Muslims advocate restraint, peace, question police amid Haryana “mahapanchayat” hate speeches

Muslim residents of Nuh said that the hate speeches at the Pataudi mahapanchayat would not vitiate social relations between communities in the region. CK VIJAYAKUMAR FOR THE CARAVAN
31 July, 2021

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.”

Prior to the Pataudi event, Amu was the key speaker at another Hindu mahapanchayat held at Indri in Nuh district, on 30 May. At that event, he referred to Muslims as “butchers.” Two weeks earlier, on 16 May, a mob in Nuh had beaten and killed a Muslim man named Asif Khan. While Asif’s family claimed that he was forced to say “Jai Shri Ram,” the police denied that the incident was a hate crime and said it was the result of an old feud. The police arrested six men after the incident. At the Indri mahapanchayat, Amu demanded their release. He also appeared to justify Asif’s killing. He stated, “Agar uski hatyaa hui hai to uske karmo ke karan hui hai, aur yeh kehne ki zurrat kare aap log,”—If he has been killed, it is for his deeds, and you all should dare to say this.” Referring to the homes of Muslims, Amu concluded his speech by saying that, “all these Hindus have the strength to enter houses as well.” 

The Nuh police are yet to act on a complaint against Amu for his speech at Indri. The Caravan has a copy of a police complaint against Amu for making communally charged and inciteful speeches at the Indri mahapanchayat. The complaint has been signed by several residents of Nuh district. The complaint also states that the speakers at the Indri mahapanchayat tried to influence the police investigation in Asif’s murder case.

Asif’s cousin, Rashid, had been with him the day he was killed. Rashid too was injured but survived the assault and named the accused persons in the case. However, despite his eyewitness testimony, the police submitted discharge pleas for four accused to a local court. On 8 June, a week after the Indri mahapanchayat, the four accused were discharged. Tahir Hussain Ruparya, an advocate, has filed a revision petition challenging the discharge order.

At Punhana, a sub-division town in Nuh, I met Rashid Ahmed, one of the signatories of the complaint against Amu. He referred to the Karni Sena, a Hindu group formed to protect the interests of the Rajput community, of which Amu became the president in 2019. “The Karni Sena and RSS men wanted to create differences between the Hindu and Muslim communities and to instigate riots here in Mewat,” Ahmed said. Mewat is a district in the National Capital Region, spanning parts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, that was renamed as Nuh in 2016. Ahmed also noted that Amu was reappointed as the Haryana BJP spokesperson on 11 June, shortly after his speech at Indri. Amu previously held the post in 2013. Ahmed said that Amu “should have been behind bars” instead. He added that the ongoing farmers protests against the farm laws had brought together rural Hindus and Muslims. “Bhaichara inn logo ko hajam nahi ho raha,”— They were not able to digest the communal harmony. He noted that Amu’s speech at Indri came after a mass meeting on 15 March organised by the farmer groups in Nuh district where farmers from both Hindu and Muslim communities had assembled. Ahmed described it as an exemplary moment of communal harmony. Ahmed added that despite the communally charged speeches, “The brotherhood prevails here between the two communities.”

Referring to the RSS and the BJP government, Ahmed continued, “The police administration is scared and these cases are glaring examples to understand that,” Rashid said. “There is an atmosphere of fear, Muslims are alert while travelling. We avoid keeping beards while travelling outside lest the RSS cadres attack us.”

In Pataudi, I also met Hindu men who were disillusioned with the activities of Hindu right-wing groups and vocally spoke out against it. I met Mohit Kumar, a humanities graduate, who was once a member of a Gau Raksha Dal, or cow protection group. He said he quit the group when he witnessed them resorting to violence and beating men. “I had even kept a cow in my courtyard but then I was disillusioned by their acts and finally left them,” Kumar said. He added that “these men are vitiating the atmosphere of Pataudi” and that “if their activities are not curbed, the atmosphere can really worsen.” Kumar now runs a free tuition centre for poor children in his locality. He told me he was from the Valmiki caste which is categorised as a Scheduled Caste in Haryana. He continued that the RSS had been “trying to turn the Dalits against the Muslims by spreading certain rumours.” Kumar described that as final blow to his support for the RSS and the Gau Raksha Dal.

Samay Singh, a social worker in Nuh, echoed similar concerns about Hindu nationalist groups trying to sully the atmosphere in the region. “Everyone here is maintaining restrain, but the manner in which they are spreading hatred, people are likely to lose their patience,” he said.

He referred to the concept of “love jihad,” an unsubstantiated claim by right-wing Hindu groups that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriage in order to convert them to Islam. Love-jihad was also a topic of charged speeches at the Pataudi mahapanchayat. “Love jihad is an unconstitutional term as every man and woman has a right to marry as per their own wishes,” Singh told me. “It is not always a Muslim man as they claim, as I know at least two couples where Hindu men had married Muslim women and are living happily. I challenge them to bring a single case of a forceful religious conversion [to Islam] or what they call ‘love jihad’ in our area.”

Like Ahmed, Singh also believed that the RSS was rattled by the brotherhood of the Muslim and Hindu farmers who had united against the farm laws. “The Muslims are being provoked again and again, accusations are being made against them continuously, and they are being harassed,” Singh said. He told me it was not surprising that Hindu-right wing groups hurled such accusations at them. “It is their job,” he said. “What is sad is that the remaining Hindus, they are supporting the conspirators, by not opposing them. This means they are giving them silent support.” Singh is also an active Dalit leader in Nuh. He too reiterated that the RSS was trying to provoke Dalit men against Muslims.

On 11 July, a week after the Pataudi mahapanchayat, there was another meet at Jauniyawas village, around twenty kilometres from Pataudi. It was attended by around fifty young men. I spoke to Indra Dev, one of the participants at the meet. He told me he headed the Arya Veer Dal in Nuh and was also a member of the Rashtriya Arya Kshatriya Sabha, both Hindu right-wing organisations. He said he regularly conducted such meets “whenever and wherever people call me.” Dev told me that at the meet, he gave martial art lessons to a group of about thirty boys wielding sticks. “This was in self-defence,” he said. Indra claimed that he was against violence, and advocated for having traditional schools for reintegrating people back into their “Aryan” culture. “The Muslims in Pataudi were Hindus 1,450 years ago,” he said. According to him, the education contained in the Vedas is supreme and more relevant that the current education system. He also believed that Sanskrit should be the prevailing language in the country. “Talking violence was wrong at Pataudi,” Dev said. “We do not kill even snakes.”

Before the martial art lessons, Indra performed a yagya, a Vedic ritual, in the presence of several policemen who shot videos as a matter of record and evidence. “If we were doing anything wrong here, these policemen would have taken action against us,” Dev said. When asked why speakers were not stopped from spreading hate in similar public meetings, he added, “Those ruling are responsible.” 

On 14 July, as I was traveling from Punhana to Nuh town, I spotted a group of seven to eight young Muslim boys running on the state highway, as a part of their daily schedule to prepare for an army recruitment drive. Most of them were either pursuing skill training courses at a nearby Industrial Training Institute or studying in twelfth grade. They hailed from the villages of Raipur, Tusaini, Shahi Chokha, Punhana, and Flendi in Nuh district. “We are preparing for the army recruitment coming in October,” Abid Hussain told me. He was also pursuing a course in electrical trade. I also met Mohammad Feroze who was studying humanities subjects and aspiring to join the army. “There are many in our villages who are in the army, and the recruitment takes place every year,” he said. Another of the boys, Shakeel Ahmed, a resident of Shahi Chokha said that his uncle is presently in the Rajputana Rifles, a regiment of the Indian army. The boys also showed us a group photo with their other friends who had earlier made it to the army.   

“The patriotism and secularism are in the history of Mewat,” Singh told me. He referred to Rupdaka village, where a 105-feet-high Shaheed Minar, or martyr’s monument, stands as a memorial to Meo Muslim men who were hanged by the British after the 1857 revolt. Meos are a community of Muslims native to the Mewat region. “In the whole of Haryana, it was the people of Mewat, the Meo Muslims in particular who were hanged during the country’s first freedom struggle in 1857,” Samay told me. The villagers of Rupdaka now mark martyrdom day every 19 November, when the freedom fighters were hanged. “There is also a small library in the Shaheed Minar complex,” Abdur Rehman, a former sarpanch of the Rupdaka village told me. Referring to Hindu right-wing groups active in the region, he added, “We are aware of what these people are doing, but you see, it is all peace here.”