Baghpat: In the village of Vinaipur, in western Uttar Pradesh’s (UP’s) Baghpat district, 27-year-old Shahrukh Tyagi sat in his two-storey brick house holding his head. It had been more than a month since his father Dawood Ali Tyagi was killed by an inebriated mob.
While police said the murder was the result of growing tensions between two villages, Shahrukh said he was struggling to reconcile with the sudden devastation.
On 2 September, around 10:30 pm, wheat farmer 50-year-old Dawood Tyagi was sitting outside his house with a few family members when about 20 men on motorcycles, carrying lathis (bamboo sticks) and kattas (country-made handguns), entered the area.
According to eyewitnesses, the men identified Tyagi and his group as a target and charged towards them. While the others fled, Tyagi was slow to react, and the mob attacked him with sticks, beating him severely. The injuries—a gash on the head, blunt force trauma marks on the chest, legs, face and head from a lathi—proved fatal.
Four Gurjars, a Hindu caste included among other backward castes, were arrested, while 13 others, all Hindus, were still absconding, according to the Baghpat police, who said they were still investigating the case.
The residents of Vinaipur, 48 km north-east of Delhi, are predominantly farmers. The village has no precedent of communal tensions, and Tyagi’s murder has, for the first time, now caused fear among Muslims.
Despite eyewitness accounts that there were ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chants and though the arrested men told police there had been a preparatory meeting, Baghpat police denied that the attack was a “communal incident” or motivated by religious feelings.
The Vinaipur incident is one of several in UP involving attacks on minorities but not registered by police as a communal incident. Indeed, police in UP have said violent incidents of a communal nature declined in 2021.
Victims As Perpetrators In Crime Records
In many cases, victims of violence were named in the first information report (FIR) as participants in the violence.
A pattern including bad faith prosecutions and misuse of legal framework, said a 2022 report by global advocacy and legal practice group Free State Centre for Human Rights; the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa; and the Amsterdam International Law Clinic, would lead to further deterioration in protections available to the targeted community owing to the “absence of an accountability framework”.
Of 902 hate crimes in India documented by Amnesty International between September 2015 and June 2019, UP alone accounted for a quarter. While 69% of the 902 crimes were against Dalits, Muslims, who are 19.26% of UP’s population, were victims in 22% of the cases.
Of 1,041 cases of anti-Muslim hate crime recorded between January 2014 and May 2022 by the Documentation Of The Oppressed (DOTO), an online platform for large-scale documentation of religious identity-based violence in India, UP accounted for 387, more than any other state, involving 3,273 victims of mob lynching, physical assault and of attacks on places of worship.
“We have no personal enmity with anyone,” said Shahrukh, Tyagi’s eldest son. “My father, grandfather or great grandfather have had no history at the police station. We are peaceful people.”
A Surge In Attacks
The 2022 report of the panel of independent experts previously quoted said the scale and pattern of human rights violations against Muslims across India since mid-2019 was “alarming”.
“The acts of physical violence perpetrated on Muslims, including by state actors, combined with anti-Muslim hate speech and incitement disseminated through several platforms in the country, pose a serious threat to the survival of the religious minority,” said the report.
On 13 October, two Muslim youth were attacked in UP’s Prayagraj. Zaheer Khan, 32, was lynched while another person Yusuf Khan, 30, was seriously injured after a mob attacked them, reportedly suspecting them to be robbers, in the Khuldabad area.
In March, a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh’s Noorpur village was lynched to death. Brothers Zafar and Noor were first assaulted by a group of villagers. The police, calling it a personal matter, registered a case against the two brothers, one of whom died after the assault.
As in Tyagi’s case, in these cases too, the lynching was viewed by the police as an “altercation between youth”.
In some cases, victims of violence were named in FIRs. The previous two cases show the same pattern.
“The Indian legal system provides a wide range of laws and institutions that are designed to combat religious discrimination,” said the 2022 report by the panel of experts. “However, the panel found sufficient grounds to conclude that the ideological and religious prejudices of the current government appear to be permeating all independent institutions, resulting in the lack of effective and adequate accountability initiatives.”.
‘The Mob Chanted Jai Shri Ram’
A graduate of Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, Shahrukh, who is preparing for public administration exams, said that his focus was his academics and tending to the family’s farms.
Shahrukh has two younger brothers, and a sister, Lubna, 18, who was at home during the attack.
“I was sitting a little further away from my father when the attack happened,” she told Article 14, recounting seeing a crowd of 18 to 20 people come from one direction. “The men were on bikes and had sticks with them. They fired guns in the air. After people started running, they fired the gun after them as well.”
She said that her father ran towards the house, but was too slow. “At last, they hit him on the head and cracked it open.”
Nayeem Tyagi, another resident of the village who was with Tyagi that night, managed to save himself. He recollected the incidents and said he barely made it out alive. Tyagi was lying on the cot and speaking to someone on the phone when the mob approached, Nayeem Tyagi said.
“They did not ask us anything but started beating us,” he told Article 14. “A few people came after me but I outran them. I also heard a gunshot behind me.”
Nayeem Tyagi said the men came from a neighbouring village located nearly a kilometre away.
“There were Gurjars and people of other Hindu communities who were not attacked,” he said, adding that the site of the attack was at the entryway to a colony of Muslim houses. “What does that show?”
Shahrukh’s neighbour, Ishtiaq, who was returning home from his field when he heard a gunshot that night, told Article 14 he saw a girl crying before his son came running towards him.
“I heard a gunshot and we hid nearby and did not come out till the mob was gone,” said Ishtiaq. “They were chanting Jai Sri Ram and soon after, they drove away.”
Shahrukh, who was in Delhi, received a call later that night, informing him that Tyagi was grievously injured and was being rushed to Meerut.
Tyagi was taken to a hospital in Meerut, 48 km away. In the early hours of the following morning, he died. “He had head injuries and was bleeding from his eyes and ears,” Shahrukh said. “When I reached the hospital, he was on the ventilator.”
Police Deny Communal Angle
While Shahrukh and others implied that the attack was rooted in communal disharmony, police denied these apprehensions.
The Baghpat police in their official statement acknowledged the attack but said it was not communal. The FIR in the case was registered at the Khekra police station on 3 September, against unknown persons.
The charges quoted sections 147 (punishment for rioting); 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon); 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object); and 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860.
On 5 September, the Khekra police issued a statement saying that they had arrested four in connection with Tyagi’s murder: Nikki alias Vikki, Harish, Mohit and Dilip; all residents of Bhagot, a village located one kilometre from Vinaipur.
The statement also said the police had confiscated two motorbikes and two sticks, a bicycle chain wrapped around one of them.
After interrogating the four accused, the police said that tensions had flared up between residents of Bhagot and Vinaipur and that the four men arrested had decided to attack anyone they found from Vinaipur.
Baghpat superintendent of police (SP) Neeraj Kumar Jadoun said that 13 alleged attackers were at large. He said the family had apprehensions that they would be attacked again, and that Shahrukh would be killed.
“There was an apprehension that the family had… that has been clarified,” said Jadoun. Shahrukh’s family was provided police security.
Meanwhile, an official from the SP office, speaking on condition of anonymity since he was not authorised to speak to the media, told Article 14 that a non-bailable warrant would be issued if they did not surrender within a month.
Police Often Deny Role of Religion: Lawyer
Akram Akhtar Choudhary, an advocate helping the Tyagi family in seeking legal recourse, alleged it was common practice by the police to deny that an attack was communally motivated.
“The state’s accountability must come out,” said Choudhary. “If there is a communal angle, it should be acknowledged.”
In 2017, hearing a petition filed by businessman and political analyst Tehseen Poonawalla on cow vigilante groups taking the law into their own hands to attack alleged violators of animal protection laws, the Supreme Court issued guidelines about steps to be taken in such cases of mob violence.
Choudhary said the guidelines directed setting up fast track courts and nodal officers.
“We don’t see these because such cases are not officially deemed to be lynching cases in the FIR,” he said. “This angle is overlooked.” According to Choudhary, most of these attacks are prosecuted as violence emanating from personal enmity.
“There are smaller incidents that are not reported,” he said. “Bigger ones grab attention every six-seven months.”
Nadeem Khan, a relative of the Tyagis, with Choudhary’s help, filed a complaint on 16 October with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), seeking an independent probe into the attack.
‘A Plan To Intimidate Muslims’
According to Tyagi’s family members and other locals, the attack was a well-planned effort to intimidate Muslims living in the area.
Activist Devendra Dhama, a resident of Sankrod village in Baghpat, has been assisting the family since the attack. Dhama claimed that a meeting had been held in Baghot prior to the incident, and then another meeting had been organised in a temple only a few hours before the attack.
This last meeting was allegedly attended by 60-65 villagers. “The point was to create fear among the Muslims in the region,” Dhama told reporters, “not to kill or loot, but to spread fear.”
The Baghpat police in its official statement acknowledged that the arrested youth, on interrogation, confirmed that this meeting had taken place, aiming to “intimidate the youth and show them their place”.
The statement said there was ongoing tension between youngsters of the two villages. Gurjars in the area had alleged that Muslims from Vinaipur had assaulted some women, the BBC reported on 14 October 2022, claims denied by the police.
In Bhagot, where the four Gurjar men were arrested, Article 14 sought comment from Dilip’s family, but his mother Rajni refused to speak.
“All we know is that my son was arrested and his future is ruined,” said Rajni. “I do not know anything about what has happened.” She claimed that Dilip was not acquainted with the other arrested men.
In the BBC story, Rajni blamed a man named Rohit for calling Dilip to the meeting. Asked about the BBC video, Rajni said she “did not know anything” about that.
The family of Harish, another one of the arrested men, refused comment. “The media have shown only one side and we have been told strictly not to speak to the media,” said Harish’s brother, who refused to give his name. “My brother is in jail and my family is suffering.”
An elder in the village, refusing to speak on record, blamed Muslims for the violence. “They started this whole thing,” he said.
Claiming that no meeting had taken place in the village, the senior citizen said the young men had come to attend prayers in the temple.
“These people (Muslims) are using political leaders, who are from their own community, to blame our children,” he said. “The man who died was not killed by a mob. Only one person murdered him and it was a personal rivalry.”
Shahrukh showed Article 14 hate messages that had been forwarded via WhatsApp among villagers, asking Hindus to “find justice for the girls who were harassed by Muslims”.
Some Gurjars claimed that Hindu girls had been harassed by Muslim men, causing the Gurjars to gather for a meeting on the night that Tyagi was later killed.
The police denied these claims.
Meanwhile, one of the accused still at large has previously shared photos with ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators and others from the party on his Facebook profile.
In A Once-Quiet Village, A New Tension
Vinaipur has a mixed population, while the surrounding villages are Gurjar-dominated. Most of the people are farmers, while the young population is educated and helps their families on the farms.
“There are close to 48 villages that are Gurjar-dominated,” Ishtiaq said.
There had been no enmity between Muslims and Hindus in Vinaipur itself, most people said. However, the incident has shaken residents. Despite the police protection provided to Shahrukh and his family, they said they now lived in fear.
“The incident has left us vulnerable and scared,” said Ishtiaq. “But to keep on going is the only way we live. We are farmers, we go to the field and we come back.”
The same tense calm was visible in Bhagot. “There is tension in the village, mostly because we are scared the police will pick up our youth for something they have not done,” said Yatendra Kumar, a resident of the village.
Victims Struggle To Get Compensation, Justice
For Shahrukh and his family, the trouble has not ended. He said that after his father’s death, there was tension in the village. “I was pressured by people who told me they would protest with my father’s body on the highway when we were bringing it back from the hospital,” he said.
Shahrukh said his family had been trying to calm people down so that no further violence took place. “I was in touch with local authorities who said that whatever valid demands we have would be heard and forwarded ahead,” he said. “They said all our demands would be met, so we do not need to protest.”
The family has sought compensation and demanded that one of the sons—all three are graduates—be given a government job.
The Tyagis own 10 acres of farming land, on which they grow wheat. Their father was the sole earning member. “Now that he is gone, we worry about our future,” Shahrukh said.
He said nothing had been done to meet their demands.
“I am new but had sent the files to the district magistrate,” said tehsildar Apoorva Yadav. She said Shahrukh appeared to not understand that administrative processes need to be completed first.
Article 14 was present when Shahrukh went to meet Yadav with his grievances and was immediately dismissed.
“Promises made verbally stand no value,” she told him. “You will have to re-submit the file, and we will look into it.”
(Nikita Jain is a Delhi-based independent journalist. Meghna Prakash is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist.)