By Qudsia Farhat
In August 2013, severe clashes between the Hindu and Muslim communities of the Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh (UP) of India, claimed 43 lives and injured 93. The attacks have been described as the worst violence in UP in recent history. The original cause of the rioting is disputed. Two immediate reasons have been quoted, one being a traffic accident while the other an alleged eve-teasing incident. According to the first version, the cause was a minor traffic accident involving some youths which then spiraled out of control when it eventually took on religious overtones. In the second version, a girl from the Hindu Jat community was allegedly harassed in an eve-teasing incident by one Muslim youth in Kawal village. In retaliation, Hindu relatives of the girl in question, Sachin Singh and Gaurav Singh killed the youth named Shahnawaz Qureshi. The two brothers were lynched by a Muslim mob when they tried to escape. The police records on the other hand, indicate that Gaurav and Sachin picked a fight with Shahnawaz over a motorcycle accident.
Interestingly Indian TV Channel NDTV carried a contradictory report on the Kawal village incident. The girl who was allegedly harassed by Shahnawaz commented that she had not gone to Kawal or known anybody by name of Shahnawaz. While it has been widely reported that the fight was sparked off when Shahnawaz harassed Gaurav and Sachin’s cousin sister, the FIR in the murder makes no mention of sexual harassment or molestation. Shahnawaz’s father claims that the problem started when their vehicles collided. In the FIR registered for Shahnawaz’s death, it is mentioned that seven men entered Shahnawaz’s home, took him out and killed him with swords and knives. After news of the killings spread, the members of both communities attacked each other.
Since Hindus were the aggressors in the riots, Indian Government and media did not initially name Pakistan as being responsible for the skirmish. However, only four months later, the usual narratives are being repeated to malign Pakistan.
The Indian Express of January 8, 2014, in its report titled ‘Lashkar imams went to UP to avenge sufferings of Muslim victims of riots’, claimed quoting Delhi police that suspected members of a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) module in its custody had visited the riot-hit western Uttar Pradesh district of Muzaffarnagar and contacted some residents there, seeking to recruit men to their module. The report surreptitiously asserted that during the questioning, the suspected Lashkar operatives had claimed that they visited the region to avenge the suffering of Muslim victims of the Jat-Muslim riots in September but this claim had to be verified, the police alleged.
The furtive report by the Indian daily is based on conjectures. Firstly, the report surmised that Hafeez Rashidi and Shahid – from Mewat in Haryana were the Imams arrested for their suspected links to LeT. Secondly the duo had allegedly visited relief camps of victims of the Muzaffarnagar communal riots and sought to incite them into participating in an uprising. The men allegedly approached by the suspected LeT operatives had refused to join hands with the terror group, informed the Special Cell of the Delhi Police and recorded detailed statements under Section 164 CrPC in the chamber of a city magistrate at the Patiala House court
The very next day, in another report published in The Indian Express, Delhi Police Special Commissioner (Special Cell) S N Shrivastava told a press conference that the two residents of Muzaffarnagar who had deposed in court were not riot victims; belying the earlier allegation of the Imams attempting to lure Muzaffarnagar residents to avenge the violence against Muslims during the riots. Shrivastava admitted that in January, following a tip-off from Central agencies, the two Imams had been arrested. On the contrary, the district police of riot-hit Muzaffarnagar, when contacted by Indian media, stated that it was completely in the dark about the alleged incidents or the Delhi Police looking for suspected Lashkar operatives who could still be active in the district.
Readers may recall that Indira Gandhi’s grandson Rahul Gandhi, now a frontrunner in the forthcoming general elections and challenger to BJP’s prime candidate Narendra Singh Modi, at a rally in Indore in October 2013 had claimed that an intelligence officer had told him that Pakistan’s ISI was trying to recruit disgruntled youths affected by the Muzaffarnagar riots, a comment which drew widespread criticism. It appears that with the Indian Congress facing likely defeat in the forthcoming elections is now building sentiments against Pakistan to garner sympathy and much needed electoral support and also provide credence to Rahul Gandhi’s wild allegation.
Owing to the riots, most of the Muslim victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots are still living in makeshift camps. The allegations of Muslim Imams from Haryana being on the payroll of the LeT and fomenting trouble is adding insult to injury and also appears to be a desperate attempt to malign the Muslim community and whip up anti-Pakistan hysteria.
If that were not enough, Indian daily The Pioneer, (January 8, 2014)’s story: ‘ISI now tries Jehad-e-Ishq in Muzaffarnagar’ gives a different spin to Pakistan-baiting. It insinuates that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), plan termed as ‘Love Jehad’ or ‘Jehad-e-Ishq’ has sent alarm bells ringing among Indian security agencies; claiming that “Muslim youths are being indoctrinated to woo Hindu girls after posing as Hindus. This is called “Love Jehad” and the ISI is pumping in money for this purpose and its handlers are teaching these boys how to behave like a Hindu.” Investigators claimed the ISI hatched this conspiracy around two years ago and has been funding the lavish lifestyle of youths trained for this purpose and they have been asked to purchase motorbikes and cell phones and target Hindu girls. They have been tasked to target college girls belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love and later dump them.
India’s incessant Pakistan-bashing is not going to gain it brownie points in the next elections; instead of spreading negativity, it should endeavour to uplift its downtrodden masses.