Madhapur village, Hapur district (UP): Before 18 June 2018, it was rare to find Samiuddin in his village of Madhapur in the western Uttar Pradesh (UP) district of Hapur. Raising seven children was a lot of work. He appeared to be everywhere: On some days he tended to his cattle, on other days he worked on his farm, and, sometimes, he worked construction jobs in the neighbouring Hindu-dominated village of Bajhera Khurd.
Locals said they always saw Samiuddin on the move in his white long kurtas, twinning with his flowing, well-trimmed white beard.
“Both my sons were studying in school, and I have always had big hopes pinned on them,” he said, pointing to the door behind which Anas, 22, and Shaan Mohamed, 17, were getting ready for a wedding in the village. “So, I would take up whatever work I got because I wanted to get them educated.”
All that changed on 18 June 2018, the day the 67-year-old was attacked and battered and another cattle trader, Mohammad Qasim, was lynched by a mob of Hindus in Bajhera Khurd. They accused the two men of slaughtering a cow.
Three and a half years later, Samiuddin scarcely leaves home.
Multiple fractures in his limbs and ribs and various internal injuries took months to heal. He spent a month in two hospitals in Ghaziabad and Hapur before returning home. Expenses were met through donations the family received and loans they had to take from friends and relatives.
Drained of the energy, Saimuddin, who spends every day on the charpoy outside his house in Madhapur, said the injuries broke his body and spirit.
“Ab main kuch nahi kar sakta,” he said. (I can’t do anything now.) “I am scared of being alone now. I am scared of walking out of the village alone. I keep thinking, what if someone comes on a bike and stabs me?”
The injuries from the assault broke him, body and spirit, he told Article 14.
Across all the six scenes of UP hate crimes that Article 14 travelled—covering five districts and 1,800 km in eight days—to just before the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to victory for a second consecutive term, we found echoes of Samiuddin’s fears and scars.
In the first of this two-part series, published on 11 March, we reported that none of the trials into the hate crimes—in the villages of Soi and Saunda Habibpur in Bulandshahr, Purbaliyan in Muzaffarnagar, Kasganj city, Madhapur village in Hapur and Bisada village of Gautam Buddh Naga—were over and that 135 of 136 people accused of these crimes were free on bail. The only man still in jail was a Muslim.
In this second part, we report on how the victims who escaped, and families of those who didn’t, live in terror, and why their lives revolve around the fear of suffering another such attack. Many have left their ancestral homes, certain that their own village where generations in their families lived and flourished, is no longer safe for them. They fear that the neighbours they grew up around, their friends and acquaintances are no longer their own.
Fears Grow After BJP Victory
The BJP has registered a resounding victory in UP, with one of its main poll planks being its performance on bringing “suraksha” or security to citizens—a claim stressed on by the party’s top campaigners, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
But the lack of closure—the attackers roaming free, and often, in the same village, the unending and slow-moving trials, and the local power dynamics of class and caste—has upended the lives of the victims in these six hate crime spots, while the accused are sometimes feted and felicitated.
Across many of the spots, both communities lived in complex situations of interdependence: in Muzaffarnagar’s Purbaliyan, Hindu dairy traders relied on Muslim cattle-owners for milk supplies; in Bulandshahr’s Saunda Habibpur, Shri Krishna, the Dalit victim would work on the farms of some of the upper-caste men who later assaulted him. In Hapur, Samiuddin, the victim would often do masonry work for Hindu families in the same village where he was attacked. Such economic interdependence has been ruptured everywhere and in some places, irreparably.
For many, the syncretic lifestyles they lived despite divisions of caste and religion—villagers of both faiths celebrating each other’s festivals, hosting each other’s weddings—is no longer possible and is fraught with danger.
Interaction, if any, is now limited and cautious.
The BJP’s resounding win back to power has only made many of the victims even more fearful.
Qutub Alam, a Kasganj-based activist with Khudai Khidmatgar, an organisation that promotes communal harmony, said that such fears were pronounced in spots where the accused were perceived to be close to the ruling BJP or its affiliates.
“Most such victims have already felt that the State was backing the accused, be it through swift bails or toothless police investigations,” said Alam, who has worked with victims of hate crimes in western and central UP. “But now that the party is back, many are afraid that the accused will only grow more assertive than before.”
Limited, Cautious and Tentative Interactions
In Bulanshahr’s Soi village, where Ghulam Ahmad, 60, was lynched by a mob led by Hindu Yuva Vahini activists because they suspected his involvement in helping a Muslim neighbour elope with a Hindu girl, syncretism is in tatters.
The village, with more than 2,000 people, has only a handful of Muslim families.
“But we never felt that,” said Chidda Khan, 50, Ahmad’s brother. Instead, he said that, if any, the Muslim families felt protected.
“If there were any riots in the area, the Hindu villagers would come to our house and warn us about going out and tell us to not fear inside the village because they would protect us,” he said.
The two communities were deeply involved in weddings and social events at each other’s homes.
“In the weddings held in Muslim households, we would ask some of the Thakur families to handle some aspects, like fixing a cook, supervising the cooking,” Khan said.
Such interactions are now rare, with only some Hindus willing to invite them home. Conversations are not as easy as they used to be.
Ahmad’s son, Vakil, left the village along with his brothers after their father was lynched.
“After my father’s death, when our relatives started streaming in for the funeral, villagers gathered at the entrance of the village and dissuaded them from coming,” said Vakil.
“Yeh sab kaise bhulein? (How can we forget all this?),” he said.
The two remaining Muslim families including Chidda Khan’s wanted to leave Soi village, they told Article 14.
Samiuddin, in Hapur district, also told us that he wanted to move out of Madhapur village.
‘Each Time I Drive Past, I Feel A Chill Run Down My Spine’
This desire and decision to migrate is visible not just in Madhapur and Soi, but also in Bisada village in Dadri, where 52-year-old Mohamed Akhlaq was lynched and his son battered by a mob of Hindus in September 2015.
The mob, mainly fellow villagers, suspected the family of having stored and eaten beef and dragged the father and son out of their home.
When one of the persons accused of the lynching, Ravi Sisodia, died a year after Akhlaq’s killing, villagers came out in large numbers to drape his body in the tricolour and pay their tributes. Villagers even celebrated the release of another accused, Punit, from the Noida jail.
“The killing was part of a conspiracy by villagers,” said Yusuf Saifi, the lawyer representing Akhlaq’s family.
The lawyer said that villagers had started whispering about the family’s rising prosperity—Sartaj, Akhlaq’s older son, was a corporal in the Indian Air Force, when he married, before the lynching, he got a Maruti Alto as dowry.
These whispers grew, culminated in the lynching, said Saifi. The family left their home and village and never returned.
“It’s not just them,” said Saifi. “Each time I drive past the village, I feel a chill run down my spine.”
In Hub of Syncretism, Distrust Lingers
In Kasganj town, the birthplace of the Hindu saint and poet Tulsidas and Amir Khusro, the Sufi singer and poet, Hindus and Muslims once lived together peacefully.
All that changed after communal riots and tensions lasting days in January 2018. Triggered by a ‘Tiranga rally’ by Hindu fundamentalists waving the tricolour and saffron flags who drove through Muslim neighbourhoods and chanted allegedly provocative slogans, the riots ended with the death of an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activist called Chandan Gupta. Muslim shops and vehicles were looted and burnt.
Once tensions subsided, Hindus and Muslims realised that they could not go back to their old ways.
“Something had changed,” said 48-year-old Bilal (who only identified himself with his first name), a resident of Baddu Nagar in Kasganj, where the riots first erupted. “If I have a disagreement with any of the Hindu traders in the market now, I try to back off. I fear that if it blows up, it might get communal.”
So bitter were ties initially that many Muslims wanted to boycott Hindu traders, said Ayaz Tanveer, a Kasganj doctor. Better sense prevailed.
Distrust of the other lingers among Hindus and Muslim, said Tanveer.
“In medical terms, the injury has already occurred, and there is a scar now,” he said. “That scar isn’t going to go away very soon.”
Tanveer’s words echoed across the district.
The Ever-Present Fear Of A Riot
In November last year, a 22-year-old Muslim named Altaf was arrested by the Kasganj police on charges of abducting a Hindu minor girl, without even a first information report (FIR) filed in the matter.
The next day, Altaf’s body, the police claimed, was found hanging from a two-feet high tap in the toilet of a cell in the police station. Altaf’s family alleged he was killed in custody. The police registered an FIR against Altaf after his death, but later found that the girl was not a minor and subsequently dropped the kidnapping charges.
The girl also admitted that the two had been in a relationship. However, Hindu right-wing groups alleged that Altaf was trying to “forcefully convert” her.
For many in the Muslim community of Kasganj, this incident put frayed communal ties to test.
Alam, the activist with Khudai Khidmatgar, said that the incident brought back memories of the riots for many.
“Each time such a dispute arises, people here have started worrying whether it will result in a riot, again,” said Alam. “Kya karein? Mind udhar hi chala jaata hai.” (What to do? The mind veers towards such thoughts.)
‘We Were Used’
In the same city, tucked in a by-lane off the main railway station road, a mother Sangita Gupta—whose 22-year-old son Chandan was killed in the 2018 riots—said that her wounds were still fresh.
Chandan, she said, was a “Yogi ka fan,” and he went every evening to the local Baba Shernath temple overseen by the Gorakhnath Mutt, headed by chief minister Adityanath.
Chandan’s death garnered widespread attention on social media and off it. But the family is now bitter about Adityanath and the BJP’s politics, even though Chandan’s older brother, Vivek, is still an active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP.
The family home and its pink-walled living room, in which is a sofa, two chairs and a settee, used to be flooded with people for weeks after Chandan’s death.
BJP leaders frequently dropped into the Gupta family home, and some of them even held a memorial meeting for him. A minister in the Adityanath government announced that a roundabout in the city would be renamed after Chandan.
Four years later, the house is silent. There are few visitors. All that remains is Chandan’s overwhelming presence in the home—a large photo, with a close-up of his face, forehead smeared with sandalwood and a red tilak . A smaller version of the same photo stands in a glass-enclosed shelf, with the citations the family received after his death, from various Hindu right-wing groups.
“Hamaara istemaal kiya gaya,” said Sangita. (We were used.)
It is this anger they tried to voice when they went to a BJP rally addressed by union home minister Amit Shah in December last year. Vivek led the group, consisting of some family members and friends, and they raised slogans of ‘Chandan Gupta amar rahe’ (long live Chandan Gupta) when it was Shah’s turn to speak.
Immediately after Shah’s speech ended, deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya dashed to the mic and said that Gupta was a “deshbhakt” and would get justice.
“Uska balidan vyarth nahi jaayega. Woh haath mein tiranga lekar gaya tha (His sacrifice will not go to vain, he died with the tricolour in his hand),” Prasad was quoted as saying in an Amar Ujala report of the event.
Religious hate might have claimed her son, leaving her sleepless in the nights and full of despair in the day, but for Sangita, the gulf between the two communities has widened since the day her son died.
“Yeh log mazzak udaate hai hamara, kehte hai kya mila tumko? (These people mock us and ask us what we even got from the government),” she said, referring to the city’s Muslims.
In Purbaliyan, Boundaries Have Transformed Into Scars
A large village with a population of over 20,000, Purbaliyan’s demographic composition is a window into western UP. Dominated by wealthy, land-owning Muslims and Jats, the village was always segregated on religious lines.
“Idhar koi mussalman nahi rehte, yeh Hinduon ka illaka hai (No Muslims live in this part of the village, only Hindus live here),” said an aged man, as we entered the village. “The Muslim area is at the end of the village.
But over the last decade or so, these boundaries have transformed into scars.
Purbaliyan has seen a lot over the last decade—most notably, the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 and months of tension after. Four locals were killed in the riots, with some reports terming it one of the worst-affected villages.
In January 2018, community elders, egged on by political parties, slowly began reconciliation efforts between Hindus and the Muslims.
But in September that year, a dispute on the cricket field between boys took a communal turn and turned into a clash between Hindus and Muslims. Sumit Pal, now 24, had filed two FIRs, alleging 38 Muslims entered their home and attacked him and his family.
A police manhunt led to the arrest of 28 men, of whom three were charged under the National Security Act (NSA), 1980, which allows the police to detain accused for a year without requiring them to disclose the charges, if deemed to be against “public interest”.
The police action spooked the Muslim community—one those arrested including a minor—who alleged the arrests were indiscriminate. One of them, on the condition of anonymity, said how he had surrendered to the police only because the authorities came to his house repeatedly and harassed his wife and mother.
‘Everything Is Finished’
Mahboob, 52, who goes by his first name, said he knew what it meant to see his life turn upside down.
Mahboob was arrested by the police on the basis of the second FIR that Pal filed, four days after the first one, in which he was named as one of the 25 Muslims who entered the Pal residence and attacked Pal and his family. The dispute arose after Abid, a domestic help working at Mahboob’s uncle’s residence, accused Pal and other Hindu villagers of assault.
Overnight, his wife and four young children were robbed of their sole breadwinner. There was no one to tend to Mahboob’s standing sugarcane crop on his 25-acre farm. “Friends and family tried helping, but no one can replace the care one takes of their own farm,” he said.
Mahboob said his family survived on loans from family.
“Aamdani band, lekin kharche badh gaye,” he said. (My income stopped, but expenses shot up),” he said.
Eight months later, the Allahabad High Court quashed the NSA charges against him and granted bail. He was set free but broken.
The time in jail, the debts incurred, the fears of an uncertain future for his children took a toll.
“Sab kuch khatam ho gaya (everything is finished),” Mahboob kept repeating, sitting in a dimly-lit room just outside his home.
A Sliver Of Hope
At the feuding Hindu Pal family and the Muslim families, over three and a half years after the tensions, there were signs of new beginnings, made possible by economic interdependence.
Pal’s family are dairy traders. Families like Mahboob’s, apart from being sugarcane cultivators, are also dairy cattle-owners. Before the disputes, their livelihoods were tied to each other’s—Pal’s family would buy milk from the Muslim families and then distribute it across the village and the neighbouring villages.
“Ninety percent of our milk supply came from these families,” said Pal. “So, when the dispute happened, we stopped doing all business from them.”
But cutting off economic ties came at a cost, said Pal. They were forced to buy milk from dealers outside the village at much higher rates, cutting margins and making the business unsustainable.
Sometime last year, Pal said the two sides decided to resume business ties.
This has meant that daily interactions between the two sides have begun, even if tentatively. Village elders are now trying to broker a faisla, an out-of-court compromise to resolve the dispute.
Both sides seem keen. Mahboob told Article 14. He would be “relieved” if a faisla was brokered. Pal also agreed and said that he was ready to talk.
Time Is Running Out
Even as the contours of the faisla are negotiated, time is running out.
“We are scared,” said Mohammed Arif, 16, the son of Shaukat Ali, a Muslim farmer who was also arrested in connection with the clashes and spent more than a month in prison.
Arif used to be a regular and played cricket with his Hindu friends from the village, but they don’t any longer.
“What if a minor fight on the field turns into a communal dispute again?” he said.
(This report was produced with support from the Thakur Family Foundation. The Thakur Family Foundation has not exercised any editorial control over the contents of this report.)
(Kunal Purohit is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)