- NL Sena
In the village of Dallupura, the Shaheen Bagh shooter has become a bit of a hero.
In the narrow bylanes that lead to Kapil Gujjar’s house in Noida’s Dallupura, groups of boys congregate at every corner. They’re staring at their phone screens with intrigue.
Twenty-five-year-old Kapil, who was arrested after he opened fire at Shaheen Bagh on Saturday, is on national television. “Look how he got famous,” says one boy, consumed by NDTV India’s live reportage on his phone. “One day I too will be this famous.”
On Saturday, ANI broadcast videos of Kapil being led away by the police from Shaheen Bagh. As the police held him tightly, he shouted “Jai Shri Ram”. “Why did you fire?” a reporter asked him. “Because our country is a Hindu Rashtra,” said the young man. Before the Delhi police stuffed him inside a car, he proclaimed that “only Hindus will have their way in our country.”
The incident comes a couple of days after a fired and injured a student protester at Jamia Millia Islamia, not too far from Shaheen Bagh. The 17-year-old has associations with the Bajrang Dal, a far-Right militant Hindutva organisation that is a part of the Sangh Parivar.
The Gujjar community has lived in and around Delhi for centuries. They’ve been pastoralists whose livelihood has historically revolved around the cattle economy. With the dawn of markets and a booming real estate, Gujjar villages in Delhi exploded into spaceless urban villages populated by grand multi-storeyed homes. Dallupura fits this bill, and so does Kapil’s family — owners of a huge house called “Gujjar Bhawan” and a robust dairy business.
Kapil does not seem to have any link with organisations that espouse Hindutva. In Dallupura, everyone told Newslaundry that he was mild-mannered and was not known for indulging in altercations. He has three siblings and has been married for four years, with a two-year-old daughter.
Fateh Singh, Kapil’s relative, says all that concerned the young man was his buffalos.
“He could look at a buffalo and tell you how much milk it could yield. His aspirations also revolved around buffalos. He did not have any interest in politics,” Singh told Newslaundry.
Kapil’s father did have a political history. He had fought the 2007 and 2012 municipal elections in Delhi on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket (BSP). The family has put politics behind them, and was only concerned with their business: to produce dairy products in Ghazipur, and sell them in Badarpur.
When asked about Kapil’s statements on Hindus and Hindu Rashtra, Singh told Newslaundry that the nature of the Shaheen Bagh protests are behind such sentiments. “The Mohammedans have closed the road for so many days. You know how they’ve caused a ruckus,” he says. “He did not hate Mohammedans. We have Mohammedans as tenants in our house. It is possible that the protesters had harassed him.”
“I met him earlier in the day. He was smoking a cigarette and seemed normal. When he left around afternoon, I thought he was leaving for his dairy,” says Satish Kumar, a friend of Kapil’s father. “Then we opened the TV and saw the news. I was aghast. We have no idea what happened.”
At this point, the lightning-fast ANI arrives outside Gujjar’s home. Singh, who had refused to have his picture taken moments before, is convinced to give a video byte to the newswire agency. But today, ANI is not the first one to reach the spot — it was late. Its cameraman blamed Manoj Tiwari’s public meeting in Lakshminagar for the delay. “You know how it is, we hardly get to sleep during the elections. And then you have to locate such godforsaken places like Dallupura.”
When we joke about whether ANI had accessed Kapil’s marksheet, the reporter grins and says the earlier shootout case had an “age angle”, but this one does not. “The principal had called us and given [the 17-year-old’s] marksheet himself,” he claims.
While elders speak promisingly about communal coexistence, Kapil’s personality can be gleaned from his milieu. The elders express confusion at the thought of a gun-toting lad from their neighbourhood, but the young men in Dallupura condone it and express fascination.
Akash Gujjar, who studies in Class 11, says, "What Kapil has done is right,” adding: “I had similar sentiments, but he did it, so no problem. I am happy with it." Akash is the son of Kapil's paternal uncle.
Sachin, Kapil's classmate, told Newslaundry that Kapil was right when he said only “Hindus will have their way in our country”. “He was right about it. This is a country of Hindus, only Hindus will run this place. Who else?" Sachin asks.
Another young man talks on his phone nearby. "Now it's time to fight. Prepare," he says. Once he is finished, he tells Newslaundry that Shaheen Bagh is surrounded by Jasola, Madanpur Khadar and Badarpur, which also have a Gujjar population. “Noida also had Gujjars. Shaheen Bagh is sandwiched between these localities. We do not want to fight, but now that Kapil bhai has gone to jail, we will have to fight,” he says.
As we move around Dallupura, speaking to young men, we are asked our names multiple times. “Look, brother, you are one of us,” says one group, after finding our names reassuringly Hindu.
“We Gujjars are always united. We live in Dallupura, come from different families, but we address each other as brothers. And everyone now asks how did he lose his mind? At Shaheen Bagh, they’re talking about splitting the country. How will a deshbhakt not lose his mind?” asks one Sumit Dedha.
Sachin, who stands nearby, says he is ambivalent about whether Kapil did or did not shoot, “but I’m clear about one thing: my country is a Hindu country. I don’t hate Muslims, we live in peace with them. But if I’m a Hindu, I’ll work for Hindus.”
Over an hour-long conversation with these young Gujjar men, all between 20 and 30 years of age, it is obvious that the polarisation on the Citizenship Amendment Act is ripe in Dallupura. If Muslims oppose it, Hindus are supposed to support it.
The Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress are in cahoots with the Muslims, and the BJP is with the Hindus. These ideas simmer despite the fact that organisations like the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad do not have a serious presence in the area. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, however, does conduct shakhas in nearby maidans. Sumit, for instance, attended shakhas when he was a child. He says he supports the RSS. Kapil, his friends told us, did not attend these camps.
“If we ever meet that Sharjeel [Imam] anywhere, we’ll kill him. Places like Jawaharlal Nehru University are breeding grounds for traitors,” says a young man. “In Aligarh Muslim University, young men raised slogans of ‘AMU ki dharti par, Hinduon ki kabar khudegi’.” He is referring to a piece of spread by the BJP IT Cell and its Delhi spokesperson, Tajinder Singh Bagga.
Among the boys, most of whom are in school, there is a sense of romance around Kapil’s deed. He has become famous, and the nascent yearning for being like him — a newsmaker — cannot be hidden.
“I’ll also be famous like him one day. He did such a good job, the public had been upset over the blockade,” says one boy, almost blushing, as he rests his intrigue upon the news channel, NDTV India, on his phone.
He adds: “By the way, where on earth is this Shaheen Bagh? I’ve never heard of it before.”