On April 8, 2017, a gangster from Kairana, Mohammad Furqan, was shot at and arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police. This was a major breakthrough since Furqan was wanted in dozens of cases of extortion and murder. According to the UP police, he carried a reward of Rs 50,000 on his head and worked for the Mukeem Kala gang that targeted businessmen in the region with extortion demands.
UP police announced the arrest on its Twitter page.
The next day, The Times of India ran a story on Furqan’s arrest with the headline “UP gangster behind Kairana ‘exodus’ held”. The headline writer was perhaps oblivious to earlier reports, which had come out about a year ago, and suggested that it was Mukeem Kala, and not Furqan, who was behind the so-called exodus in Kairana.
Mukeem the notorious gangster had been in jail since October 2015. Of the 29 active members of his gang, four were killed and the remaining were in jail with him. Reports stated that he continued to run his extortion racket from behind the bars. However, these extortion cases don’t point to a selective targeting of any particular community. Prosperous businessmen in the region seemed to be the gang’s target, these also included Muslims. For example, a Muslim businessman named Arif had filed an FIR against a local goon for extortion threats in July 2016. In September 2016, the family of a physician named Dr. Danish decided to leave Kairana after receiving an extortion letter.
Kairana indeed has a serious law and order problem but there is no confirmation that it was directed at any particular community. The town has been a hotbed for extortion and with the earlier arrest of Mukeem, and the more recent one of Furqan, the situation there could finally improve. That is a worthy point to highlight, however, a section of media reports chose to revive the bogey of Kairana and ‘Hindu exodus’ using the development as a peg.
Whether this “exodus” itself occurred or not has not been confirmed. But for now, a ‘mastermind’ had been found.
The thing about Kairana
Kairana town in Shamli district of West Uttar Pradesh came into news in June 2016. Hukum Singh, BJP’s MP from the region who has been named in cases related to the 2013 Muzzafarnagar riots, released a list of 346 Hindu families that allegedly fled Kairana fearing atrocities at the hands of Muslim criminals and extortionists.
Any news of this sort is music to the ears of BJP and its supporters. Right-wing handles and WhatsApp groups went berserk with activity and ‘what about Kairana’ became the new ‘what about Malda’. Even as Hukum Singh in a major U-turn, subsequently stated that it was a law and order problem, not a communal issue, Amit Shah was quick to tweet on it, calling it an “eye opener” and “reason to throw out the SP government”.
While many took the claims at face value, The Indian Express decided to investigate the list. They tracked down 22 people who figure in Singh’s list and found five had died, four had moved out of Kairana looking for better opportunities, 10 left more than 10 years ago and three had moved fearing “local criminals”. While harassment by gangs was a reason for three out of 22, there were serious discrepancies in the list.
Meanwhile, the UP government formed a committee headed by SDM Ram Avatar Gupta and Deputy SP Bhushan Verma to probe the claims. They conducted on-ground inspection rounds, forming around four teams comprising revenue officers, tehsildar-rank officials and constables. According to the report, only three people left Kairana owing to incidents of extortion, and 179 people on the list left four to five years ago. The breakdown as per the report was as follows:
|Left around 10 years ago||67|
|Left 4 – 5 years ago||179|
|Left in last 3 years due business, healthcare, children’s education||73|
|Left due to transfer/return to hometown||5|
|Left due to extortion||3|
|Still living in Kairana||27|
Not satisfied by the probe, BJP decided to do its own investigation making claims of “mass exodus” and “gunda raj”. Elections were after all around the corner.
After investigations by the media, local authorities and BJP, the fourth investigation was conducted by NHRC. The Commission conducted its investigation on a complaint from Monika Arora, described in the press release as a Supreme Court advocate and convener of an NGO.
“Out of that list 3 residential localities were selected and at random at least six alleged victims/displaced families/persons were chosen for verification. The team also had telephonic verification from at least four displaced families mentioned in the above list who had migrated to distant places”. According to the methodology described in the press note, it seems that the team made direct contact with only four displaced families out of the list. The focus of the investigation seemed to be the law and order situation in Kairana based on witness testimonies and not specifically a verification of the names on the list.
The Commission made observations like “some” of the displaced persons also verified that harassment of women from minority community (Hindu) by the youth of majority community (Muslim) was one of the reasons for their migration from Kairana Town. “Most” of the witnesses stated that many families migrated due to threats pertaining to increase in crime and deterioration of Law and Order situation. NHRC, however, did not verify the exodus of 346 families and does not lend credence to the so-called theory of Hindus being forced to leave by Muslims.
In the absence of facts to support the Hindu exodus in the first place, one wonders why a section of the media continues to revive the Kairana affair. Perhaps adding ‘Hindu exodus’ to headlines for reports based of extortion in Kairana works as some sort of a recall value for readers. But surely the media can do better than draw these lazy associations?
The author can be contacted on Twitter @samjawed65