Udaipur: It is a busy morning at Dhanmandi market in Udaipur’s Old City area. It is the Hindu festival of Rakshabandhan and shops have encroached upon roads to display colourful rakhis and sweets like laddoo and ghevar. Women dressed in red and pink sarees step over muddy puddles, their shiny bangles and anklets tinkling, making their way to their next purchase.
But in Maldas Street, a few metres away, there is none of this hustle and bustle. This narrow lane is where, on 28 June, Kanhaiya Lal Teli, the owner of a shop called Supreme Tailors, was brutally murdered by two Muslim men. They slit his throat with butcher knives, dragged his body out of the shop, and left it in the lane.
The men, who were later arrested, allegedly sought to punish Teli for a social media post attributed to him in which he purportedly spoke in favour of former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, who had been suspended from the party for her controversial comments about Prophet Muhammad.
The incident shook the nation. Protests condemning the attack were organised across the country, but the wounds were deepest in Udaipur.
Where Muslims and Hindus had lived and worked side by side in relative harmony for decades, there is now mistrust and hostility — particularly emanating from Hindus.
Several Hindu shopkeepers with whom ThePrint spoke said that they are boycotting trade with Muslim dealers and are consciously not employing Muslims. Some Muslim shop-owners are said to have ceased operating from here. Business, in general, appears to have suffered.
“This market is predominantly for women’s clothes and wedding shopping. But women are now afraid to shop here. The shops are opening, but very few customers come now. This has directly affected revenue,” said Kanhaiya’s son 20-year-old son Yash Teli.
In this month of festivals, there seems to be an uneasy truce, with processions for a Jain festival and Muharram passing through the city without incident earlier this month as the police kept a close watch.
But, ‘peace’, it appears, is only papering over the deep communal ruptures that have appeared in Udaipur since Kanhaiya Lal Teli’s murder.
‘We no longer want to do business with Muslims’
The anger and the communally charged atmosphere which Udaipur’s Old City saw in the immediate aftermath of the murder has given way to quieter antagonism.
The business-oriented Sahu community, of which Kanhaiya Lal Teli was a member, had united at the time of the murder and organised marches in the city. But, now they claim to be changing how they do business.
“Had we wanted, this place could have been a repeat of Godhra [communal riots of 2002]. But the people of Mewar controlled the situation. Hindus and Muslims have always co-existed without conflict in Udaipur, since the time of the kings,” Devendra Sahu, ward councillor and state president of the region’s Sahu community association, said.
But, “co-existence” has been redefined in Maldas Street, where Kanhaiya Lal’s shop is still sealed, with a police guard posted outside it around the clock.
There is little open conflict, but many Hindu shopkeepers now say they ensure that they limit their trade dealings to their co-religionists. “We no longer want to do business with the Muslims,” Sahu said.
Many tailoring shops here, including Kanhaiya Lal’s, used to employ Muslim workers, but now most do not.
“My shop had a Muslim artisan working. He has not returned to work since the incident. He called me one day and said he will not come back. I also told him you better find work somewhere else. I don’t want to employ him anymore,” said Mahavir Seth, a tailor who has been running his business next-door to Kanhaiya Lal’s shop for two decades.
The lettering on the walls of some other establishments in the neighbourhood suggests they have Muslim proprietors, but when ThePrint visited Thursday, all these shops were closed.
Seth claimed that some of the Muslim owners shut shop after the Covid lockdowns, while others ceased operations after the murder.
One shop that shuttered after Kanhaiya Lal’s killing was Lake City Tailor. When ThePrint contacted the owner Asif (he did not give his last name), he denied that the murder had anything to do with it.
“Everything is fine. I run a shop elsewhere that is why I am not opening that shop (on Maldas Street),” he said.
A changed fabric
Nothing untoward has occurred in the lane since the murder, but fear has seeped into every mind, said Hidayat Tulla, the councillor of Udaipur’s Malla Talai locality, not far from Maldas Street.
“That lane is now, in a way, considered inauspicious. Very few people cross it now. They are a bit afraid though they will never admit it. I personally take a longer route to avoid that lane,” he said.
This uneasy atmosphere in the market is a natural outcome of what happened, Sahu said.
“The social and moral boycott happened automatically,” he added. Seth nodded his agreement.
Ever since his father’s murder, Yash Teli has blocked all his Muslim friends. The family always lived in mixed neighbourhoods, but he no longer feels a sense of familiarity. “I have completely lost trust in Muslims. I do not want to do anything with them,” he said.
At the time of Teli’s death, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had promised government jobs to Yash and his younger brother, Tarun, 18. They have now been placed in the Udaipur district’s treasurer’s office.
Muslims in the neighbourhood, meanwhile, feel helpless.
“We are as angry as our Hindu brothers about what happened. The entire community should not be punished for something that criminals did. Every small issue is now only looked from the communal lens,” Tulla said.
According to him, fringe organisations are fuelling these divisions and poisoning the minds of youth, making it more difficult for people to heal.
Ripple-effect on business
The murder of Kanhaiya Lal has not only ruptured the social fabric of the Old City, it has also disrupted business. Shopkeepers from the both the communities are suffering.
A few steps away from Kanhaiya Lal’s shop, 18-year-old Ramesh Kumar Baniya works as a helper at Hussaini restaurant. None of his friends wanted to work for a Muslim after the killing, he said, but he decided to stay on.
“The owner treats me well. Nothing changed after the incident. But the restaurant is affected. Fewer Hindu customers come now,” Baniya said.
His employer, Mehmood Khan, added that his income has dropped by more than 50 per cent since the incident and that he is now struggling to pay workers.
“Neither the local residents nor the tourists are coming to this market now. I have not paid salaries to the boys who work for me for over a month now. And this is the state of almost all the shops here,” Khan said.
Yash Teli, too, said that there was lower footfall and less spending than before.
“Even during festivals, shopkeepers don’t get enough customers. This market is the most famous one for women’s clothes and jewellery. But people only inquire about the prices, and no one comes to buy things now,” he said.
‘Humanity can never end in Udaipur’
The lanes of the Old City, which saw protest marches in the wake of Kanhaiya Lal’s death, were bright with festive colours when ThePrint visited.
Last week, a procession for the Jain saint Lord Parshvanath was taken out peacefully and, on Tuesday, Muslims were out on the same lanes to observe Muharram.
The police stand guard at busy market squares to ensure that no scuffles break out and the celebrations do not take a bitter turn.
“In a few days, we will also remove the security deployed outside Kanhaiya’s shop. The city is back to normal now and the police is keeping a close watch,” Gopal Chander, station house officer (SHO) at Dhanmandi police station here, said.
A heartwarming moment of communal amity has also changed the mood somewhat.
In the lanes of Old City, the story has spread of how Hindus, who were watching the Muharram procession from their balconies, doused a small fire in a tajiya (replica of the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson). A Hindu woman even lent her sari to help in the endeavour.
This incident, many say, is an example of how love and harmony between the two communities still exists.
“The next day, a group of Muslims went to meet [the Hindu woman] and garlanded her,” Saddam Hussain, who runs a shop in the Maldas market, said. “Humanity can never end in Udaipur.”
(Edited by Asavari Singh)