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How a Hindu Woman's Death Became a Pretext for Attacking Muslims in Agra

BJYM members escalated the news of a Hindu woman's suicide in Agra. This was followed by targeting of Muslim shops.

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Video Editors: Rahul Sanpui, Puneet Bhatia

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 the very nature of rioting has changed under the Yogi rule. Large-scale riots, which require mammoth resources, have been replaced by low-key, low-intensity, but constant, frequent and sustained acts of violence, hate crimes and communal flare ups. Minor altercations or personal disputes are now often escalated into inter-community clashes, in order to keep the pot boiling, at all times.

In the run up to the 2022 UP polls, The Quint will bring stories that capture this trend, in a series called ‘Everyday Communalism’. This report is the first in the series.

18-year-old Amaan Beg was just wrapping up the chores at his family’s garment shop in Agra’s Shahganj market, when he heard loud sloganeering at a distance.

18-year-old Amaan Beg at his shop in Shahganj market

Fatima Khan/ The Quint

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The day, 12 November 2021, a Friday, had been a busy one for Beg, as they usually are at their shop that has been around for 22 years now.

Known for a vibrant mix of mithai shops, affordable clothes, and street food; hustle-bustle is common at the market.

“But I realised this is more than the normal commotion that we are used to,” Beg said. He left the counter and stepped just at the entrance of the shop and tilted his head to the left, the direction from which he heard the noise coming; only to realise that it wasn’t some ordinary ruckus, but a mob—one that was charging towards his shop.

Before Beg could make sense of what was happening, the mob leapt at his shop’s doorstep, began hurling abuses, pulling down its mannequins, wrecking the property and ravaging whatever it laid its eyes on, before slapping him and moving on to the rest of the market.

All of this happened in front of Beg’s eyes, but the teenager’s primary concern was that the mob shouldn’t barge inside the shop, as his family lived on the floor right above it.

A flustered Beg later called his uncle, Shahid, who tried to probe why the shop was suddenly subjected to violence. It turned out that earlier that day, in the colony just behind their shop, a 26-year-old woman had died by suicide.

“I couldn’t understand what that would possibly have to do with us,” Shahid said.

CCTV Footage Showing Violence by BJYM Members

The woman in question, Varsha Singh, had gotten married to her lover, Fahim Qureshi about 1.5 years ago, against her family’s will. She then moved into Qureshi’s residence in Chillipada region of Shahganj, where the rest of his family resided.

At around 6:23 pm, her brother Dushyant got a call from the husband’s family informing him about his sister’s death.

“The family never agreed to their marriage because he was a Muslim, and we knew it was bound to fail,” Dushyant told The Quint.

After receiving the call, Dushyant left for Chillipada. But he didn’t go by himself; he took along an old acquaintance, Shailu Pandit—the president of the BJP Yuva Morcha’s Agra vertical.

“I accompanied Dushyant so that he feels safe while confronting the family there. It was a Muslim-majority area but we assured him, nothing will happen, this is Yogi ji’s state,” Pandit told The Quint, adding that he took 10 other men with him.

Shailu Pandit, president of Agra BJP Yuva Morcha. 

Fatima Khan/ The Quint

Once at the residence, Pandit and his cadre indulged in sloganeering in the colony. In a day’s time, Faheem, his brother and father were all arrested by the Agra police and booked under IPC section charges of 304 B (dowry death) and 498 A (cruelty).

But once the BJYM members were done chanting slogans at the family’s residence, that very evening they went to the neighboring market to wreck the shops—Beg's shop was one among them.

“Yes, we slapped a few people there because they were abusing us. But we didn’t destroy any shop,” Pandit said.

But the CCTV footage of the market accessed by The Quint shows Pandit and his group going through market, and destroying the shops that day.

Screenshot of Shahganj market CCTV footage showing Pandit in the crowd.

Special Arrangement/ The Quint. 

'Full Arrangement for Ram Naam Satya Hai in Yogi's UP': BJYM leader

Along with Pandit, another man can be seen aggressively leading the crowd in the CCTV footage. The man is Gaurav Rajawat, the secretary of the BJYM Agra vertical. Both Pandit and Rajawat met The Quint at the BJP Braj region headquarters in Agra, where they spoke at length about their acts.

“Look, we are saying it even today, whoever hurts Hindu sentiments, or the Sanatan Dharam, we won’t spare them. We will teach them a lesson in whichever language they understand,” Rajawat proudly proclaimed.

Gaurav Rajawat at the BJP Braj Headquarters. 

Fatima Khan/The Quint

An FIR has been registered by the Agra police against Pandit, Rajawat and 9 others, based on Beg’s complaint, charging them with IPC sections of 395 (dacoity) and 322 (voluntarily causing grevious hurt). But they haven’t been arrested yet, nor do they say they have any regrets.

Gaurav Rajawat seen wrecking shops in the CCTV footage. 

Special Arrangement/The Quint

“It’s simple. This is Yogi ji’s state. If you do something of this sort, the first resort will be an immediate case registered against you, and then jail. But there is also full arrangement of ‘Ram Naam Satya Hai’ in Yogi ji’s rule,” he said. Here, Rajawat was using ‘Ram Naam Satya Hai’—a Hindu chant during a funeral prayer—as a euphemism for death.

Not just that, after creating the ruckus in the market, the BJYM members then also surrounded the Shahganj police station and and yelled slogans of ‘Jai Sri Ram’.

BJYM members outside the Shahganj police station. 

Special Arrangement/The Quint

Rajawat defended his moves as an attempt to “safeguard his community.”

How Local Cadre Carry Out 'Everyday Communalism'

Scholars Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar in their seminal book ‘Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh’ have described a shift in the nature of communalism and rioting in modern day Uttar Pradesh. The attempt is no longer to manufacture large-scale riots, they say, but “to create and sustain constant, low-key communal tension. This together with frequent, small, low-intensity incidents out of petty everyday issues that institutionalize communalism at the grass roots.”

The authors also say that another defining feature of this new model of ‘institutionalised everyday communalism’ is that it involves a “strategy” which is “politically more manageable” because the violence here is “to be carried out by the local cadres without the top leadership being involved.”

The local cadre carrying out the violence in this case, were Pandit, Rajawat and their supporters.

Muslim Shopkeepers Subject to 'Collective Punishment'

For the BJYM members, it didn’t matter that the shopkeepers had nothing to do with the actual case of the woman’s alleged suicide—the case in which the family members have already been arrested and the matter is being further investigated. For them, the Muslim shopkeepers had to be “taught a lesson” in line with their perspective of collective punishment.

For several days after the violence in the market in November, the shops remained shut, police and PAC officials had to be deployed to calm the situation. When The Quint visited the Shahganj market in late January, the tension was still palpable in the air.

Agra's Shahganj market. 

Fatima Khan/ The Quint

“There is still a lot of fear. Imagine if you are sitting in your shop, just like you do everyday, and a bunch of men show up, hurl abuses at you and damage your things. Wouldn’t you feel hopeless? I felt so scared that day,” Beg said.

Beg added that while the family has been running the shop at the exact spot for over 2 decades, nothing of this sort has happened before. "The atmosphere here was always good. It's only in the last few years, since these men have been given official posts by the BJP, that the situation has become tense," he said.

Despite this fear, Beg still filed the complaint against the men, not cowing down. “I thought that if I stay quiet, it will make it seem like we are actually guilty, when we did nothing wrong. We had nothing to do with the case of that suicide, I still don’t know who are the families involved in that, what that case is about. The only reason we were subjected to that violence is because we are Muslims,” Beg added.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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