Cameraperson: Ribhu Chattopadhyay
Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has claimed multiple times that there have been no riots under his rule in the state. But while traveling across the state, The Quint found that large-scale riots have been replaced by constant and frequent incidents of harassment, abuse and assault. These events are often recorded, videos of which are then dispersed and watched by many across the country, leaving a visual imprint of the trauma. The psychological impact of watching such events play out non-stop can be at par with hearing about a large-scale riot; the latter requiring far more resources. Such can be the far-reaching implications of now-normalised communal lynchings and beatings.
The Quint will bring stories that capture this trend, in a series called ‘Everyday Communalism’. This report is the fourth in the series.
It took seven-year-old Rojina Ahmad several months to shake off the dread and anxiety she felt on witnessing her father being beaten up and paraded on the streets by 10-15 odd men.
She still remembers the day vividly, like it was yesterday. As she waited for her ‘papa’ to return home after getting his e-rickshaw repaired, she stood under the peepul tree outside their basti in Kanpur, where she was born and brought up. The father, Afsar Ahmad, spotted her but before he could get to her, he was accosted by the mob of men, who began beating him up mercilessly.
Rojina couldn’t understand what was happening, but she intuitively knew she had to do something to protect her father. She ran and clung to him, begging the mob to let go of her father. But the mob couldn’t care less for the child’s pleas.
Days after the incident, which took place in August 2021, a video of it went viral, igniting outrage and condemnation.
In the video, the mob can be seen forcing Afsar to chant 'Jai Sri Ram', and he complied, only to get beaten up again. Rojina's cries can be heard too, as she pleads to the mob to spare him, but to no avail. Finally, a group of police officers escort Afsar and Rojina into their car hurriedly, rescuing them from the mob.
The 'Tussle' Which Made Afsar its Unfortunate Victim
The men belonged to the Bajrang Dal, and were "punishing" Afsar, for a tussle he had nothing to do with.
Turns out, a month before the incident, two of Afsar's neighbours – Rani and Quresha – had gotten into a tussle. While Rani accused Quresha and her son of trying to convert her daughter, or "love jihad", the latter denied the allegations. Instead, Quresha alleged that Rani got upset when her son's rickshaw brushed past Rani's.
Both parties have filed FIRs against each other, and the case is being investigated by the Kanpur police. But Afsar wasn't related to the issue to begin with. "It had nothing to do with him, our tussle goes long back," Quresha said.
Speaking to The Quint, Afsar recalled the day he was assaulted. "I was just returning home when I saw this Bajrang Dal rally taking place. Rani was standing with them and pointed towards me and yelled 'woh dekho Mullah. Woh apna muh kholega' (Look at that Mullah. He will open his mouth). The men immediately pounced on me and began beating me," Ahmad said.
“Afsar became a victim of an old tussle between the two neighbours," Kanpur South Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Anil Kumar had said earlier in a statement.
The petty tussle, that could have been resolved easily, was blown out of proportion and Afsar became an unfortunate victim of it.
'Hindu Society Knows How to Pick Up Weapons': Bajrang Dal
Bajrang Dal members who were involved in the attack on Afsar were arrested later that day, but released on bail soon after.
Speaking to The Quint, Dileep Singh, the Bajrang Dal Kanpur South President, said it was Rani who came to him accusing her neighbours of "love jihad".
"If the police and administration don’t help, then the Bajrang Dal is here. We know how to protect our Hindu families, by ourselves," he said.
"If the Hindu society knows how to read religious texts, it also knows how to pick up weapons," he added.
Aman Gupta, one of the Bajrang Dal members, who was earlier arrested for the assault said the men were ordered by the organisation's 'high command' to reach the spot.
"We got a message from the high command to go and gather there to protect our sister. That’s when we went there and began our rally against the Muslim family," he said.
'They Would Have Killed Me & My Daughter That Day'
For Afsar, the most long-lasting trauma isn't just of his assault, but of having had his daughter witness it in front of her eyes.
"I was so terrified for my daughter in that moment; what if she loses her mind on watching her father being beaten up?" he said.
"I am glad the police took me away. Or I would have been set on fire that day along with my daughter. Both of us could have died that day," Afsar added, holding back his tears.
Rojina is still struggling to make sense of what happened with her father. "When he was being beaten, I kept asking the men to let him go. If they didn't, something could have happened to him. I would have cried a lot then," Rojina said.
Born in UP's Junaidpur, Afsar was brought up among Hindus. "This was unfathomable to me. I know this today that the only reason this happened with me is because of my beard and skullcap," he said.
Eight months after the incident, Afsar said he still struggles to get riders for his e-rickshaw, with many calling him a "terrorist".
"They say I am a terrorist, so they won't sit in my rickshaw. Survival has become a challenge now," he said.
Update: After this report was published, the Kanpur police replied with this tweet, stating that an investigation in the matter is ongoing.