The residents of Garhi Daulat seem to think they are being singled out by the police even when it comes to matters as small as traffic violations. “The police stop us at checkposts and ask us our names,” claimed Afsar Ali, a resident. “Depending on the name, the person might be let off with a few swear words, or threatened with arrest.”
Garhi Daulat is a village of around 3,000 people in western Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district. Principally, the residents belong to the Gujjar Muslim community. For the past year, they have seen Adityanath rule as chief minister. A far-right member of the Bharatiya Janata Party – he is facing multiple cases of rioting and attempt to murder – Adityanath has pursued hard-line Hindutva in office. This has meant state-sponsored celebrations of Diwali in Ayodhya, the site of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, a crackdown on the meat trade, free rein to gau rakshaks and a policy of “encounter killings” of alleged criminals, with an emphasis on Muslims. In the communal cauldron of western Uttar Pradesh, which suffered a communal carnage in 2013, this has resulted in the Muslim population feeling hemmed in by its own government.
Curbs on meat trade
Nisha Khatun, 65, complains with a smile about the unavailability of meat. “Earlier, the men would just slaughter our own buffaloes and distribute the meat in the village, but now the police will arrest us if we do that. So we are eating this,” said Khatun, referring to potatoes she was peeling for dinner.
In the nearby town of Kandhla, Arif Quraishi complains that his butcher’s shop barely turns a profit now. “Earlier we would slaughter our own buffaloes but now we need to buy them from a private trader in Kairana,” he said. “And he often doesn’t have meat or gives me bad cuts.”
Shutting down ostensibly illegal abattoirs – even those run by the government itself – was one of the first official acts of the Adityanath government. Initially, this resulted in the supply of meat – buffalo, goat and even chicken – stopping completely. Over time, as government abattoirs stayed shut, private butchers moved to supplying meat. “Bara [buffalo meat] is bought from private factories and chhota [goat meat] is simply slaughtered at home,” explains Yusuf Quraishi, state head of the Jamiat-ul-Quraish, an organisation of the Quraishi butcher caste. This has led to a significant price increase, of approximately 30% for buffalo meat, over the past year.
Hysteria over beef means most Muslims in Uttar Pradesh – even those unconnected with the meat industry – refuse to travel with meat. “I do not even carry chicken with me when I go anywhere by train,” says Haji Nazakat Ali Chauhan, headman of Pacchpera village in Meerut district. “There is no telling who will object and what will then happen.”
Said Quraishi, “This is simply an attack on Muslims and their livelihood. The government does not like it that the community is making money, making an honest living.”
The feeling that the police are discriminating against Muslims, extends to beyond traffic violations. “Tell me, why doesn’t the police so much as touch Dharmendra from Baghpat?” Garhi Daulat resident Khursheed Ali Hasan asked rhetorically, referring to an alleged gangster. In most encounters, he said, the police shoot people in the leg. “But whenever a Muslim badmash is shot, it is right here,” he claimed, pointing to his chest.
On February 5, a Garhi Daulat resident named Akbar was killed by the police, accusing him of being involved in criminal extortion. In the first 11 months of the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, the police have been involved in over 1,100 armed confrontations with alleged criminals, killing at least 34 people. Most of these “encounters”, as they are called, were carried out in Meerut and Saharanpur divisions, where three out of every four alleged criminals killed was a Muslim.
The police version of the “encounter” claims that Akbar and an accomplice on a motorcycle accost the police. A shootout ensued in which Akbar was killed. The police claim Akbar was a member of the Mukeem Kala gang. Kala, now in police custody, was blamed by the BJP in 2016 for the alleged exodus of Hindus from Kairana town.
Akbar’s family disputes this version. “How can they have shot him on a motorcycle when his left hand was broken?” asked Sarwar, Akbar’s younger brother. His family claims he was jailed after of a fight with some local people and was let out on bail in September 2017.
Doubts about the encounter policy of the Adityanath government are not new. Yet, the monk-turned-chief minister has continued to publicly – and vocally – endorse extrajudicial killings. In September, he said, “Agar apradh karenge toh thok diye jayenge.” If they commit crimes then they will be bumped off. In November, he told a rally that criminals would either have to go to jail or be “killed in police encounters”. This public endorsement of extrajudicial killings prompted the National Human Rights Commission to send a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government – a move that had little effect. The government took care to publicly release a list of encounters in February, making it clear that the BJP saw gain in tom-tomming the encounters.
Rahul Tyagi, however, is pleased with the encounters and dismisses questions about their legitimacy. “Earlier there was a lot of loot, kidnapping and dacoity,” he claimed. “Now there is a big drop in the crime rate. It is clear now: you cannot lead a life of crime in UP.” Tyagi, a Brahmin, runs an undergraduate college in Meerut district built on his ancestral land. Upper caste Hindus are part of the BJP’s core support base in Uttar Pradesh and the government’s advocacy of extrajudicial killings is driven substantially by views such as Tyagi’s.
Adityanath might have exacerbated western Uttar Pradesh’s communal divide, but the chasm precedes him. The region saw widespread violence between the dominant Hindu Jats and Gujjar Muslims in 2013. The horror of the riots, which resulted in 62 deaths, is still alive in Garhi Daulat given that it hosts refugees who had fled their villages during the riots. “It was impossible to go back so I bought land here and moved to Garhi Daulat,” said Mohammed Nawab, who lost his home during the 2013 carnage. “This fighting and acrimony, it all started then.”