Kanpur riots

While a group of Muslim extremists sparked the Kanpur riots and the notorious PAC and sections of the police force targeted the Muslim community with RSS and Bajrang Dal help, the majority of Hindus and Muslims protected each other. Report of a women’s delegation that visited Kanpur 

A joint delegation of women’s organisations visited  Kanpur on March 21 to  meet the people in the af
fected areas and to get a first hand account of the developments. The team comprised Brinda Karat and Subhashini Ali (All India Democratic Women’s Association, AIDWA) Dr. Syeda Hameed and Nahid Taban (Muslim Women’s Forum), Pranati Mukerjee (National Federation of Indian Women), Sister Mary Scaria (Justice and Peace Commission, Catholic Bishops Conference of India), Dr. Alka Srivastava (Women’s unit, Indian Social Institute). 

The team visited the following areas: Parade, Yatim Khana, Talaq Mahal, Baconganj, Choubey Gola, Shivala, Shastrinagar and Vijaynagar. The team met hundreds of people, women and men and heard their experiences. The team also met heads of the administration, namely the commissioner, Shri VK Malhotra, the IGP, Shri Arun Kumar and Shri VS Bhullar. The team gave them a memorandum. 

We give below the report of the team. It is in three parts. The first section is the summary of the main findings and recommendations. The second is the discussions with the people of both communities in the affected areas. The third is a report of the discussions with the officials. (For reasons of space, only the first two parts are reproduced below – Editors).

Main findings:

1. From March 16–19, areas of Kanpur were engulfed in violence. According to official figures, 14 people were killed; the ADM, Shri Pathak, 12 persons from the minority community who were killed in police firing and one Hindu. Scores of people, almost all from the minority community, have been injured and several are still in hospital. Unofficial figures put the tally of those killed between 18 and 20. According to the administration, 273 people have been arrested and are in jail. Again, almost all are from the minority community.

2. Contrary to official propaganda, which seeks to paint the whole minority community as aggressors, in fact it is the minority community, which has been victim of the communal violence of loot and arson perpetuated by sections of the police and the PAC.

3. Following the burning of a copy of the Koran in Delhi and the publication of the photograph on the Internet, posters came up in Kanpur, which were highly provocative. There was no organisation’s name given but (the same was published) in the name of “Muslims of Kanpur” This itself should have alerted the administration. But it completely ignored the posters and took no action to nab the culprits. The first protest demonstration on March 16 was of a few hundred young people, which started from Halim College. The police lathi–charged the protesters when they tried to burn an effigy of the Prime Minister. The trouble started soon after. Even at that stage the administration could have controlled the situation if it had the will to do so.

4. The first offensive was taken by a section of the crowd, which had joined the initial protest after the afternoon namaaz. In the first instance, four mandirs were damaged in Choubey Gola; some shops belonging to the Hindu community were also burnt. All this happened between 1pm and 5pm. Even at this stage the administration totally failed to mobilise its forces. Choubey Gola is only a few furlongs away from the Kotwali (police headquarters), but it took over two hours for a police force to arrive. In fact, we were told that the entire administration was present in the Kotwali when all this was happening. This shows the extent of the callousness.

5. The incidents in Kanpur provide a most vivid example of how fundamentalist forces of both communities have strengthened each other. Clearly in the last few years Muslim fundamentalist groups have organised sections of young men of the community on the same lines as the Bajrang Dal. The growth of both fundamentalisms is a matter of grave concern and clearly any strategy to counter such forces will have to be directed at both groups. This is where the communal politics of the BJP–led administration has caused immense damage.

6. Instead of an impartial administration determined to stamp out attempts to cause communal trouble regardless of the organisation involved, what happened in Kanpur was the subversion of the administration itself by a communal agenda. Following the killing of the ADM, Shri Pathak, the PAC and a section of the police went on a rampage in minority dominated areas, targeting the whole community instead of isolating and taking action against those involved. There has been a mass violation of human rights in Kanpur. During the curfew period the PAC looted and burnt shops. In one incident, confirmed by the commissioner, looted articles were actually later removed under his supervision from a PAC van. In several incidents, groups of the Bajrang Dal accompanied by the police attacked minority shops and burnt several masjids. A whole cache of bombs and ammunition was found in the house of a BJP corporator, Janaki Gupta. Her sons are leaders of the BJP and Bajrang Dal. Only one of them namely Manoj Gupta has been arrested.

7. The people of Kanpur should be congratulated for not falling prey to the efforts of fundamentalists of both communities to incite communal riots. Everywhere we went we found examples of the courage of common people from both communities who gave shelter to their neighbours. There was no rioting in which common people of the two communities clashed. They refused to be provoked by all the malicious propaganda.


1. Removal of the PAC from Kanpur, action against those who were involved in the arson and looting of shops and homes of all the affected.

2. Compensation for the loss of crores of rupees incurred by the victims of both communities and immediate measures to help regain their livelihood.

3. Publicity to the people’s initiatives and examples of solidarity and help extended to each other by the common people of both communities.

4. Strong action against the fundamentalist groups of both communities. Release of all the innocents.

5. An end to all official statements which give one–sided and communally biased accounts of the occurrences, since such false propaganda only deepens the divide.

6. Relief to curfew affected area including water, sanitation and medical supplies.

Part II
People’s Voices
Sequence of Events — March 16th 
Parade,Yatim Khana:

This is the area where a big crowd of Muslims first burnt Friends Company, a paint shop owned by Shri Ganesh Dubey, who also happens to be a local Congress leader. We met his son Pushkar Dubey. He said that when he heard that a big crowd was coming to that area he locked his shop and went inside. He said that he and his family had taken shelter in the first instance with a Muslim family. The family stayed there for a few hours and then the police took them away. He found that in the same building where the shop was burnt, several Hindu and Muslim families were living together. 

We met some of the women like Indira Singh, Rani Gupta, Sudha Tandon. They introduced us to Anees Khatoon who they said had given shelter to the Dubeys. Anees also said that all the people in the crowd were from outside. She said that it was only natural for her to give shelter to the Dubeys. “I did not think of it twice. They have been our neighbours for years.”

Later we were told that there is a property dispute between Dubey and the owner of the building, who wants to get the Dubey’s out. Most of the ‘hathas’ in this area have changed hands over the last few years and Hindu families have sold their property. There were no other shops burnt in the immediate area although the hotel nearby had been stoned by the same crowd. The question arises whether the burning of the shop had something to do with the property dispute? The crowd also broke a “mathia” (small temple). They then went inside the area and dispersed.

Choubey Gola:
Incidents occurred in the afternoon of March 16th. Here it was a crowd of “outsiders” from Nai Sarak, which came into the area. Choubey Gola is a small Hindu pocket of five families surrounded by Muslim families. There is a cluster of four temples in the area. All were damaged. In one of the temples called Bandukeshwar, a small insert of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, the great freedom fighter and martyr of 1931, was also damaged. A shop called Sandeep Arts, which was a small signboard shop, was gutted by the crowd. The plastic from the shop was taken to the mandir and used to try and burn it. 

We met Sandeep Srivastava the owner. He said he heard that a crowd was coming and so he locked the shop and went to his house a few yards away. We also met Rakesh Kumar Sahu and his wife. Rakesh alias Buddhu sells vegetables in a cart. Not only was his cart bunt, but his entire house was totally gutted. He has nothing now to call his own. We met the residents of the area such as Ramesh Chand Gupta, Shyam Sundar, Pappo and Om Prakash Sukhla. They said it was only because of their Muslim neighbours that they were safe. 

We met all of them. Taj Mohammed, a brave young man who stood in front of the mandir trying to stop it being burnt and got injured in the process. Riaz Ahmed alias Laddan, who also tried to save the Mandir as well as the Hindus; Hafiz Mohammed Uman Malik, alias Munshiji, who gave shelter to Hindu families in his house. All the women of the Hindu families took shelter in his house. All the Hindus said that they had called the police several times. Though the area is very close to the Kotwali, the police force did not come. “If it had not been for our neighbours we do not know what would have happened”, they said. We could not meet any other Hindu woman, since most had left the area.

Across the road, at the end of Nai Sarak, is a Chandreshwar Hatha. This is known to be a stronghold of the Bajrang Dal. As soon as the news of the Choubey Gola incidents spread in this locality, the Bajrang Dal led a group along with the police to attack the Muslims in Nai Sarak. This was video filmed and shown by a local TV channel called ‘Latest Coverage.’ While the police was mounting an operation to control the crowd, the activities of the Bajrang Dal with their clearly communal agenda made the situation even more tense. When this was shown on TV it had a most inflammatory effect as it showed the partisanship and communal bias of the force. How could the Muslim community have any confidence in a force which was acting in this way?

We went to the area where the ADM, Shri CP Pathak was shot dead at around 5pm on the same day. The shots came from a building in the Nai Sarak side. He was shot just outside Choubey Gola, about fifty yards to the left. The public around the area told us that the ADM was shot by the police cross–firing. About an hour later, three Muslim tailors’ shops were burnt and looted in the Hindu dominated ‘P’ road area where Shri Pathak lived, when the news of his death reached there.

It is shocking that it took the administration, the then DM and SSP, over three hours to reach the hospital where his body had been taken. It is also shameful that the then DM made a statement saying that the ADM had not been posted at that spot, as though the administration had no responsibility. We tried to meet the family but were unable to do so, as they were not receiving visitors.

After this incident, offensive was taken by the PAC, a section of the police and the communal forces, which was organised by the RSS. It was a no holds barred attack on the minority community by the state and under its patronage the RSS outfits.

At the poultry market, which had been completely looted by the PAC and the police on the night of the 16th, we were surrounded by hundreds of women and men. They were in a state of desperation, shock and despair. Iqbal Ahmed, the secretary of the poultry market stated that all the shops had suffered severe damage and goods worth Rs 20 to 25 lakh had been looted by the PAC. It is most amazing that this looting was done during the curfew. There is no doubt that the looters were men in uniform. This is a Muslim dominated area and no one was out during the curfew except the police. 

Such was the damage that even five days after the incident the small shopkeepers are paralysed with shock. The women we met in this area were crying. They said that they had been ruined. Their entire savings had been wiped out as even cash had been looted from the shops. Sadly, till date there has been no survey conducted by the administration about the havoc wreaked in the area.

March 17th and 18th —
Shivalya, Choori–Chappal Market, Beconganj, Ready–made Market, Shastri Nagar:

During the course of the day, in the majority dominated areas, there were continuing attacks on the shops owned by Muslims and on masjids. These were carried out by RSS outfits, often with the connivance of sections of the police. The areas so attacked are Chowk Sarafa, Hatia, Sirki Mohal. The masjid there was attacked and damaged. In Shivalya one of the worst incidents took place. A whole row of bangle shops, owned mainly by Muslims, was entirely burnt. Chappal Market was also burnt, and the masjid located next to it was attacked. 

Here also it was some local Hindus who defended the masjid, just as the Muslims had tried to defend the mandirs. We met several Muslim shopkeepers including some of the Hindu shopkeepers in the area. In the late evening, the Takia Park area was also attacked and four shops belonging to Muslims were burned. The attackers tried to attack the masjid but the police and administration intervened.

Beconganj is one of the worst affected areas because of the criminal attacks by the police.  On the main road we went to a medical shop. We met a young woman, Mariam Uruj, daughter of the owner, ‘Mr Pintoo’. There were several women in the crowd who were residents of the area. They all said that Pintoo had always worked for communal harmony. The police had asked for his help on numerous occasions to diffuse tension. Mariam said that at on the morning of March 18th, the PAC men came, broke into the shop and smashed a number of medicines. The savagery of the force can be understood by this incident. What would they gain from breaking into a medical shop except the desire to prevent access to medicines of the population in the area. She said that approximately Rs 2 lakh worth of medicines had been destroyed. Weeping she asked, “If we who have always fought for communal harmony have been victimised by the police in this way, what is the message which will go to others?” She said that she saw senior police officers down the road. She called out to them from the widow. 
The IG and commissioner confirmed this later. After she called they intervened and recovered some of the looted medicines and other goods including chickens, dry fruit etc, from the PAC van.

At Baconganj we heard everyone bitterly complain about the vicious role played by SO Mohan Varma. Evidently he ordered PAC Battalion 33 to loot shops. We saw many bullet marks on the shutters of the houses and walls of houses and shops around the thana, including the residence of Mr Riaz Hussain Naqvi, retired home guard officer. We met a number of the women residents of these houses. Among them was Najma. Her house is exactly opposite the thana. She had got up early in the morning to the sound of police firing from the thana. As she went to shut the windows, a bullet was fired straight at her. She ducked and the bullet grazed her neck. She showed us the wound. We also picked up several spent bullets from the house and later showed them to the officials when we met them. There were many women in the area who had similar experiences during the police firing. The women were all weeping when we met them. They related their terror, their continuing fear, their difficulties in getting food. This created the worst kind of terror among the residents. In the same area, a resident, Mansur, complained that the PAC entered the homes to loot and threatened the women that if they resist they will come at night and settle the score. We also heard that one constable, Ram Avtar, killed a 12–year–old boy.

At the Ready Made market, we saw the pathetic ruins of 36 shops, which had been burnt, including the Diamond Lace House owned by Haji Mansoor Ilahi and Haseen Silk House owned by Md. Haseen. The police claimed that the fire here had been started by a short circuit. This seemed highly unlikely as the shops were burnt on both sides of the road. In this area a large number of kirana and grocery shops were also looted. We met some of the owners like Karim Bakshi, Md. Yunus, Md. Imran and Md. Ikhlaq. We met Sartaj Begum who was unable to go home since the last five days because of the curfew. She was in tears. There were several people who had been similarly caught.

We visited Shastri Nagar and Vijay Nagar. This is a Hindu dominated area. In one pocket in Shastri Nagar there are about five or six Muslim families. At round 9pm on the 18th, a group of men on motorcycles came into the area and threw some bombs outside the homes of the Muslims. Immediately, the neighbours came rushing out but by then the men had escaped. Urmila Srivastava, a women’s organisation activist, gave shelter to the Muslim families. We met Naseeran, Shammi Begum, Shahnaz, Farida Bano and some others. They said that they were completely terrorised and were only staying in the area because of the help and feeling of affection expressed by their neighbours like Urmilla.

We were told that bombs were also thrown at the nearby masjid at Vijaynagar. The police raided the house of one of the suspects, the son of a BJP corporator. The police found 13 bombs and other arms. Only Manoj Gupta was arrested.

Following the arrest, Bajrang Dal groups had gone around Geeta bazaar forcing the shops to close down. Muslim shops in this area were targeted and burnt down. Two stalls owned by Muslims were also burnt in this area.

We were told that in all the Hindu dominated areas rumours were being deliberately spread exaggerating the extent of damage to mandirs and to Hindu property. Rumours were also spread about attacks on Hindu women. This was deliberately done to incite passion. It is to the credit of the people that they refused to be provoked. The administration did not take a single step to diffuse the tension being deliberately spread in the Hindu dominated areas. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, April 2001. Year 8  No. 68, Investigation




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