A month and a half after the election results, it seems to me that the media is still living in the past. If, on the one hand, the political parties that lost the elections have not learnt their lessons, the media, on the other, is in a state of denial. The issue here is the violence in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh on Friday, Fourth of July.
The Union Home Minister has sought a report from the state government in the violence in the Kanth area, for which, according to PTI, “a case was filed against 362 people, out which 62 were named under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including attempt to murder.” The report further says that “Violent protests erupted on Friday after the police tried to stop some people from holding a ‘mahapanchayat’ in Kanth area over removal of a loudspeaker from a temple there.”
I had seen some images of the disturbance on TV, especially TimesNow, which, in my view, seems to be emerging as the main opposition to the BJP government at the centre. Sitting here in the south and watching the visuals were indeed disturbing. It showed people squatting on railway tracks and the channel made particular reference to an MP, who, it said, was associated with the riots in Muzaffarnagar earlier. It further asked the question whether an attempt was being made to replicate the Muzaffarnagar incidents to “polarize” the population on religious lines in Moradabad.
The story has since receded into the background, possibly because the channels are now hotly pursuing the railway and the general budgets. Nevertheless, there could come a time when the news channels will be short of “Breaking News” material and would then go back to stories like the one from Kanth in Moradabad. I, therefore, decided to dig deep into the incident to find out what was wrong and who the guilty party was. And this is what I learnt.
Moradabad district, according to the 2001 census report, has a Muslim population of 45.5 per cent. It was represented in the previous Lok Sabha by the Congress’ Mohammad Azharuddin, India’s famous ex-cricket captain. So unpopular was Azharuddin among his own Muslim supporters that he had to be shifted to Tonk in Rajasthan, in 2014. The change didn’t help though, as he was roundly trounced there. Kunwar Sarvesh Kumar Singh was elected to the Lok Sabha from Moradabad, in the May elections, the first time that the BJP had ever won the seat, now, or in its previous avatar as the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. Moradabad and Rampur are the two constituencies in UP where Muslims are in a majority or almost there.
The Kanth incident pertains to the removal of a loudspeaker from the Sant Ravidas temple in Akbarpur Chaderi. “The temple,” says a report, “attracts a large number of Dalit devotees and the loudspeaker, according to locals, had been there for several years. In early June, however, people of the Muslim community had in a written representation demanded that it be removed. The administration did not try to solve the dispute by involving elders of the two communities, and, instead, on Tuesday 26th June, a police team broke open the lock on its gate, barged into the temple and removed the loudspeaker.
“According to eye-witnesses, the policemen thrashed men and women who protested, and later arrested about a dozen people including women. The next day (Friday 27 June) a demonstration was held in main Kanth market and the crowd blocked the Moradabad-Hardwar road. The crowd was demanding that the loudspeaker be reinstalled and the arrested people be released. Amid the inaction of the police and administration, some people announced that they would install the loudspeaker themselves, and then the police cracked down on them. In the ensuing fracas several were injured. It is reported that the police went berserk after this, dragged people out of their homes and arrested them.”
The BJP then called for a Mahapanchayat on July Fourth. On that day, “BJP supporters fought pitched battles at Kanth as police carried out lathi charge, lobbed teargas shells and shot blanks in the air to disperse the crowds which had stopped some trains. The district administration was more intent on stopping the mahapanchayat rather than solving the issue, an eye-witness said. The state BJP has constituted a four-member team that will look into the incident and submit a report to the party leadership. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Moradabad, Dharamvir Yadav, in an uncharacteristically political statement, on Saturday, blamed the BJP for the tense situation in Kanth, and said that BJP MP Kunwar Sarvesh Kumar Singh had wanted to ‘polarize the situation ahead of the by-elections to be held in the state.’ He said the BJP’s mahapanchayat call had only added to the already volatile situation.”
According to the Hindustan Times, “the loudspeaker was gifted to the temple by a BJP leader and Jatavs (Dalits) installed it despite resistance from the minority community because of Ramzan.” Mukut Bihari Verma, the BJP MLA from Kaiserganj in Bahraich, accused the state authorities of bias in granting permission. “While agreeing that use of loudspeakers created tension in the state, one should also note that it was the state’s dual policy for want of votes that mostly caused disturbance. They should have a uniform policy for both the communities,” he said.
I have culled the above reports from various independent agencies, including newspapers. The reader will now have a clear picture of what really happened in Moradabad. The electronic media, especially the English news channels, showed only what happened during the aborted Mahapanchayat, but completely blacked out the cause of the violence.
The cause of the violence, as readers would see, is the use of “a loudspeaker” in a temple. Why this bias? Why this intolerance? Are we living in India or in Saudi Arabia? When did the use of loudspeakers in temples become illegal? Perhaps, they do, because Moradabad is inching towards a Muslim-majority and the Samajwadi Party Govenment in UP desperately wants their votes for the next round of elections. Ms. Mayavati is a Dalit and heads a Dalit party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, but she too has no concern for her own people, whose rights have been encroached. Had the loudspeaker been snatched at the behest of the so-called upper castes, you bet, she would have been sitting in dharna now in Moradabad!
At the height of the violence in Jammu and Kashmir, in the 1980s, voices of threat blared forth from loudspeakers in mosques, it was widely reported. The incidents led to the large-scale migration of Kashmiri Pundits to safer areas in the rest of India. The Grand Mufti has recently declared that he would not allow the Pundits to be settled in safe enclaves. Instead, he wants them to be dispersed among the general population, maybe, because they could be slaughtered more easily! But that’s another story.
The point is that only a particular group has the right to use loudspeakers where they are in significant numbers. The same community has the perfect right, even where they are in tiny numbers, to use loudspeakers, not merely “a loudspeaker.” In the south, most of the mosques have four to six loudspeakers on top of the minarets. Many of the mosques, in fact, come up without permission in areas where there is a miniscule Muslim population.
In Chennai, and in other towns in Tamil Nadu, loudspeakers are used to change the demography of entire areas. The strategy is simple. A rich Muslim, or a group he represents, buys a house in a predominantly Hindu area at an exorbitant price. A new structure comes up, with an in-built make-shift mosque. A clutch of loudspeakers are tied round one of the pillars on top of the building. Soon, the azaan is recited five times a day, never mind the fact that there are no Muslims around. The administration turns a deaf ear; the makeshift mosque becomes a permanent fixture; the local Hindu shows no sign of resistance, and instead turns tail, as the activity and the decibels from the mosque go up, and begins leaving the area. More Muslims move in. If you don’t believe me, please go to Mannady in north Chennai, or any town in Thanjavur district, and inquire with the locals. However, unlike in Moradabad, you don’t/won’t have a situation. If there is a temple, it automatically shuts down the loudspeakers, realizing the altered state of affairs. None of the loud-mouthed votaries of Tamil rights in Sri Lanka bother about this blatant disappearance of rights in their own backyard.
In the light of these events, the reasoning of the English news channels is something like this: don’t go into the causes, especially where Hindus are concerned. Your loudspeakers might be seized; your rights might be stamped upon rudely, but you have to grin and bear it. You have no reason to complain, much less agitate. If you do, we will paint you as the villain and publicize it to the world.
As for the SSP’s version of the events, what else do you expect from the Samajwadi Party administration? The father-son-uncles government of Akilesh and Mulayam Singh Yadav has planted its caste-men in key centres of power. The party’s proposition is simple: Muslim+Yadavs=Power. This reality was rudely shaken by the results of the recent Lok Sabha polls, but the party is bereft of ideas and, anyway, is on its way out.
Frankly, I am not interested a bit about the threat to regimes in Syria and Iraq from the Wahabis/ISIS or whatever you call them. I would be more bothered about the happenings in Moradabad and the threats issued by the Grand Mufti of Srinagar. These are in my neighbourhood and are a portent of the dangers to come. If these can happen just after the grand victory of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, imagine the consequences if the result had been otherwise!
by Macherla Diwakar
Macherla Diwakar is an author and journalist with wonderful decades of writing behind him.