On the evening of 5 July, Khurram was cooking at his famous small eatery, the Delhi Darbar, in Pataudi, a sub-tehsil town in the Gurugram district of southern Haryana. I met him to understand the reaction of Pataudi’s Muslim residents to a self-proclaimed “mahapanchayat” held in the town the previous day. The public meeting was organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and village leaders affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It contained toxic speeches, with calls to attack and “cut throats” of Muslims. Suraj Pal Amu, the spokesperson of the Haryana unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party was among the key speakers. In his speech, referring to Muslims, Amu stated, “They cut their moustaches, we can cut throats.” He continued, “Chun chun ke thokenge,”—We will pick them off one by one. Amu added, “Bharat humari mata hai, aur Pakistan ke hum baap hai, aur yeh Pakistani kutto ko hum ghar kiraye par nahi denge … Inn huramjado ko iss desh se nikalo, yeh prastaav paas hoga.”— India is our mother, and we are the father of Pakistan, and we will not rent out our houses to these Pakistani dogs … Remove these scoundrels from this country, pass this proposal.
Khurram believed that such speeches would not vitiate social relations between communities in Pataudi. “The people of Pataudi didn’t like that at all, and this place will remain peaceful,” he said. “I am a common man, our family has been here for more than 200 years. If certain people think they would bring in disturbances then they are living in an illusion.” He continued, “People avoid controversy, and they are wise enough not to let such things flare up.” As we ate at his joint, I asked for some biryani. He regretted that he had finished his stock for the day and told me that he would not be getting more the next day as it happened to be a Tuesday and his eatery would remain closed. When I asked why, he said, “We have to respect everybody’s sentiments.” Khurram was referring to the practice of a section of Hindus who do not eat meat on Tuesday and consider it a holy day. “We all have complete bonhomie in Pataudi,” Khurram continued. He added that even if he opened his shop on Tuesdays, his sale would reduce drastically. It was an indicator that the food lovers from the Hindu community also thronged his eatery. “Sabhi khaate hai, kya Hindu kya Muslim,” he said.—All eat here, what Hindu or Muslim.
The mahapanchayat took place barely half a kilometre from Khurram’s eatery. Another key speaker at the event was Gopal Sharma, who refers to himself as Ram Bhakt Gopal. In January 2020, Sharma had been seen brandishing a gun and firing into a crowd of protestors at Jamia Millia Islamia University. The students were protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. At the Pataudi mahapanchayat, Sharma yelled, “Jab mulle kaate jayenge, Ram naam chillayenge,”—When Muslims will be cut, they will shout the name of Ram. The charged crowd chanted the slogan with him. On 8 July, Sharma repeated this communal slur in a video on social media. He confirmed that he had said so at Pataudi, and boasted that he can say it again. He added that he was ready to go to jail for this. A day before the mahapanchayat, Sharma had announced on a Facebook video that he would reach Pataudi with “400-500” men and that the event would have a gathering of “10,000 people.” There were around a thousand people at the mahapanchayat. Videos of the event went viral on social media.
On 12 July, the Gurugram police arrested Sharma under section 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which pertain to the charges of promoting enmity on grounds of religion, and deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings. However, the first-information-report named only Sharma and there was no action against Amu. On 16 July, a Gurugram court rejected Sharma’s bail plea. “If such people are allowed to move freely and to indulge in such kinds of activities, the very existence of communal harmony may be disturbed and that will give a wrong message that these types of acts are acceptable in society,” the court said.
I spoke to Satya Prakash, the Pataudi member of the Haryana legislative assembly, who is from the BJP. He did not express clear views on the mahapanchayat. While he told me that “everybody has a right to expression,” he added that “such social events should continue to occur but there should not be any provocative speeches.” Asked whether he would complain against Amu for his provocative speech, Prakash categorically stated that he would not complain. “Those who have a grudge could complain,” he said. The organisers of the event almost seemed to take a certain kind of political patronage for granted. It was evident in the confidence with which they held the event. I also met Satya Narain Bhari, one of the organisers of the mahapanchayat who described himself simply as a resident of Pataudi. He told me that they had simply “informed the administration” about the event and “did not need to take any permission.”