On March 11, 2017, Bisada village in Uttar Pradesh rejoiced as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recorded a historic win in the assembly elections. Bisada falls in the district of Dadri town. Here, BJP’s Tejpal Singh Nagar polled 1,41,226 votes, defeating his rival from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Satveer Singh Gurjar, by 80, 177 votes. It was a landslide victory, but not notable considering the sweep BJP made of the state.
For Bisada, though, the win — both in the district and at the state level is significant. In 2015, it was put on the map when an irate Hindu mob lynched a Muslim farmhand named Mohammed Akhlaq for allegedly slaughtering a calf and storing beef in his fridge at home. Akhlaq would die on 28 September, of injuries sustained during this attack. His death led to loud debates about the rise of the Hindutva brigade and how it was taking the law into its own hands. For the residents of Bisada, in the BJP victory is their own triumph against what they describe as the ‘Muslim-appeasing’ politics of Samajwadi Party (SP), which governed the state for almost five years.
“Now we take pride in being Hindus,” said Anil Kumar Raghav, an actor in Bisada. “Until now, we didn’t feel safe.” Dominated by Thakurs and Hindus, Bisada has only 30-odd Muslim families. The feeling of insecurity among the village’s Hindus has been on a rise since 19 men were charged with Akhlaq’s murder. Raghav’s nephew, Ravin Sisodia, was one of them. Last year, in October, Sisodia died in custody and was given a martyr’s funeral. His family holds prison authorities responsible even though officials insist Sisodia died while he was being treated for chikungunya. For his surviving relatives, the BJP government is their one hope. “Yogi ji is our ancestor and an avatar of Gorakhnath,” said Raghav, referring perhaps to the shared Thakur ancestry. “He has dedicated his life for public welfare. He will serve justice to the public,” Raghav told Newslaundry.
SP, as far as Bisada’s Hindus are concerned, is guilty of favouring Akhlaq over the Hindu accused. “They didn’t do anything except a one-sided investigation because we are Hindus,” alleged Nirmala, Sisodia’s mother, who lamented that former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav “didn’t even come to bless us even once”. Nirmala hopes that those responsible for her son’s death will be put behind bars and that a memorial will be built for Sisodia because he was a “gau sevak“.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Sartaj, Akhlaq’s oldest son, said that the government gave them a compensation of Rs 30 lakh. Fearing further attacks, the family left their 150-year-old house in Bisada village and resettled in Delhi after Sartaj was allotted a quarter in Delhi by the air force. Other villagers and many BJP leaders had lobbied against the compensation given to Akhlaq’s family. Sisodia’s family was promised a compensation of Rs 25 lakhs after the villagers wrapped his body in the Indian tricolour and refused to cremate his body, demanding a compensation of one crore rupees.
“Akhilesh had said he would do everything possible, but they haven’t done anything as of now,” Sisodia’s 20-year-old widow, Pooja, told Newslaundry. She has a one-and-a-half year old daughter and is currently studying for her intermediary exams. As far as she’s concerned, her lack of education and work experience are not obstacles to her not being given a job. “They said I would get a job today or tomorrow,” Pooja told Newslaundry, referring to the previous SP government. She pointed out that no one had mentioned she was unsuitable for employment. “They’d call me to places and ask me to get some documents made,” said Pooja. “I did everything possible but I didn’t get a job.”
There’s a prevailing conviction in Bisada that Akhlaq deserved his brutal death because he was disrespecting the dominant Hindu beliefs, regardless of what liberties the laws of the land provide all citizens. “Agar Hinduon ke gaav mein gaay kaati jayegi toh saza toh milega na? (If you slaughter a cow in a Hindu village, then you’ll have to suffer the punishment, no?)” asked Raghav.
The grouse in Bisada is that there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the cases of those charged with Akhlaq’s murder. On the night of September 28, 2015, 19 men were arrested from a crowd estimated to number between 1,500 and 2,000. “My children were deceived into getting arrested,” claimed the mother of two brothers who are in jail. “Thousands gathered from villages around and Akhlaq was killed. We don’t know who killed him,” said Anil, Ravin’s uncle who believes that his nephew was innocent. Of those original taken into custody, one proved his absence from the scene and was released. Two were minors and are currently out on bail. Fifteen remain in Greater Noida district jail where Sisodia died.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Akhlaq’s son Sartaj claimed that the violence of September 28 was a strategic move by “Hindutva outfits” to drive the Muslim family out of the Hindu area. He said that there are discrepancies in the amount of meat supposedly recovered from the Akhlaq household. Since October 2015, Sartaj and the surviving members of Akhlaq’s family have been living in Delhi. Sartaj said his uncle, Jaan Mohammed, was approached two weeks ago by a group representing the accused. “Mere chacha ji se unhone kaha ki hum sabko pata hai ki ye sab jhooth hai, toh aap log is sab ko bhoolke compromise karlo (My uncle was approached and they said, we know that all this is fake, so why don’t you all forget about it and compromise),” he told Newslaundry. He remains adamant that his father’s case will not be dropped.
While the Hindu part of the village is filled with loud show of support, in the Muslim ghetto there is only uneasy silence and determined refusals to talk. The one point on which both communities are in agreement is in their distrust of the media. Both factions blame the media for aggravating the situation. In the Hindu neighbourhood, Newslaundry was told that the media only listened to the Hindu side of the story after some residents threatened a few visiting journalists.
Despite the lack of clarity about what actually happened that night, the bottom line is that Akhlaq died as a result of mob violence. The criminality doesn’t seem to bother Bisada anymore, incensed as they are by the continued injustice that they allege the accused have suffered for the past two years. There is also a firm conviction that Akhlaq had slaughtered a cow, even though there isn’t any concrete evidence to back this claim. “Galat karma ka galat nateeja hota hai (Wrong deeds lead to bad results),” said Raghav. “Had he been a Hindu, or from any religion, a Thakur or a low caste, the person would have been killed. The crowds punished him for his mistake.”
The state’s current CM has been vocal in his support of the accused and attacking those who don’t respect “gaumata“. He batted for the families of the accused after the second forensic report suggested that the meat was beef and demanded the compensation for Akhlaq’s family be dropped. “It is a crime in Uttar Pradesh to slaughter cows and possess or eat its meat. Akhlaq’s family has indulged in this crime. Action should be taken against them for this,” Adityanath had said. With Adityanath at the helm, Bisada’s Hindus are sure that all those who are unsympathetic to them will be set straight. Explaining former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s attitude of alleged carelessness, Jitender told Newslaundry, “I think some of his ancestors were Muslims. Maybe his grandmother, there is some confusion. You’ll have to search on the net [internet].”
In Bisada’s Muslim neighbourhood, there were nearly 30 families who called the village home until 2015. Since Akhlaq’s death, eight families have left. Newslaundry got in touch with Afzal Ahmed, who moved out of Bisada 15 days after the attack on Akhlaq. “People who used to be sympathisers had turned their backs on us,” he told Newslaundry. “We were made to feel isolated, even vegetable vendors stopped coming to our area,” he said. Today, this part of the village is a desolate cluster of locked doors. Ahmed doesn’t anticipate moving back in the near future. “We left the village for our own safety,” he told Newslaundry.
From the Muslims who remain in Bisada, in sharp contrast to the robust optimism of the Hindus, all we got were silence, refusals to speak and shut doors. The only person who spoke to us wouldn’t give us his name. “Ye sab jo apko logo ne bataya hai Dadri mein? (Everything that you’ve been told in Dadri?),” he told us, “is sab ko kaat peet ke phenk do, iske barey me likhne ki koi zarurat nahi hai (Just chop it up and throw it away).”