COMMUNAL TENSION

'We aren't scared': A week after posters asked them to leave, Bareilly Muslims stand their ground

On Holi, pamphlets appeared around Jiyanagla, threatening Muslim residents. The writers claimed that BJP leader Adityanath was their guardian.

It was 1 pm on Sunday and 75-year-old Ali Mohammad was getting hungry. As he sat on a cot outside his hut in Jiyanagla village in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district, he urged his daughter-in-law Mehzabeen to speed up the cooking. On the menu: a simmering egg curry, red and thick.

That morning, hardline Bharatiya Janata Party leader Adityanath had taken oath as chief minister of India’s largest state. But the prospect of lunch made Mohammed seem blithely indifferent to the day’s news.

“How does it matter who the chief minister is?” asked Mohammad. “The party [Bharatiya Janata Party] must now prove that they deserve this remarkable victory in Uttar Pradesh. In our village, the first two things we need urgently are a decent road and jobs for the youth.”

More surprisingly, Mohammed also seemed nonchalant about the startling event that propelled his otherwise-nondescript village to national attention last week.

As residents woke up on the morning of Holi on March 13, they found pamphlets stuck on several walls and pillars threatening Jiyanagla’s Muslims with dire consequences if they do not leave by the end of this year.

“All Muslims are informed that they should leave the village by 30 December, 2017. If you do not leave the village, you shall be responsible for your actions. If you do not do so, we will do things in this village, similar to what Trump has been doing in America because Uttar Pradesh will now have a BJP government. So decide soon because you are no longer suitable for this village.”

— Translation of pamphlets.

The anonymous writer of the pamphlet claimed to represent all the Hindus in the village, adding that the message has been issued under the guardianship of Adityanath. When the posters appeared, the name of the Hindutva leader was not being discussed as a possible candidate for the state’s top executive job. But his reputation was well-known: he faces several criminal cases, including charges of attempt to murder, criminal intimidation and rioting.

When some villagers phoned the police the next day to report the posters, they refused to be officially listed as complainants, fearing for their safety. A police team that visited the village on March 14 found six posters – the other copies were already taken off by the villagers. But they had to take cognisance of the matter on their own.

Anokhe Lal runs a shop in the village.
Anokhe Lal runs a shop in the village.

A First Information Report was registered at the Shishgarh Police Station for criminal intimidation and for promoting enmity between groups. But the people behind the act have not been identified so far. On the face of it, though, both the police and many Jiyanagla residents believe that the posters were the work of a misguided young person.

“We have questioned all internet café owners and photocopy shop owners in areas close to the village but have received no leads yet,” said Inspector Dalveer Singh, in charge of Shishgarh Police Station. “One thing is clear that the person who wrote the content of the pamphlet has good knowledge of current affairs. The person knows the name of Donald Trump and the reasons for which he is in the news.”

According to Rewa Ram, the husband of Jiyanagla village chief Kalavati Devi, the incident was a bad prank and the village has no history of communal violence. “It is surely the work of some young miscreant,” he said. “Elder people do not have time for such things. The accused can even be an outsider as a lot of people had come to the village on the night before Holi, when the grand celebratory fire [Holika Dahan] was lit.”

Living in Jiyanagla

Situated around 65 kilometres from Bareilly city, Jiyanagla sits amid fields of sugarcane and wheat. The village, which has a population of around 3,000 persons, is dominated by members of the Kurmi agricultural caste. The Kurmis own the farms on the peripheries of the village. Some members of the community work as teachers in the village primary school, the intermediate college nearby and in nearby towns like Shishgarh.

The village’s Muslims, who number less than 300, own no farmland and mostly belong to the Saifi community, popularly known as Muslim Lohars. They work as carpenters and ironsmiths. They have no separate hamlets within the village.

Ali Mohammad used to work as an iron smith.
Ali Mohammad used to work as an iron smith.

Ali Mohammad, 75, is a fourth-generation Jiyanagla resident. When he was younger, he used to make and repair agricultural tools for the Kurmis. But his younger relatives, like other young Muslims in the village, prefer to work in the area’s numerous brick kilns or as construction workers in nearby towns. They are paid more highly for these tasks than they would be if they had continued to make agricultural tools.

Mohammed and several other Muslim residents of the village agreed that the village is peaceful and has witnessed little religious violence so far.

On Sunday, no pamphlets were visible anywhere in the village. Neither were the police.

“How can you find pamphlets now?” asked Pradeep Kumar, the son of the village chief. “The villagers got rid of the pamphlets as soon as they noticed them. The matter had to be suppressed at the earliest otherwise it could have gone worse.”

Kumar was sitting near the old village well with a group of elders, chatting about the sweets that they had distributed the previous evening when Adityanath was named chief minister. They all agreed that he is an “able leader”.

Residents  gather near the village well
Residents gather near the village well

Villagers claim they are still mystified about the appearance of the posters. When they saw the posters, they say that they asked if anyone had seen the miscreants who put them up, but no one had an answer. Some villagers claimed that they celebrated Holi only after they ascertained that the situation was under control.

Anokhe Lal, 50, who runs a shop in the village, said that the situation began to escalate when residents clicked photos of the pamphlets and shared them with friends and relatives in neighbouring villages through Whatsapp. This prompted the police had to register a case.

Among those who received the information through Whatsapp was Abid Hussain Sheikh, the chief of a village named Firozepur, 30 kilometres from Jiyanagla. Others in the village got the same message.

“It is a matter of shame that someone can stoop down to such level,” Sheikh said. “The police and district authorities must take immediate action instead of hushing down the matter.”

For now, though, none of Jiyanagla’s Muslim residents seem unduly perturbed by the pamphlets. Said Mohammed’s daugther-in-law Mehzabeen: “Those who pasted the pamphlets in the village must know that we are not scared.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Do you really need to use that plastic straw?

The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.

In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.

Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.

Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.

The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.

More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.

To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.