmin neighbor about the greatness of Baba, Hari Shankar Tiwari, now and a respected Minister in Mulayam Singh government.

The fight between two gangs in Ghazipur has taken a new dimension. The Bhoomihars feel that the Muslim mafia can take over their domain. As large chunk of Dalits have shifted loyalty from their Bhoomihar bosses to the Muslims, a new strategy was being developed in eastern Uttar-Pradesh. Most of the upper caste communist leader could not help Dalits in getting their rights particularly land rights though they all claimed to have worked for the same. Secondly, none of the major parties could develop second rung leadership which could be called as representative in nature therefore Dalits found their way in Bahujan Samaj Party while backwards went with Mulayam’s Samajwadi party. This polarization has threatened the very base of the upper caste leadership in eastern Uttar-Pradesh. As caste polarization is not helping any one, the best way is to convert this gang war and caste polarization into bigger units of religious polarization. This suits both the Hindutva gangsters and the thugs of secularism in eastern Uttar-Pradesh.

The Killing of Krishnanand Rai, in Mohammdabad gave BJP bigger opportunity to present him as a Hindu leader and its president Raj Nath Singh started a Nyaya Yatra and sat on Dharana in Varanasi. Rajnath Singh was trying to revive the old upper caste loyalties to his party, which Mulayam Singh has taken in the form of people like Raja Bhaiya for Thakurs, Amarmani Tripathi and Hari Shankar Tiwari for Brahmins.

Mau Riots

Mau was part of district Azamgarh, land of revolutionary activist writer Rahul Sankrityayan. Today, not many know Sankrityayan’s struggle against caste. He is more known in his community or so-called ‘progressive circles’ of Bhoomihars, Brahmins and Thakurs. It is tragic but then there are many tragedies happening here.

Mau is also the land where Muslim live in sizeable number. They have political control over the Mau town-ship and normally have their Chairman of the municipal corporation. In the Mau town ship, Muslims are owner of looms and have fruit and vegetable vendors. They are also in the meat market. The commercial interest of Muslim vegetable vendors collide straight with the Khatiques, a Dalit community involved in meat selling business. It is equally important to understand the Khatiq also sale Pork. This contradiction is beautifully used by the Hindutva forces in fermenting riots and involving Khatiques in it. This is the modus operandi of the communal forces as they know well it would be difficult to fight the Muslims directly thereby involve the Dalits. Over the years, the Dalits and backward have got highly politicized in the cow belt and both of them look towards aliening with Muslims. The attraction of Hindutva in backward communities is not new. Except for Yadavas, who have been aliening with Samajwadi Party, and the oppressed backward communities with BSP, powerful Kurmi and Lodhs have found their ally in the Hindutva. Dalits, by and large, have remained outside the Hindutva fold therefore the power elite is playing its dubious role by making a dent in this relationship and the customs come handy for them.

Burdened Heritage

Riots may occur all of a sudden but if they go beyond a day, it clearly reflects that involvement of state. In Mau, the locals inform us, administration kept quiet during the riots. The issue of administration would be dealt separately. Let us first discuss why none of us including seculars (if they are) ever challenges the root cause of the riots. We all know that Hindus and Muslims fight for not only cows and pigs but also for commercial interests. It is well-documented fact that most of the communal riots in India have occurred in areas where Muslims have a sizeable presence and well developed business. Kanpur, Bhiwandi, Malegaon, Bhagalpur, Ahemdebad, Mumbai, Moradabad, Meerut, Bijnaur and Mau. Can any one deny that there would not have been business interest? It could be the other way round. Instigate sensibilities and settle business scores. Now, what are the pretensions to start a riot? Either there will be a rumor that the head of killed cow was found in a temple or the meat of pig found in a mosque. This apart, other cause of communal disturbances is totally administrative in nature. In this country, the ‘ religious sensibilities’ are easily available. Loudspeakers are used to deliberately provoke the ‘anti’ group. Processions become pretence for disturbances.

Mau has been the victim of a strange and condemnable tradition where not only the administration failed but also the right-minded people. A tradition is kept alive for the sake of religion and none of the parties ever felt that such obnoxious traditions even if a court ruling is on it, out dated. Shamelessly, during the Bharat Milap (Ram Leela ceremonies), the Hindus must kick the mosque several times. The Muslim count their steps and are ready to retaliate if there is more kicking. Similarly, during the Moharram’s Tajia ceremony, the Muslims are allowed to climb 3 stairs of a Sanskrit Pathshala nearby. Here are the Hindus are ready to retaliate if there is an effort by the Muslim to climb the fourth step. Those reading it might feel this narration awkward but the fact is that we have not been able to condemn a celebration, which means not victory of each other but humiliation of each other. Whatever might have been a court judgment; time has come to stop this nonsense. Over the years, the politics of processions and loudspeakers have damaged the social fabric. Indian state as well as civil society remains mute to such notorious system where everything is fare in the name of public sensibilities and religious values. Can the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Jains come together and decide against taking public for granted for their so-called religious programmes. I am not writing about Christians and Buddhists as nothing particularly is found against them so far.

Now, the fact of the matter is that during the Bharat Milap ceremony Muslims had objection to loudspeaker usage as they were preparing for the Friday Namaz. But does the riots started just for that. As I said, sensibilities and sentiments are best work for politicians. One must not forget that in Mau town the local municipality is under Samajwadi Party’s Arashad Jamal, whose own political interest make him different to that of Mukhtar Ansari who is originally from Mohammdabad. Then there are Hindutva groups who have their own politics but with a larger game plan in the Eastern Uttar-Pradesh. While it is amply clear that riots will always occur if the administration does not take stern action against the unlawful activities yet the conspicuous silence of the so-called secular reports on the issue of Muslim Mafia strengthen the hands of the Hindutva rioters who blame not only the Muslims but also the seculars for every ills of the country. It is important to understand that like any other community and caste, Muslims of Mau are also fascinated by Mukhtar Ansari. He is their hero. Let us not be hypocrite. During my investigations most of the Dalits and Hindus blamed Mukhtar Ansari for the riots. The Muslim riot victims appreciated the role of Mukhtar Ansari. ‘ We were not given food for 72 hours. It is only after Mukhtar came, the jail authorities gave us food, said a group of Muslims who have been charge sheeted for instigating the riots.

One fact is there. Who ever spread the riots; the apathy of the administration cannot be ignored. And administration cannot remain mute without the connivance of the higher ups. It is not a point to say who lost what. I visited Muslim bustees totally lost, their faces grims and uncertain about their future. I have seen Dalits and their shops burnt. Their anger. The report is that most of the arrested people for rioting are either Dalits or Muslims. Those the champion of Hindutva and Islam remained totally out of bound for the administration.

Mahant Aditya Nath, a Thakur from the Uttarakhand and now the head priest of Gorakhanath temple tried to fish in troubled water. He had always been uniting the Hindu youths to prepare them against anti national forces. We all know who are anti national and what is the threat perception for them. With Krishna Nand Rai’s murder and Mau’s riots, Aditya Nath is trying to champion the cause of Hindutva. Everywhere, the Bajrang Dal is activated. This suits both Mulayam and BJP well. One would be championing the Muslim cause and the other the Hindutva cause and all others will be side trapped, but things are not that easy at the moment.

Story of riot victims

It is reported that over 300 houses/shops were looted during the riots. According to the locals it was one of the worst riots in Mau’s history and it has shaken the confidence of those who always cherished the mutual understanding between the two communities. Though, newspapers have widely reported this riot as ‘ massacre of Hindus’, the fact of the matter is that Muslims too bore the brunt of high handedness of police. A visit to Muslim localities of Ali Nagar’s Badi Kamharia and Rahjani’s Chhoti Kamharia present gory tails of complete antipathy of the administration and destruction and loss of property and human lives.

According to Hamir Hamaja who lost his wife in the riots “ every body was at home. It was Friday. I saw many people coming across the railway lines. I was coming alone. I told my wife to go. We have no children. I am 70 years of age. They started pelting stone at our side. They were more than 5000 people and shouting ‘ Har Har Mahadev’. The blue uniformed gun trotting policemen (Rapid Action Force) remained mute. At 5.30 in the evening they broke my home. I feared and shouted ‘ Allah oh Akbar.. They hit at my head. I felt unconscious. I do not know how some friends took me away immediately. After two days when I returned home, to my shock, I found my wife Anwari cut into three pieces.” Hamir is a vegitable seller and tears flow from his eyes narrating this incident. ‘ What is there for me now, he says.

Kamarunnisa, 50 wife of a much older man Manzoor has six children. She earn by working in the kothis as a domestic help and earn around Rs 600/- per month. Her husband is deaf and is too frail to work. The attackers destroyed her house, looted it with Almirah, fans, cycles etc. “ My daughter Jahan Ara, 11 years feared too much during the attack and hid herself in the ‘murgibada’. It was too suffocating for her to remain inside that dirt and she died after some time.” Her husband fell on the railway lines. The police arrested him and kept him in Jail for 18 days. Her son remained in Jail for 24 days. Says Kamarunnisa, “ My husband was kept in police station for 48 hours with out anything, just 100 gram roti.

“ The goons were fully protected by the police. We ran away with our children when they shouted, kill the women. We expected the police to act but they kept quite. My daughter died of fear, as none was there to save her. My grand daughter Noor Jahan, aged 5, had to be given 3 bottle of glucose in the hospital. Ayisya Begum 25, had been given 8 bottles of glucose to save their lives.

Tahir Ahmed, a teacher and local community worker said, “ I saw a crowd of over four thousand people crossing the railway line. We had small knives and we knew well that it would not work. I was standing at the roof- top of my house. I saw 25-30 Rapid Action Force personnel and felt secure. Soon they surrounded Nawabpura. I came on the ground that is in the middle of this bustee. Soon, I was surrounded by a group of people crying kill this bearded man. We were just 75-80 people and cannot face a crowd of five thousand people. We tried to run and cross the railway line but RAF called us and charged us under 302.”

It is shameful to see innocent faces charged under 302. Abdul Ali who does not seem to be over 19 year of age (according to him also) and work in powerloom is charged under this section. Kamarunnisa’s deaf husband and her son who are also charge sheeted in 302. Strange are the case of police that they are filing charges against those who have not only lost their property but also some of their nears and dears ones.

Shambhunath Chauhan is perhaps only non Muslims and to be precise, a backward community person living in the locality of the Ansaries. Many in the community blame him for guiding the rioters but Shambhunath refutes this. ‘ In fact, I was wearing a lungi when the crowd came and shouted pull his lungi, kill him. And when they tried to kill me, I shouted I am a Hindu. They spared me but my house was also looted.” The Muslims alleged that Shambhunath cooked up cases and guided people and got good

It is alarming to see that to visit these two areas of Muslims, one needs to pass through two Dalit-backward bustees. There is a narrow passage and therefore Muslims fear that their women could become easy target. There has been no harm to these localities, which clearly indicate that the rioters had well-connected network and they were well aware of the geographical situation of the area.

Hindu Case: In Salahabad area the house of Yadav family was looted and one person was killed. This has provoked violence. Mahendra, a Dalit activist see it as a conspiracy. He sees a clear effort of making Adityanath being made as a leader of Hindus and Mulayam Singh as protagonist of Muslim. Many Dalit shops have been looted and their business was target mercilessly. A large number of Dalit and backward social activist at the moment have openly blamed Mukhtar Ansari and Mulayam Singh Yadav as the real villain in this game. Dalit here allege that since the Muslims by and large were shifting their loyalty to BSP, such a split was eminent. The worst hit Dalit area has been Rauza where shops of Khatiqs and Chamars bore the brunt of violence. Khatiq as mentioned were meat seller and Chamar had leather business. One social activist who did not want to be quoted mentioned that Muslim feel ‘empowered’ with Mukhtar and therefore do not really care for the administration once they get signal from him. Many of the activist feel that Mukhtar was in fact not responsible for the riots and he was by best trying to avoid the riots. They also alleged that Mukhtar became victim of the well-orchestrated plan of the bigger groups trying to spread their wings in the area. Many feel that there was no political gains for Mukhtar in these riots while other rebut the charges saying that it was a matter of politics and every actor in this was looking for his own constituency of future.

There is another twist that a large number of shops owned by Dalits and backward in the city areas are owned by the Muslims who pay a meager rent of those areas, which are prime location areas. Therefore, resentment against the Muslim and Dalit tenants respectively was reflected in many areas where shops had been burnt. Hindus now feel that the Muslims are amassing weapons and that the riots can break out any day while Muslims clearly feel that the Hindus have gobbled all the money meant for riot victims. Muslims have also lost faith in the police force though they seem to be happy with current administration.

Where was State: For 72 hours there was no law and order in Mau says Shree Ram Nikumb a noted social activist here who was threatened by the Sangh Parivar for not working among the Muslim. Nikumb says that he gave shelter to two Muslim families. It is another matter that Nikumb live in a Muslim dominated locality and has very cordial relations there. The district magistrate and other authorities did not work in coordination resulting in media frenzy reports of ‘massacre’ of Hindus. As happen during the communal disturbances, the authorities do not act on a simple administrative issue and later presume that Muslims are the originator of the violence. The result is police and paramilitary forces become mute to retaliating ‘Hindu’ mobs incited by the political interest groups. For example one may feel that that in the main city the violence might have involved both the Hindus and Muslims and both the communities or their gangsters targeted financial and commercial interest of each other but how come the Muslim localities became target and no police action taken against the rioters. It is equally shocking that these Muslim localities are surrounded by Dalit bustees and nothing had happened to these bustees clearly those who attacked the area knew about these and had planned very well on the issue.

The Hindu groups were ready to spread all kind of rumor that administration is totally under the knees of Muslims or say Mukhtar Ansari, who happens to be the local Member of legislative assembly. One does not know what Mulayam Singh Yadav and his secular brigade think of this but definitely Mau is a big blot on his political career.


It may look a small incident in comparison to Gujarat but the state must not forget that this incident has the potential to trigger communal disturbances in entire Poorvanchal. We must not ignore the fact that Poorvanchal today is under constant observation of international agencies. Dalits are asserting themselves and still we hear regularly deaths in the name of hunger, and other diseases. The Status quo is being threatened in this region of ‘revolution’ caged into the upper caste mindset. Poorvanchal is trying to get out of the upper caste feudal nexus and the more it does so the caste polarization would pose threat to both the Muslim interests and Hindu interest groups. It is basically a denial to Dalits who are exploring their own leadership and refusing to be under either the upper caste Hindu leadership or Muslim feudal leadership. The state must act as protector of the people and not allow such gangs taking leadership of both Muslim or Hindu communities. It is also time for communities to understand the dangers of communalism for the fight of two gangs must not take the shape of communal battle. People must not feel that since the gangsters are not hurting them directly, therefore they become idols or their heroes. Any effort to gain from this by the Hindutva gangs must be exposed in the similar way as Mulayam’s projection as a protector of Muslims. Muslims or Hindus, both must think that the state has to fulfill its responsibilities and both the chief minister and his government are not doing any favour if they are protecting the law and order. The upcoming communal violence bills must contain stringent measures against instigating communalism by political parties. Their recognition must be seized and police officers and district magistrates must be warned of dismissal from the services if they buckle under political pressure. They must be seen working to uphold the secular principles of the state. Time has come to seriously ponder over the representation of minorities and Dalits in our police, paramilitary and administrative services. The more we delay this issue and run away from the reality, bigger will be challenges. The forces would be communalized. We need an egalitarian, secular force and police administration and without participation of Muslims, Christians and other minorities including Dalits, it would always be exploited by the majority community sentiments. Meanwhile, civil society, social organizations, academics should focus on bringing the different communities together and talking of their differences and issues to iron them out otherwise the gang war in Poorvanchal would always turn into a communal affair, damaging peace and communal harmony of the region.

* Poorvanchal : Eastern Uttar Pradesh consisting of district Banarase, Allahabad, Ghazipur, Mau, Azamgarh, Deoria, Kushinagar, Sonebhadra, Gorakhpur etc