Mukesh is still recovering from his injuries in his single-room house in Kanpur’s Chandeshwar Hata. As clashes broke out in the area on June 3, he was cornered by a mob in front of a local liquor shop, he said.

“They asked my name, I said it was ‘Mukesh’, and they started beating me up,” said the 26-year-old rickshaw puller, who goes by a single name. After that, he said, it was all a blur – he had received head injuries and his arm was fractured.

But a complaint attributed to him in a first information report does not mention this encounter in front of the liquor shop. According to the complaint cited in FIR 43, one of the three filed by the police on June 4, Mukesh was heading home when he was attacked by “a mob of thousands of people” wielding “bombs, stones, metal rods and sticks”. It outlines an explicitly communal clash between Hindus living in Chandeshwar Hata and a Muslim rally that passed through it on June 3.

The FIR alleges that the men in the rally – who were protesting against remarks made by former Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma about Prophet Muhammad – threatened Hindu families living in the locality. It gave details of communal slogans allegedly chanted by the procession.

A week after the FIR was filed, however, Mukesh told that he had not made any statement to the police. After he was beaten up on June 3, he claimed, his relatives and neighbours rushed him straight to the hospital. “I was not in a state to talk or do anything,” he said repeatedly.

When the FIR was filed at the Becon Ganj police station on June 4, Mukesh said, he was already in hospital being treated for his injuries.

He claimed he did not even know there was an FIR naming him as the complainant. He added that until this reporter read out his statement in the FIR, he did not know the contents of it. “I can’t write,” he said. “I did not say any of this.”

Akmal Khan, assistant commissioner of police, Anwerganj, under whose jurisdiction the Becon Ganj police station falls, said, “Whatever we got, we got in writing from him.” When told that Mukesh could not read or write, Khan said he should clarify his statements to the special investigation team formed to probe the clashes.

At a time when communal temperatures are rising across the country, FIR 43 has given credence to dangerous rumours doing the rounds in Kanpur – that Muslims protesting against Sharma’s comments intend to kill all Hindu residents of Chandeshwar Hata.

Mukesh with his wife outside his one room home in Chandeshwar Hata. (Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer)

Friday protests

On June 11, the Kanpur Development Authority demolished a commercial building, apparently as part of its campaign against the “land mafia” in the city. It may be no coincidence, however, that the building belonged to one Mohammad Ishtiaq, a relative of Hayat Jafar Hashmir, whom the police claim is the “main accused” in the clashes that broke out after Friday prayers on June 3.

The demolition has sharpened tensions in Kanpur, which has been on edge since May 26, when Sharma made comments about the Prophet on prime time television. As news of her remarks spread, several Muslim organisations called for action against Sharma. Impatient with the lack of response, Muslim groups protested in various cities. In Kanpur, a local group, the MMA Jauhar Fans’ Association, called for a strike on June 3 which eventually sparked off communal clashes.

For days, these protests elicited no response from the government or the BJP. The party finally reacted after a raft of Gulf countries condemned Sharma’s statements and summoned Indian envoys to register their protest. Sharma was suspended from the party on June 5. Naveen Jindal, another BJP spokesperson under fire for comments against the Prophet, was expelled.

The next Friday, June 10, saw a widening circle of protests within the country. In Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, West Bengal, Telangana and several cities of Uttar Pradesh, Muslim protestors marched against Sharma’s comments and demanded more severe action against her.

In Ranchi in Jharkhand, Howrah in West Bengal and Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, these demonstrations turned violent as protestors clashed with the police. Two Muslim youth were killed as the police opened fire on protestors in Ranchi.

In Uttar Pradesh, the administration swung into action with what has become a signature move – bulldozing the houses of the Muslim accused. In several cities, the civic authorities suddenly deemed them “illegal encroachers” and dispatched JCBs to their homes.

The Kanpur demolition was followed by similar action in Saharanpur, where the municipality knocked down the houses of two of the accused on June 11. The next day, the Prayagraj Development Authority demolished the home of activist Javed Ahmed, whom the police accuse of being the “mastermind” of the June 10 protests.

Barring a few instances, most of the clashes triggered by Sharma’s comments were between Muslim protestors and the security personnel who tried to quell the protests. The FIR purportedly based on Mukesh’s complaint, however, alleges aggressive Muslim protestors attacked Hindus.

A glimpse of the communal violence that erupted in Kanpur on 3 June. (Photo: PTI)

FIR 43

Three FIRs were registered on the June 3 violence in Kanpur’s Chandeshwar Hata, a gated Hindu neighbourhood surrounded by several other localities, many of them Muslim-dominated.

Two of these were filed after the Kanpur police took suo motu cognisance of the violence. These appear to treat the clashes as a law and order problem. They do not explicitly identify the residents of Chandeshwar Hata or the protestors by community, although all 55 of the accused who are named in the FIRs are Muslim.

The police FIRs mention that a protest against Sharma’s comments was held on June 3, that a procession which started after Friday afternoon prayers refused to stop even after repeated appeals by the police. They go on to say that protestors then turned violent, hurling stones and petrol bombs at the police, injuring several personnel.

FIR 43, ostensibly based on Mukesh’s complaint, says the protestors descended on residents of Chandeshwar Hata calling them “infidels” and “agents of the BJP and RSS [the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]”.

“After today’s Friday prayers, they attacked us with the intention of finishing the hata,” Mukesh allegedly said in his complaint. “They said these are infidels, how can they stay safe in a Muslim area?” The FIR claims he also said “the hata is always a target of these people”.

Mukesh denied making each of these statements to

‘No state to complain’

The conversation with Mukesh also revealed other inconsistencies in FIR 43. For instance, the FIR says he was attacked when he was entering the Chandeshwar Hata gates and heading towards his home, less than 100 metres away. But Mukesh told that the mob fell upon him at the liquor shop on the main road bordering Chandeshwar Hata.

He repeated that he was in no condition to file a complaint after he was beaten up on June 3.

His relatives, including his sister, who went with him to the hospital, as well as a neighbour said Mukesh was inebriated when he was attacked by the mob on June 3 – he did not contradict this claim. Other neighbours also said that Mukesh often picked fights after drinking alcohol.

The 26-year-old was named in a police complaint for allegedly attacking someone with a weapon about six years ago. “That was when I used to own a vegetable cart,” he said. “We fought over where the cart could stand. Things are alright between us now.”

According to his sister, who did not want to be named, the family asked him to give up the cart as the vegetables rotted unsold and the family lost money. They persuaded him to get a rickshaw instead.

“Even then, on many days he only makes money to spend it on alcohol,” his sister said.

Money is tight as Mukesh has three children and a wife with a job as a domestic worker. Of all the people who got caught up in the violence on June 3, he appears to be the most severely injured.

‘We will boycott deceptive media’

While Mukesh denies the statements attributed to him in FIR 43, several other residents of Chandeshwar Hata echo the claims, which were widely reported in local papers.

“They said these are infidels, they are agents of the BJP and RSS,” said a resident who identified himself as advocate Dileep Kumar as he recounted the events of June 3. “Hata is always a target of these people… they attacked us with the intention of finishing the hata,” he continued, repeating the FIR almost verbatim.

(Prakash Sharma, who has been a member of various organisations of the Sangh parivar, was quick to claim how the Muslims were targeting Hindus. (Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer)

Another resident, 56-year-old Pradeep Kumar Nigam, said he had only read about these slogans in a local Hindi newspaper; he had not personally heard them on June 3.

According to local residents, about 700 people live in the 150 households of Chandeshwar Hata. Over the years, they say, incidents of communal violence had eventually led to the few Muslim families who lived in the locality to leave.

“Now, no Muslim lives here,” said 59-year-old Prakash Sharma, who is a member of the BJP and the Rashtriya Sawayamsevak Sangh, former spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and a former national convenor of the Bajrang Dal. He pointed to an empty area outside a house where teenagers gathered for a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakha every day.

Other residents pointed to highrise buildings in Muslim-majority neighbourhoods surrounding Chandeshwar Hata. On June 3, stones had been hurled at them from these buildings, they claimed.

But many residents, especially Sharma, were incensed by local newspapers reporting that Hindus living in Chandeshwar Hata would leave the area out of fear.

“They do not know that under Yogi there is no need for a Hindu to migrate from anywhere. The Hindus here understand that,” said Sharma, referring to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath.

It was Adityanath’s administration that established the practice of bulldozing Muslim homes – earning the chief minister the moniker of “bulldozer baba”. After Friday protests on June 10, Adityanath’s media advisor tweeted a picture of a bulldozer with the thinly veiled warning: “Rioters should remember, after every Friday comes a Saturday.”

The entry gate to Chandeshwar Hata. (Photo: Aishwarya S Iyer)

The Hindu residents of Chandeshwar Hata were going nowhere, emphasised Sharma. For good measure, he put up the poster that now stretches across the main gate to Chandeshwar Hata. “Palayan nahi parakram karenge, brahmak media ka bahishkaar karenge”, it said – we will not flee, we will show courage, we will boycott deceptive media.