In the last five years there have been rising incidents of economic boycott and harassment towards pheriwalas, vendors and workers from the Muslim community in Uttar Pradesh.
According to a report by Centre for Development Policy and Practice (CDPP), unemployment rate in Muslims increased by 9.95% from 2018 to 2019 in the state. This is higher than the national average of 7.23%.
This economic boycott didn’t happen by accident, but was actively called upon by many. BJP MLA Suresh Tiwari asked people to not buy vegetables from Muslim vendors in April 2020, and in January 2021 Swami Anand Swaroop, president of Varanasi-based outfit Shankaracharya Parishad implored an audience at a public seminar to socially and economically boycott Muslims.
In the run up to the 2022 UP polls, The Quint will bring stories that capture the worrying implications of this phenomenon, in a series called ‘Everyday Communalism’. This report is the second in the series.
Bulandshahr's Shoe Seller Shuts Shop Due to Harassment, Despite Being in Debt
"There is fear. I stopped going to my stall after that incident," said Nasir Ali, a roadside vendor in Gulauthi in Bulandshahr district of UP.
In January 2021 Nasir was harassed, allegedly by the members of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu right-wing outfit for selling shoes with 'Thakur'-- an upper caste surname written on the soles.
A video surfaced online in January 2021 which showed Nasir trying to protect his shoes as a few people force him to throw them away.
A case, ironically, was filed against Nasir by the police after this incident.
"The police slapped me on the way while taking me to the station. They told the Bajrang Dal people that you have identified the right person to bring to us."Nasir Ali
"I was so tensed that night, I couldn't sleep. So, I asked someone to send that video to me on my mobile phone, and I watched it," said Taufika, Nasir's wife.
Nasir had taken a loan of Rs 20,000 from which he had bought these shoes for Rs 16,000. He was able to sell barely anything before he was compelled to shut shop. It has been over a year now and Nasir still hasn't been able to repay this loan, he is trying to pay back in small installments.
Nasir has no work nowadays. He says he has no hope of putting up a stall again for fear of this incident repeating itself.
"The kind of government that is there now, we didn't even file a complaint against the (accused) out of fear. Mediapersons suggested we file a case and that they are with us but we didn't file a case,” said Nasir.
"It takes money to even think about these things. What if they tried to get back at me once I filed the case?"
Harassed Dosa Seller Changes Stall Name from ‘Sri Nath’ to ‘American’ Dosa Corner
In Mathura’s Vikas Market, 32-year-old Aved Khan hasn’t moved on from the trauma of being humiliated at the spot where he sells freshly made Dosas.
In August 2021, on a busy afternoon, a group of 10-odd men, walked up to his stall, ‘Sri Nath Dosa Corner’ and asked him his name. When they learnt that Aved and his brothers run that hugely popular dosa stall, they began yelling slogans of ‘Krishna Bhakt tum yudh karo, Mathura ko ab shudh karo’ (Worshipers of Krishna, wage a war! Cleanse Mathura now).
The men then went on to vandalise the stall by taking down its board, and accusing Aved of taking away business from Hindu shopkeepers.
“Why don’t you put your (Muslim) name on the stall? Put Allah or Muhammad’s name. Why are you putting Sri Nath ji’s name despite being Muslims? All the Hindu brothers who don’t want to eat at your stall will come to your stall thinking you are Hindu,” the men can be heard saying in a video that went viral after the incident.
When The Quint visited Vikas Market in January, we found that while Aved and his brother were still running the dosa stall, they had changed its name from ‘Sri Nath Dosa Corner’ to ‘American Dosa Corner’.
“We wanted to live tension-free. So went for a completely different name,” Aved said, while serving his customers. Aved spent about six thousand in renovating the stall, a significant amount for him. Despite continuing his business, Aved said he can never forget the fear he felt that day. He has been running his stall from that spot for over 5 years now, but feels very alienated now.
“Ours is the only shop run by Muslims in this entire lane. No shopkeeper in the entire lane came to our rescue that day, or even tried speaking up for us. They seemed all too happy to see us suffer and humiliated like that."Aved
Days after the video of the incident went viral, the Mathura police arrested one Shrikant Sharma, the city president of International Hindu Parishad, a breakaway faction of the Vishva Hindu Parishad. While he was let off on bail, another Hindutva vigilante who had accompanied Sharma in the vandalism, Rajesh Tripathi spoke to The Quint justifying his act.
“Look, all religious Hindu families know they aren’t allowed to even drink water at a Muslim’s house. If I eat at a Muslim’s Dhaba, I am not able to forgive myself,” he said.
Tripathi further accused Aved and his brothers running the ‘Sri Nath Dosa Corner’ of “economic jihad.”
“Hindu businesses are not working, and these people are running their shops in our name,” he said.
‘License not being Renewed’: Agra’s Meat Sellers
Since CM Yogi Adityanath came to power in 2017, there has been a concerted crackdown on slaughterhouses and meat sellers. But in Agra’s Nagina market, a popular meat market in the city, the butchers complain of not being able to have their licenses renewed for 5 years now.
“The administration has completely halted the renewal of our licenses. Earlier, it used to be a smooth process, but now all our applications for license renewal are rejected,” said Bablu Balwan, a 65-year-old butcher in Nagina market, Agra.
Balwan said that because they don’t have licenses anymore, the meat sellers are virtually functioning illegally, making it easy for the police officials to harass them. “Every single meat seller you see in this market is working without a license. So police officers now come and ask for Rupees 1000 every month to allow us to continue to run our shops,” he said.
Every single meat seller in the market had the same complaint.
Mohammad Irshad, another such butcher, said that he has had to compromise on his children’s education and food in the last few years.
“It’s not as if this is a particularly profitable business, but earlier we were able to earn enough to feed our kids at least. Today, even that isn’t happening. My children’s schooling, their food, everything has taken a toll because we have to keep shutting shop every now and then,” he said.
A Seven Decade Old Market Has Been Shut Down
Meerut's Stoti Ganj, India's largest scrap market which is 70-year-old has been shut down for over two months.
The market is infamous for illegal trade of automobile parts, and the UP government cited this as the reason for shutting it down. The market employs nearly 20,000 people in almost 400 shops and a majority of these are Muslims.
"The truth is a few were engaged in illegal activities. But these people should have been identified, investigated, their shops should have been sealed and they should have been strictly punsihed. How is it fair to mete out the same treatment to us small shop owners," said Mohammad Shakeel a shopowner in this market.
"This has been done to shut down Muslims, no one else has been impacted. The few Hindus who were working in the market also had to face the brunt of this," said Ayyub a trader.
Many are struggling to sustain their families. Children in these households have been taken out of schools and tuition classes because parents cannot pay the fees. "Our business has been destroyed. We have been completely ruined. Many don't have food to eat. They declared all of us thieves," said Mohammad Aarif, a trader in the market.