Appearance of the posters have angered Muslim residents who call the move brazen, and say they vitiate an already communally charged atmosphere.
Lucknow: On Monday, posters and hoardings surfaced in Bulandshahr carrying images of local Bajrang Dal leader Yogesh Raj, prime accused in the murder of inspector Subodh Kumar Singh during the violence that rocked the region on 3 December.
“Heartfelt greetings on Makar Sankranti and Republic Day from Vishwa Hindu Parishad Bajrang Dal (sic),” read the posters purportedly claiming to be a message from Raj, who is in judicial custody.
The posters have angered Muslim residents of Naya Bans village, the epicentre of the violence that left another youth dead, who say that the hoardings vitiate an already communally fraught situation.
“We all know whose government it is in the state and the centre. The friction between Muslims and a section of Hindus living here has worsened since the incident,” said Mohammad Hussain, a resident of Naya Bans village, where Raj also hails from.
“Such brazen acts of putting up hoarding with a murder accused’s face has been done to further drive home the message of who is in power. How can the administration allow someone who is behind bars to be turned into a hero like this?”
The police, however, maintain that the posters do not warrant any action against Raj, who has now been charged under sections of the stringent National Security Act (NSA), as their content does not “incite violence”.
“Action will be taken when anyone tries to incite hatred and violence here,” said Bulandshahr SSP Prabhakar Chaudhary.
While Syana police station, under which Naya Bans village falls, last saw a cow slaughter case in 2016 — prior to the 3 December violence — minor incidents throughout 2017 and 2018 indicate that communal harmony in this western UP district was put to test through the year.
One such instance relates to the use of loudspeakers at a local mosque in Naya Bans. In May 2017 the district administration removed the loudspeakers.
This prompted members of the mosque committee to write to the administration to restore the speakers. One of the letters was written by Sarfuddin, a local trader and a member of that mosque committee, who was among the four arrested for alleged cow slaughter following the 3 December violence. He was let off after police realised that he had been wrongly implicated.
“There was an old loudspeaker in this mosque that was used only for azaan (call for prayer) and during sehri and iftaar in Ramzan…The loudspeaker has been removed,” reads the letter dated 20 May, 2017. “The administration did not listen to our concerns and under pressure from Hindu groups such as the Bajrang Dal, the loudspeaker was removed.”
Another letter, written on 22 February 2018, also reflects the tension between the two communities. In it, Muslim residents seek permission to renovate parts of the mosque.
Holding a copy of the letter and reading portions of it, Sarfuddin said, “Tiles in the balcony, where prayers are offered, needed to be fixed. There were some elements in the village creating trouble and we wanted security from the administration and their permission to undertake the repair. These pleas, however, went unnoticed.”
The tension between the two communities drew in the police last September. On 9 September 2018, a complaint was sent to the Bulandshahr BJP MP Bhola Singh against inspector Subodh Kumar Singh.
The letter, which was allegedly signed by local BJP leaders, demanded Singh’s transfer.
“We want to apprise you about the public behaviour of Syana SHO Subodh Kumar Singh…Incidents of theft and animal smuggling have been increasing in the area,” the letter said. “Anger is simmering in the Hindu community due to obstacles being created in carrying out Hindu work…”
While his office confirmed that such a letter had been received, the BJP MP could not be reached for comments despite repeated attempts.
Letters before my tenure: Bulandshahr DM
Bulandshahr district magistrate Anuj Kumar Jha told ThePrint that letters relating to the Naya Bans mosque had little to do with him as they were before his tenure. He further stated that the request for Singh’s transfer might have been made to the police department.
“Different sections of the public have their own perception about a government official or a police officer but that does not mean anything,” Jha said. “The government machinery works independently of such public views.”
The district administration, however, maintains that it has been taking action against cow slaughter cases and adds that it was surprised by the violence.
“Since April last year, when I took charge of the district, there have been a few instances of cow slaughter. But no such incident had taken place in Syana,” Jha said. “While Hindu right-wing groups do inform us when such incidents take place and they do get agitated, no violence had taken place before December. They would listen to us and the situation did not spiral out of control.”