How Unemployment Inflamed Hindu-Muslim Tension in Kasganj

A backward district by all accounts, Kasganj has no industries of any worth.

Published
India
6 min read
Hindus and Muslims acknowledge that growing joblessness, coupled with aggressive political mobilisation among the youth of the majority community, is at the root of the emerging polarisation.
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At 11:30 am, Veer Abdul Hameed trijunction in Kasganj’s Baddunagar neighbourhood is abuzz. Clutches of young men in cheap, slim-fit denims and skull caps hang around small shops, chattering among themselves. Others stream out of the narrow and dingy bylanes that separate the unending warrens of brick-built hovels. Now and then, motocycle-borne men zip past, greeting friends and acquaintances with assalaam alaikums.

Rampant Unemployment in Bylanes of Kasganj

As the minutes roll on, the trijunction turns into a beehive of human activity. In the midst of this hum, Mohammad Shareef, his soiled skull cap in place, arranges the packets of chips and crisps and an assortment of plastic containers stuffed with biscuits, even as he speaks to a prospective customer who picks his gutka-stained teeth with a matchstick.

Adjusting the thick lenses, Shareef points to the solitary saffron bunting hanging on an overhead cable before saying, “26 January se woh bhagwa jhanda wahin ka wahin hai.” The small flag is the only physical evidence of the communal violence which sparked at Veer Abdul Hameed crossing before turning into a massive Hindu-Muslim conflagration on Republic Day in Kasganj town, killing a 19-year-old youth and injuring scores.

Muslims emerging from a mosque after evening prayers. 
Muslims emerging from a mosque after evening prayers. 
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

While the saffron bunting is a grim reminder of the frenzy of competitive patriotism that led to the riot in this clangorous and dust-choked UP town which has otherwise been an oasis of communal amity, both Hindus and Muslims acknowledge that growing joblessness, coupled with aggressive political mobilisation among the youth of the majority community, is at the root of the emerging polarisation.

Yahan to sab free hain (most people have no work here),” says 23-year-old Azhar Ghani. 

A B.Com graduate, Ghani wanted to work for an insurance company where the salary offer of Rs 7,500 per month “would have been ideal”.

Farman Akhtar, a graduate in Mathematics, and Azhar Ghani (right), both college graduates who work as SIM operators in a Kasganj Jio store.
Farman Akhtar, a graduate in Mathematics, and Azhar Ghani (right), both college graduates who work as SIM operators in a Kasganj Jio store.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

When he didn’t get the job, he had to fall back on his father who feeds a mid-sized family solely from an income in welding metal. “For a few months, abba gave me Rs 15 per day as pocket money. More recently, however, I have managed to get the job of a SIM operator at a local Jio store,” Ghani says, recalling his struggle that began in 2011 when, still a student, he wanted to join the UP police. “But they demanded a Rs 50,000 bribe which obviously I could not dish out,” Ghani said.

By this time, a small crowd of young men had gathered at the very spot where the Muslims of Baddunagar had unfurled the tricolour on 26 January. A rather soft-spoken Muqeem Ahmed (32) has put the riot behind him, which according to him was a reflection of the frustrations of a generation – Muslims and Hindus – with little or no access to either government or private jobs. Ahmed holds an MBA and an MA (in Urdu) degree which “have not helped me land a decent job”. After several attempts to get a well-paying job went in vain, Ahmed took up work in a local drug store where “I think I am now stuck for good”.

After Yogi, Discrimination in Job Market?

 A typical Muslim neighbourhood in Kasganj.
A typical Muslim neighbourhood in Kasganj.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

The Muslims of Kasganj allege that ever since the Yogi Adityanath government came to power in UP they have been “feeling” an acute sense of discrimination on the already grim job market. A backward district by all accounts, Kasganj has no industries of any worth. The state’s education system is in such shambles that it produces an ever-increasing number of school and college dropouts who are not employable.

The unemployment rate in UP (urban 6.5 percent, rural 5.8 percent) is higher than the national average (5.6 percent).

Burqa-clad women at a Muslim-owned shop in a Kasganj market.
Burqa-clad women at a Muslim-owned shop in a Kasganj market.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

According to a 2017 ILO study, “the demand-side scenario of (the) labour market has been constrained by slow pace of investment in labour-intensive manufacturing apart from highly skewed industrial development in the state. The micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) face several problems, such as lack of working capital…and shortage of skilled labour”.

Five years ago, another study concluded that UP faced a “precariousness of employment,” a condition in which one-quarter of workers were casual while another 30 percent were contractual.

Hindu traders in a Kasganj market.
Hindu traders in a Kasganj market.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Although the economic condition of Hindus, especially traders, is far better than the Muslims, unemployment and/or unemployability is rife even among the majority community.

Sushil Gupta, father of Chandan Gupta – the youth who died of a bullet wound during the Kasganj riot on 26 January.
Sushil Gupta, father of Chandan Gupta – the youth who died of a bullet wound during the Kasganj riot on 26 January.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

At 19, Chandan Gupta, who died of a bullet wound the day the riots broke out in Kasganj, had practically dropped out of college and was wholly involved in a small organisation of Hindus called Sankalp Foundation which, according to his father Sushil Gupta, was involved in “samaj seva”.

Chandan would never discuss joining any job, though he would say he wanted to join the army.
Sushil Gupta

Chandan’s elder brother Vivek (23), who holds a diploma in Pharmacy, tried – and failed – to get a government job for three years. Then last year, in desperation he “approached” a community leader who helped him land the job of a medical representative.

Vivek Gupta, the elder brother of Chandan Gupta. 
Vivek Gupta, the elder brother of Chandan Gupta. 
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

“Had Chandan been working or had he focused on studying, he would have been amongst us today. A regular job, whatever might have been the salary, would have diverted his mind from the hateful politics that he got into,” Vivek rues, adding that several young men in his age group left Kasganj a couple of years ago to work elsewhere, especially in Delhi.

Kirti Gupta, the sister of Chandan Gupta.
Kirti Gupta, the sister of Chandan Gupta.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Chandan’s elder sister Kirti (22) has been preparing to appear for a competitive examination for the post of a bank probationary officer. “But after this family tragedy I do not know how my future may pan out,” Kirti says, adding that some of her female friends in Gali Shivalay, the densely-populated neighbourhood off Nadarayi Gate Road, where the Guptas live, are also “making efforts” to secure “some job or the other”.

The grieving womenfolk of Chandan Gupta’s family.
The grieving womenfolk of Chandan Gupta’s family.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

One of Chandan’s friends, Ayush Sharma, whose Royal Enfield motorcycle he had borrowed the night before he was killed, went missing the day the riots broke out. Ayush’s friends say that as the “president” of Sankalp Foundation he was totally involved in the activities of the organisation and “little else”.

Ayush, according to local journalists, would spend a great deal of his time on social media, allegedly posting anti-Muslim messages.

Jobless And Forced into ‘Darker’ Means

In addition to joblessness in and around Kasganj, the Yogi government’s decision to shut down so-called “unlicensed” abattoirs in the town cost many Muslims their jobs, causing widespread anger in the community.

For years, the general joblessness among Muslims forced many of them to fall back on “darker” means of employment, including the satta bazar network, the trafficking of drugs and other not-so-respectable sources of income.

Dr Mohammad Farooq at his shop.
Dr Mohammad Farooq at his shop.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/The Quint)

Most Muslim elders of Kasganj town such as Dr Mohammad Farooq admit this, though they also allege that the “peace and harmony was designed to be disturbed” by political “vested interests” who feel emboldened because “their” government is in power in Lucknow. “With no industry and jobs, the youngsters of both the communities can be potentially mobilised. And that is precisely what is happening in Kasganj today,” Farooq, who owns a store that sells automobile batteries and other electronic appliances, says.

Farooq and other local Muslim businessmen such as Mohammad Rashid agree that while increasing joblessness and underemployment has made both Hindus and Muslims vulnerable to divisive politics, some educated people belonging to the majority community unhesitatingly claim that “line between the two communities was drawn since the BJP government assumed power in UP,” indicating that as much as the party or its affiliates have the power to prevent clashes, they are also in a position to inflame violence.

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