Kairana: two probes, but no conclusion

Is it a law and order problem or an exodus? No one knows.

WrittenBy:Amit Bhardwaj and Ishan Kukreti
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The moment locals spot an outsider (read, a journalist) in Kairana, they gather around to talk about the communal harmony that they claim has always existed in Kairana. This is because last week, when the nation was busy debating the fate of Udta Punjab and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit, a parliamentarian from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released a list of 346 Hindus who migrated from Kairana. That was all it took for news channels like Zee News and NewsX to liken the situation to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the early 1990s.

Kairana is located within 70 kilometres of Deoband, Muzaffarnagar and Meerut — sensitive areas where issues like ‘exodus’ can easily sway the vote bank into voting along communal lines. The small town in western Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district made it to Twitter trends, newspages and prime time debates as anchors attributed the ‘exodus’ to the majority Muslim population in the area.

This theory was debunked in no time, with NDTV India reporting that the list included names of people who were still living in Kairana. Hindus in Kairana came on camera and said there was none of the communal scare that had been implied. BJP’s Hukum Singh, the elected representative of this area and the one who had produced the list, quickly backpedalled and blamed the media for misinterpreting what he termed concern about the law and order situation in general.

Singh maintained his stance about being misrepresented when Newslaundry spoke to him about the whole issue. He said, ” People are expert in distorting what I say…I am saying it’s a complete breakdown of law and order. ”

Does this mean there has been no ‘exodus’ from Kairana? Not exactly. Locals say there has been a large-scale migration, but they claim it’s because there isn’t enough work in the area and because the local mafia makes life difficult for them. This is not sentiment unique to Kairana’s residents. However, thanks to Singh’s list and the attention it’s got from the media, Kairana is in the spotlight.

Muslim-dominated Kairana has picked ‘Babu’ Hukum Singh over Muslim alternatives, electing him to the state assembly seven out of 11 times since 1974; the last four occasions on a BJP ticket, before propelling him to the Lok Sabha in 2014. Singh was accused of inciting violence during the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013.

Much like what was heard from residents after that incident, people in Kairana too insist that theirs is a peaceful town. Despite electing a Hindu, BJP MLA, Kairana is predominantly Muslim, with an active Hindu minority. A shopkeeper told Newslaundry,“1947 mein poore desh mein dange hue par yahan kuch nahi hua, na Babri ke baad kuch hua aur na Shamli ke samay.” (“There were riots all over the country in 1947 but not here. Nothing happened after the Babri Masjid demolition or the Shamli riots either.”) His neighbour, a Muslim, said Hindu families were scared during the 2013 riots, but local Muslims ensured their security.

But that’s not the only threat to locals. Crime and gang violence are a serious issue. In Kairana itself, AK-47s and AK-56s are surprisingly easy procure. Pawan Kumar Mittal, who was posted in Kairana court and lives in the town, said most households have access to weapons, legal or illegal. He himself has one licensed weapon.

In recent times, several gangs have been running the extortion racket. The most prominent among them is the one headed by Muqeem Kala, who along with his associate Firoz Pawa carried a bounty of Rs 2.5 lakh. Even though the duo was nabbed by Special Task Force last October, Kala is believed to run his business unhampered from jail.

The rich, or the considerably well-off, are of course the target of these gangs. “If business is good, you’ll get a parchi,” said Kamal Dhingra, a trader in the main market, referring to a threatening letter demanding money. Extortion calls from local gangsters like Kala keep the wealthy on the edge. At times, it forces people like Dhingra’s brother Manoj, whose name is mentioned in Hukum Singh’s list under people who have migrated from Teachers Colony, to pack their bags and leave Kairana.

Those who leave are not always Hindus. Following a ransom call, Shahid, the owner of a popular eatery in Kairana, was forced to shift to the town’s outskirts.

On Wednesday, a nine-member probe team  formed by BJP and headed by Shahjahanpur MLA Suresh Khanna reached Kairana. This was the party’s response to the controversy surrounding Singh’s list and the objective of the probe was ostensibly to ascertain just what is driving people out of Kairana. Newslaundry accompanied the probe to three houses belonging to ‘victims’. They seemed to be well-prepared to receive the probe team. Red carpets were laid out, as were chairs; one of the houses also had a shamiana in place.

There were some faces that showed up at each of the venues. One of regulars was a man named “Shastri”, who said he was a priest but had to migrate as the environment was unsafe for Hindus. Shastri attended closed-door meetings (secured by Home Guards) at each house.

There has been a rash of probes ever since Kairana entered the spotlight and from their findings, it’s obvious who ordered them. The district administration of Shamli submitted a report to the UP government rubbishing both Singh’s claims of an exodus and the allegations that there’s a law and order problem in Kairana. The BJP’s probe came to the conclusion that there’s complete loss of faith in the administration among the locals because it is not able to guarantee their protection. The report alleges that the UP government “discriminates on the basis of religious faith.”

Will this controversy help BJP take votes away from Samajwadi Party, as it hopes? The only thing that seems certain is that in the fierce and callous world of UP politics, there are too many who are caught in the nexus of lawmakers and lawbreakers.


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