The UP government has slapped stringent NSA against Salim, Nasim and Wasim when they were granted bail by the Allahabad High Court earlier.
Their family members and counsel are puzzled at the development, which took place over seven months after the incident that claimed one life and ripped apart the social fabric of the western UP district.
The ground the district magistrate of Kasganj – RP Singh – has given in 11 pages for invoking the NSA makes it seem like the violence in the “unauthorised” ‘Tiranga Rally’ was orchestrated by the minority community, and what followed after that was just a natural reaction.
He alleged that the three brothers, along with his accomplice, got upset with the chanting of slogans ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ (Long live motherland) and ‘Vande Mataram’ (Mother, I bow to thee) on the occasion of the Republic Day, and chose the path of violence to disrupt the ‘Tiranga Rally’ with an aim to create fear and hegemony. “By disrupting the rally, you fanned communal atmosphere tension that resulted in large scale violence. Because of your act, the state government had to bear a huge financial loss,” Singh said in the ground cited for invoking the NSA.
The trio has been charged under sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapons), 149 (unlawful assembly), 341 (wrongful restraint), 336 (endangering life or personal safety of others), 307 (attempt to murder), 302 (murder), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), apart from Section 2 National Flag Code. Days after they were granted bail by the high court, the state government slapped the NSA against them so that they cannot walk free anytime soon.
Kasganj violence took place on January 26, 2018, when 22-year-old Chandan Gupta died in communal clashes that broke out in a Muslim-majority locality of Baddu Nagar during an unauthorised ‘Tiranga Rally’ organised by youth affiliated with right wing groups to mark the 69th Republic Day.
On the morning of the fateful day, the residents of Baddu Nagar had put up chairs at Veer Abdul Hameed trisection in the colony in preparation for a flag hoisting ceremony in the morning. At around 10 am, a group of around 100 bike-borne men – allegedly associated with a local students’ group called Sankalp Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that comprises of members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – “forcibly” tried to pass through the trisection with saffron flags along with tricolour allegedly chanting slogans such as ‘Hindustan Men Rahna Hoga, Vande Mataram Kahna Hoga (If you have to stay in India, you have to chant Vande Mataram)’.
The men insisted that the chairs be removed so that their procession, which was organised with “no permission” from the district administration, could pass. When the residents objected and reportedly asked the bikers to participate in the function, the group of men refused. A heated argument took place and a scuffle broke out. The participants of the rally had to flee leaving their bikes. After around half an hour, bullets were exchanged near Bilram Gate area, around one kilometre away from Baddu Nagar. Two persons – Chandan Gupta and Md Naushad – sustained bullet injuries. While Gupta died in the district hospital, Naushad was referred to a hospital in Aligarh for better treatment.
In the evening, Gupta’s body was reportedly brought home draped in the tricolour to send a message that he died for the nation. Communal tensions were further fuelled by inflammatory speeches by several BJP leaders, including all three BJP MLAs from Kasganj district and the constituency MP, Rajveer Singh, who reached the town almost immediately.
Mob returning from Gupta’s cremation allegedly set several shops and other properties belonging to the Muslim community on fire. Two mosques were set ablaze and an ‘Eidgaah’ – an open place where Muslims perform Eid prayers – was vandalised.
Claims and contradictions
Apparantly trying to justify organising the “unauthorised” Tiranga Rally, DM Singh – while citing ground for invoking the NSA – writes, “The celebrations of the national festival of Republic Day began in Kasganj district with prabhat phedi (a cultural procession organised to mark the Republic Day) amid fun and frolic on January 26, 2018. Flag hoisting and other cultural activities were taking place in all offices, schools and colleges. Filled with nationalist fervor, few youth riding on 30-40 motor bikes took out a procession in the name of ‘Tiranga Rally’ and were chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’. They were carrying national flags.”
He perhaps forgot to mention the district administration’s own statement given earlier that said that the ‘Tiranga Rally’ was “unauthorised”, and no prior permission for was sought. The word “unauthorised” has not been mentioned even once in the entire argument given in the support of slapping NSA against the three brothers.
He goes on to allege that the “police control room released a message for Kotwali police station, Kasganj, at around 9:30 am informing the officers that a group of 100-150 people have gathered at Bilram Gate and they have entered into fight. They are raising slogans against each other” (…) A police force led by police station incharge and circle officers of police stations Kasganj, Soro, Patiali, Sahawar, Dholna and Ampur reached the spot along with circle officer (city) and additional superintendent of police and tried to pacify the crowd. On the streets located between Bilram Gate-Kasganj Kotwali stretch, the crowd was challenging the other community (the Muslims) telling them that they are the people who have disrupted their bike rally. Meanwhile, the other community (the Muslims) started pelting stones and firing bullets on those who were taking part in the ‘Tiranga Rally’ and the police men, which resulted in the injury of a constable identified as Ankit Kumar,” he said.
The district magistrate – as alleged by the lawyer and the family of the accused – has hinted here that the violence was initiated by the Muslim community, and it followed rioting, arson, vandalism and looting by the other community as a “natural reaction”.
“Is prakar, jan samanya ka yeh ghussa samajik-dharmik sadbhav par khatre ke charam chanon men bhavnaon ke utkat aaveg ka parinam tha ki shahar men charon oor atyant visham paristhiti paida ho gayi (In this way, a critical situation emerged in the city because of common people’s anger – a threat to the social and religious harmony – as a result of hurting their sentiments),” read the documents.
The same story was narrated to Newsclick by the majority side when its reporter had travelled through the district two days after the riots.
Talking about the incident that took place in Baddu Nagar, the officer has not questioned the intention of riding into the Muslim-majority colony, which had reportedly not happened ever before. In fact, the district magistrate is even silent on the new practice of taking out such processions in the district.
While describing what actually happened at Baddu Nagar in the morning of the fateful day, Singh again appears to be supporting the chain of incidents as narrated by the other side. Going by the DM’s narration of the incident, it appears that the residents of Baddu Nagar refused to give way to the ‘peaceful’ bike rally. He forgot to mention – as evident by the video footage available – that the bikers were aggressive and raising slogans, visibly targeting a particular community. In addition, the ground cited by the district magistrate
is talking about the presence of tricolour in the bike rally, but it is silent on saffron flags that can be seen in the footages available.
The DM appears to have accepted the allegation leveled by the other side in entirety when he says that the youth participating in the Tiranga Rally were “surrounded and stopped” by Muslims, including Salim and Wasim, at Baddu Nagar. “…the national flags (the participants of the rally were holding) were snatched and thrown and slogans such as ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ (Long Live, Pakistan) and ‘Hindustan Murdabad’ (Down with India) were raised. Aiming weapons at the participants of the rally, they were threatened: ‘Is Road Se Nikalna Hai, To Pakistan Zindabad Kahna Hoga’ (if you want to pass through this road, you will have to chant long live Pakistan),” Singh said claiming that the probe has established this.
Interestingly, the allegation regarding this particular slogan has not even been levelled by the other side. An FIR in this regard filed by deceased Chandan Gupta’s father says that his son and other participants of the bike rally were allegedly made to chant ‘Pakistan Zindabad’.
The DM has held Nasim, his two brothers and their followers accountable for the aftermath, and has time and again tried to say that they are a possible threat to the communal and social harmony of the district, if they are allowed to walk free, and therefore, they should stay behind bars.
“Since you have secured bail from the honorable Allahabad High Court, we feel – in accordance with the evidence on record and the investigation carried out by the administration – that if you come out of jail, you will try to influence the witnesses and create a serious threat to the society,” the district magistrate said.
Notably, the trio has no criminal record – a fact that has been accepted by the police at different occasions. The three brothers are established businessmen of the district with good reputation in the society and the business fraternity. Then how can they be a threat to the society?
DM is not above HC judges
Stating that the district magistrate is not above the High Court that had granted bail to his clients, the trio’s counsel Advocate Md Khalid told Newsclick, “Invoking NSA against Nasim, Salim and Wasim is nothing but a counter blast of the local administration. The DM is not above the HC judges who had allowed my clients to walk free. In violation of the court order, the administration delayed the verification process of those who stood sureties for eight days and slapped the NSA. The same set of argument was used against them in the court, which rejected and accepted our appeal. Despite court’s order, the government does not want them to walk free which is against Article 21 of the Constitution of the country. We will challenge it tooth and nail and once again secure the release.”
He added that it was an “engineered” riot, and his clients had nothing to do with that. “They have been framed. Let the case come to trial, it will fall flat in the court,” he said.
When asked about the argument that they are a threat to the society, he said, “The whole argument is baseless, and is far from reality.”
Explaining that the brothers had no role to play in Gupta’s killing, he said, “The police allege that Salim aimed and fired at the deceased, but there is no recovery of the bullet’s cartridge from the spot. According to the postmortem report, there was an entry wound, but no exit wound. It means the bullet should be inside the body but it was not found there as well. In addition, the location of three brothers were different at the time of incident. Wasim was not present in the town on January 26, Nasim – who has been suffering from depression for a long time – was present at his home and Salim was in a prize distribution ceremony at a school near Bilram Gate. Let the forensic report come, everything will be crystal clear.”
NSA – a tool to settle political scores?
The Uttar Pradesh police has invoked NSA against 188 people in past, over one year, said a Press Trust of India report published in The Times of India. Under the stringent law, a person can be detained without bail or trial, and the authorities need not disclose the grounds of detention if they believe that the detainee can act in a way that poses a threat to the security of the state/country or maintenance of public order.
The famous case of Dalit activist and Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan is one of such cases. He was jailed in connection with the violence in Saharanpur in August last year. The state government slapped NSA against him hours after he was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court in November, 2017. He was charged with 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapons) and 153A (promoting enmity between two groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.) of the IPC among others.
Ravan – a law graduate – formed Bhim Army Ekta Mission in July 2015 to empower Dalits through education. However, the group, which was silently working among Dalits and runs at least 300 schools in Saharanpur, shot to national prominence because of its protest against the atrocities against Dalits in the western Uttar Pradesh district.