Kanpur police link Muslim protests against Nupur Sharma to ‘takeover of Hindu land’

Muslims tried to grab Hindu land ‘under the guise of riots’, the police allege, echoing the ‘land jihad’ conspiracy theory.

WrittenBy:Akanksha Kumar
Hayat Zafar Hashmi, in pale shirt, is alleged to have masterminded the violence.

To build its case against the alleged perpetrators of the Kanpur violence in June, the Uttar Pradesh police invoked a conspiracy theory: that the local Muslims were trying to “take over” Hindu land “under the guise of riots”.

In a 1,500-page “proposal” to the Kanpur district magistrate outlining why the alleged “mastermind” behind the violence, Hayat Zafar Hashmi, must be booked under the National Security Act, a Special Investigation Team of the police weaved its case around half a dozen nearly identical statements from Hindu complainants.

The proposal, accessed by Newslaundry, alleges that Hashmi was the architect of a plan to protest against suspended BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma’s remarks against Prophet Muhammad. The plan, it adds, was devised over the course of four meetings held between May 28 and June 1 where Hashmi received money from another accused, Haji Mohammad Wasi, “for posters, distribution among rioters and other costs likely to be incurred”.

The magistrate, G Vishak Iyer, relied on this proposal to approve the slapping of NSA charges against Hashmi.

The violence which Hashmi allegedly masterminded broke out on June 3. Muslim shopowners in Kanpur city had called for a bandh and a procession to protest Sharma’s comments. According to the news agency PTI, some of them tried to make Hindu traders, who did not support the protest, to down their shutters, and “clashed” with the police. Stones were pelted, the protesters were lathicharged, and at least 40 people, including 10 police personnel, were left injured.

It so happened that a number of bigwigs were in Kanpur that day. President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, UP Chief Minister Adityanath, and Governor Anandiben Patel were visiting Kovind’s ancestral village, around 100 km away from the city.

By June 4, the police had filed three FIRs and arrested 24 people, including Hashmi, a community leader and head of the Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar Fans Association, a self-described “social NGO”.

Hashmi had, on social media, called for a bandh on June 3. But he had withdrawn the call and, according to his wife, provided a statement to the police to this effect. He was slapped with 13 charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, voluntarily causing hurt, attempt to murder, endangering human life, and intimidation.

On June 5, the Kanpur police set up an SIT to investigate what had happened.

Same story

On July 17, the SIT recorded a statement by Anil Kumar Gaur, a jeweller near Chandeshwar Hata Gate. Gaur, 44, claimed that he was “beaten up by the rioters” on June 3. He also claimed to have “seen Hayat Zafar Hashmi trying to enter Chandeshwar Hata, a Hindu-dominated mohalla, along with members of the Muslim community, after Friday prayers”.

Later, Gaur declared, “they came to know that under the guise of riots the real motive was the encroachment of our Hata”, and that “Mukhtar Baba and Haji Wasi, who is a builder, were part of this conspiracy”. Baba was subsequently arrested on June 22, Wasi on July 6.

“The conspiracy was that we sell off our homes and shops for measly sums, so that those from the Muslim community can construct buildings here,” Gaur added.

He also claimed that the rioters attacked the police with “bricks, stones and petrol bombs”.

Gaur’s story was repeated by Pramod Kumar Batham, who works as a shopkeeper’s assistant near Chandeshwar Hata, and gave his statement to the SIT on July 17.

Batham, 46, said he recognised Hashmi from social media. He said the crowd’s motive was “kabza of land after Hindu owners have left shops and houses out of fear”. He also told the SIT that the crowd “while chanting religious slogans was also saying that all Hindus of Chandeshwar Hata should be killed”.

Another statement is from Sarvesh Kumar Bajpai, a lawyer who practises at the Kanpur district court. He told the SIT that he rushed home to Chandeshwar Hata as soon as he learned about the violence on June 3 and saw Muslims were “aggressive and throwing stones at the police”. “One could also hear gunshots,” Bajpai added. “In order to create an atmosphere of terror, some persons were throwing petrol bombs as well.”

Echoing Gaur and Batham, the lawyer alleged, “We later came to know that under the guise of riots the plan was to create a sense of terror so we would vacate Chandeshwar Hata.”

Bajpai too named Baba and Wasi but didn’t elaborate how they were involved in the violence.

Rahul Trivedi, who drives an e-rickshaw in Chandeshwar Hata, similarly told the SIT that he “came to know from the residents that the main motive of the rioters was to create a sense of fear, so that we would vacate our houses and shops.”

“People have been talking about how it is no longer safe to stay here,” he added. “Those violent people didn’t seem to belong to this city. It’s as if they came from a terrorist hideout.”

Sarvesh Kashyap, also an e-rickshaw driver in Chandeshwar Hata, alleged that the protesters attacked a vehicle carrying some of his relatives, who were visiting to celebrate the wedding anniversary of his parents. “We were scared. Everyone was running for their life,” Kashyap claimed.

Then, as if reading from the other statements, Kashyap added, “Later on I came to know that the main motive was to create a sense of fear so that locals vacate their houses and shops.”

Amit Kumar Batham, another Chandeshwar Hata, reiterated, “Later we came to know the main objective of the crowd was kabza of Chandeshwar Hata.”

Brij Mohan Gaur, who has a travel business near Chandeshwar Hata, told the SIT that “the crowd, composed mostly of Muslims, were chanting religious slogans”. “They were saying that Hindus of Chandeshwar Hata should be killed and the place encroached upon,” he added.

To corroborate the “land grab” theory, the SIT proposal quotes case diary entries made by police personnel. A June 18 entry by assistant police commissioner Tripurari Pandey alleges, “There was a legal dispute between Hayat and Haji Wasi over the Waqf land belonging to Haleem College. When Hayat went ahead with the call for the protest, it meant Wasi could kill two birds with one stone, settle scores with Hayat Zafar Hashmi and take over Chandeshwar Hata for a measly sum since people would leave owing to fear.”

The phrase “kill two birds with one stone”, in Hindi, also features in the June 18 statement by Nawab Ahmad, station house officer in Beconganj: “Hayat Zafar Hashmi gave a false assurance that he would take back the call to protest. When Hashmi went ahead with the shutdown, builder Haji Wasi, Mukhtar Baba and their accomplices met and made a plan to use violence to encroach upon the land in Hata.”

The same case diary also has a constable named Sourabh Singh reporting what people in Beconganj and “police informers” had allegedly told him: “Chandeshwar Hata was the main target. They wanted to create so much fear that the residents would leave the place out of fear.” He further alleged that “builder Haji Wasi and his manager had given Rs 1,000-3,000 to minors who could pelt stones and bricks.”

The purported statements of the accused are curiously similar as well. On June 4, the SIT recorded the statements of 14 men, all Muslim, named as accused alongside Hashmi in the same FIR. All 14 not only confessed to participating in the violence during the June 3 protest but said they had links to the Popular Front of India, a Muslim organisation that has long been a bugbear of the Adityanath government. One of the accused, Aadil, said in his statement that he was part of a procession led by Hashmi on June 3. “We were forcing locals to close their shops,” he said, “and upon resistance the crowd led by Hashmi resorted to stones and petrol bombs.” He described the incident as being “part of the PFI agenda”. Arafit Ali, Aasif Ali and Anas Hasan repeated the statement. The “incident was part of the PFI agenda”, they all purportedly told the SIT. At least 10 of the other accused – Rahman Ali, Israel, Mohd Aaqib, Mohd Sajid, Nasir, Shahid, Imran Kaliya, Bilal, Haji Mohd Nasir, Haseeb – are quoted by the SIT as making the same claim: “We were forcing some shopkeepers to bring down the shutters. When they resisted the crowd led by Hashmi resorted to pelting bricks, firing gunshots from illegal weapons and throwing petrol bombs.” Contradictory stories

The case diaries, which run into 900 pages of the proposal, include statements, recorded on different dates by Hashmi.

In a confessional statement recorded on June 4, Hashmi told the police that following Sharma’s “hurtful remarks”, he “called for a bandh” on June 3. But after learning that the president and the prime minister were visiting the city between June 3 and 4, the alleged mastermind added, he withdrew the call.

“Maybe my message didn’t reach the public and so the crowd gathered and resorted to violence,” the statement quotes him. “This incident happened due to my call asking for a bandh which was a mistake.”

In another statement on June 8, however, Hashmi is quoted as admitting that he went ahead with his “pre-decided plan”: “On June 3, I went to Noor Masjid near Haleem College for Friday prayers. Thereafter we gathered and, as per our pre-decided plan, once we neared Chandeshwar Hata, Pench Bagh and Dada Miyan Chauraha, we distributed material procured for the purpose of carrying out the incident.”

The material, Hashmi is quoted as elaborating in a third statement on June 12, included “a glass bottle containing petrol, sutli bomb, shell cartridges, some pamphlets and pieces of glass”.

The same statement has Hashmi explaining how his association and his WhatsApp group operate. The statement concludes with the investigating officer remarking that “there was no response when asked why no non-Muslim is part of the WhatsApp group named Jauhar Association Kanpur Team”.

The statements of all the accused were recorded under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which have little, if any, evidentiary value under the Indian Evidence Act.

A case diary entry on June 5 supplies more context about the WhatsApp group: “A close scrutiny of the group reveals that Hayat Zafar Hashmi and some other members of the group shared some objectionable posts, still photos and videos related to the upcoming bandh in Kanpur on 3 June as part of the conspiracy.”

Helpfully, the annexures to the SIT’s proposal include screenshots of some of Hashmi’s posts on social media as evidence of the “well-planned conspiracy” leading to the violence on June 3.

A May 30 Facebook post is a screenshot of a Hindi news report about a protest organised in Kanpur against Nupur Sharma the previous day.

Another post, from May 31, urges people to support “the bandh called by MMA Jauhar Fans Association on June 3” against “the one who does not believe in the Prophet – Nupur Sharma – who hasn’t been arrested yet”.

The annexures also have copies of two posters printed by the MMA Jauhar Fans Association. The first poster, dated June 3, appeals Muslims to support the “Kanpur bandh”. The poster says at the bottom: “No one will be forced to close shops. No pressure should be built on non-Muslim brothers, neither any procession carried out.”

A second poster, dated June 5 after the violence, appeals Muslims to “take part in a jail bharo protest”, that’s, voluntarily court arrest.

Police and media stories

The proposal also includes statements of police personnel who had been deployed on VVIP duty on June 3 before being sent to the scene of the violence.

In a June 4 statement, an inspector said he used a public address system to “request the aggressive crowd by Hashmi to maintain peace”. He added that the 500-strong crowd “began hurling abuses and began firing that included attack by stones and petrol bombs”. He saved himself “using tactics taught during training”.

The investigating officer, meanwhile, alleged that a “series of meetings” held after May 25, which is when Sharma made the controversial comments on Navika Kumar’s Times Now show, laid the groundwork for the violence in Kanpur. This included a May 28 meeting led by Hashmi, a June 1 meeting of clerics including one Maulana Imam Mufti, a meeting by a person named Ikhlaq Ahmed David, and a meeting convened on behalf of the Jauhar Fans Association.

“It was decided at these meetings,” the SIT said in its proposal, “that they will mislead people in the name of religion and after the Friday prayers barge into Chandeshwar Hata. For the purpose of causing riots and encroaching Chandeshwar Hata, a sum of Rs 2,000 per person had been distributed.”

Arguing for the NSA to be invoked against the main accused, the SIT alleged in the proposal that the protesters had used petrol bombs, lathis and other weapons, resulting in injuries to some police personnel and damage to vehicles.

But when a team from Lucknow’s Forensic Science Laboratory visited the spot on June 8, they appeared to have recovered five pieces of broken bricks in Pench Bagh, six pieces of broken bricks in Dada Miyan Hata, three pieces of broken bricks and a shattered piece of car glass in Chandeshwar Hata, three pieces of bricks and a block of cement from Nai Sarak.

The SIT also cited over a dozen news reports in Hindi dailies like Amar Ujala, Dainik Jagran and Hindustan to press for NSA charges. Most of the reports support the police’s version of what happened on June 3.

A report carried by Amar Ujala on June 4, for example, claims that the violence stopped only when the “police resorted to firing tear gas shells”. It does not carry a statement from an eyewitness from either community. Another story published the same day claimed that “the rioters first asked the names of passersby and only then attacked them”. It quoted three purported witnesses, all of them Hindu.

Also see
article imageKanpur SIT’s inquiry laid the ground for UP’s ‘love jihad’ law. But it’s riddled with inconsistencies
article imageDainik Jagran tortures data to find ‘love jihad’ in Bareilly


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