Kasganj Violence: Fact-Finding Missions & Competing Narratives
 A bus set on fire by an irate mob as two communities clashed in the Kasganj district of Uttar Pradesh on 26 January 2018. 
A bus set on fire by an irate mob as two communities clashed in the Kasganj district of Uttar Pradesh on 26 January 2018. (Photo: IANS)

Kasganj Violence: Fact-Finding Missions & Competing Narratives

A week after communal violence broke out in Kasganj, where a ‘Tiranga Yatra’ rally organised by the ABVP and the Sankalp Foundation rode through a Muslim locality on Republic Day – ultimately leading to the death of a yatri, Chandan Gupta – two independent fact-finding missions visited the site of the violence in an attempt to uncover what really happened.

One fact-finding team, comprising senior journalists and activists under the platform 'Unite Against Hate' (UAH) and headed by former Inspector General, Uttar Pradesh Police, SR Darapuri, visited Kasganj on 2 February.

The other team of the All-India People’s Forum (AIPF), led by activist Kavita Krishnan, went to Kasganj three days later. Both teams say they spoke with police as well as with members of the Hindu and Muslim communities in the locality. However, neither team spoke to the Tiranga Yatra participants or their families.

Banojyotsna Lahiri, a member of the UAH team, told The Quint that the yatris were “in hiding” and that the team did not make any real efforts to find them. On the other hand, AIPF’s Krishnan said they were obstructed from reaching out to the yatris:

We were going to visit Chandan Gupta’s family and to talk to his neighbours, but the Kasganj police escorted us out of the area before we could complete our fact-finding trip.
Kavita Krishnan to The Quint

Large parts of both reports are at odds with the versions issued by the police, and those of right-wing publications.

Both fact-finding reports claim that the Kasganj violence was not spontaneous but organised, and that the police played a partisan, if not an outright communal role.

The AIPF report calls it “not a ‘clash’ but a politically motivated communal attack on minorities.” Here's how the competing narratives compare:

How Did the Violence Break Out?

The AIPF’s report quotes Raj, the son of a rickshaw-puller in the area of the violence who was arrested, as saying that the confrontation began when the ABVP and the Sankalp Foundation members demanded that Muslims hoisting the tricolour at Abdul Hamid Chowk also hoist the saffron flag on 26 January. According to Raj’s testimony, the yatris returned later “armed with guns and sticks” and went to the area where Chandan Gupta’s body was found.

The UAH report states that the flag-hoisting ceremony was disrupted by the Tiranga Yatra, and was followed by firing and violence. It says the Tiranga yatris deliberately chose a route for which they didn’t have permission, in an attempt to provoke communal tensions. When asked why a change in route constituted an attempt to polarise, UAH’s Lahiri told The Quint:

When a rally is going from a Hindu locality through a Muslim one, police always deny permission; it is never granted. So, for them to take the rally through a Muslim locality without permission shows an intent to create trouble.
Banojyotsana Lahiri to The Quint

The police’s version of events, as told to Hindustan Times, is that:

The clashes took place while two dozen youngsters were driving through a locality on motorcycles. Members of a certain community objected to certain slogans that were being raised.
RP Singh, Kasganj District Magistrate, to HT

Other publications have different versions. The Indian Express reported that RSS publication Panchjaya alleged that the violence was “pre-planned”, but by Muslims. Another right-wing publication, Organiser, claimed in an editorial that the killing of Chandan Gupta was “premeditated”. The RSS publication quoted Tiranga Yatra participants as saying that an advocate named Mohd Munazir, thought to be close to the Samajwadi Party, stopped the Yatra from entering the Muslim locality where the flag-hoisting ceremony was being conducted.

The Organiser editorial alleges that this was an “anti-national” ploy to stop a “patriotic rally”, and that Muslims began shouting “Pakistan zindabad”. The clashes and Chandan Gupta’s death occurred as a reaction to this, the editorial states.

All sides agree that the Tiranga Yatra participants raised slogans like "Vande mataram" and "Bharat mata ki jai" – which can be heard in viral videos of the Yatra. However, Lahiri told The Quint that the yatris also raised other threatening and communal slogans against Muslims. These slogans are too inflammatory to be published.

Chandan Gupta’s Death

The AIPF and UAH reports say that locals were not able to confirm whether Chandan Gupta was shot in the area around GIC College, as was reported. Lahiri said that residents refused to go on record about the death, but that several residents believed that Gupta’s death was the result of “accidental firing”.

The Organiser editorial states that Gupta was shot at by someone from a rooftop after he refused to chant "Pakistan zindabad", as he was allegedly instructed to by a Muslim individual in the area. He was killed because he shouted “Bharat mata ki jai” and “Vande mataram” instead, the editorial states.

Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) of Agra, Ajay Anand, stated that Gupta was shot at from a height. Citing the postmortem report, he told the Times of India:

The shot that killed Gupta was probably taken from a height, as the postmortem report suggests the bullet penetrated his body from a high trajectory.
Ajay Anand, ADGP, Agra

The fact-finding teams say that there were no signs of physical confrontation – blood, bullets, bullet marks – in the area where the police say Gupta was shot.

Both reports contradict the police’s theory that Saleem Javed, a shopkeeper in the locality, killed Gupta.

What About Saleem Javed?

The UAH report claims that the police has provided no evidence to support the involvement of Saleem Javed. Both reports claim to have collected photographic evidence of Saleem participating in a Republic Day celebration at 9:30 am at the Ch Mehdi Hasan School, from where he left to pick up his children from their school when the news of the clashes at Abdul Hamid Chowk broke.

"So, he was reportedly not at the scene of the original confrontation. Hence, locals argue, he had no run-in with Gupta and the group,” the UAH report stated. Kavita Krishnan told The Quint that the police needs to thoroughly probe the timeline of Javed’s movement on the day:

Our team (AIPF) has seen and verified photos and a video (sourced from locals) of Saleem at the school. But that is in the morning. It remains for the police to ask people in the school till when he was there, etc. We are just putting this information out there for further investigation.

The UAH and AIPF teams both mention a discrepancy between the police’s version and the photo of Gupta’s bullet wound.

Lahiri elaborated on this to The Quint:

There is blackening around the bullet wound (in his arm), which indicates firing from very close range. 
Banojyotsna Lahiri to The Quint

This claim appears to go against the police’s account that Gupta was fired upon from far away, perhaps a rooftop. Anand Kumar, a senior police officer in charge of law and order told NDTV:

(Saleem) fired from either the roof or the balcony of his house, as per statements of some witnesses. Some weapons were recovered in the last two days and we are hoping to do a ballistics match between them and the bullet found in Gupta’s body.

Krishnan, on the other hand, told The Quint she had not seen the postmortem report. However, she stated the distance of Saleem’s house from the tehsil where Gupta was allegedly shot is too great to be plausible, and that several buildings would have come in the way of the purported gunshot.

UAH & AIPF Allege Police Lapses

Both reports allege police bias in registering cases and investigating damage.

The UAH team found that there was heavy police presence in Muslim localities, where freedom of movement was restricted, while Hindu localities did not see a police presence. The teams say they found no evidence of CCTV camera footage being used to track the culprits who looted and burned Muslim shops.

There appears to be “no investigation,” Lahiri told The Quint. Shopkeepers and locals were quoted in the UAH report as saying that the police had not visited their shops or contacted them at all, let alone to gathered CCTV footage, Lahiri said.

Krishnan told The Quint that the authorities have not sought CCTV footage from St Joseph’s School, which could provide an alibi for the rickshaw-driver who was arrested after the clash. The school authorities are willing to release the footage but have not been approached yet, she says.

It must be noted, however, that none of the fact-finding missions spoke to members of the Tiranga Yatra, or the ABVP or Sankalp Foundation, nor visited Hindu localities outside of the Abdul Hamid Chowk area. In the same vein, the Organiser editorial too did not contain quotes from residents of the locality, though they appear to line up with the police’s findings. Each of their conclusions must be taken with a pinch of salt.

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