Though many people in Kandhla and Kairana in Shamli district of Uttar Pradesh have been receiving threats and extortion calls over the past two years from gangs operating out of jails, people from both the Hindu and Muslim communities that The Sunday Guardian talked to said that there was no “communal angle” to such threats to leave their homes.
“Surendrapal (name changed), you are being informed that you will be responsible for the death of your kids and your family if you don’t do what you are being told to do. Send Rs 2 lakh to the undersigned person in Saharanpur jail. If you fail to deliver the money, first we will kill your children in front of your eyes, then we will kill you. You’ll be responsible for seeking any help from the police or anyone else. Abandon your business and leave. You are being warned,” said the letter received by the elder brother of Suresh Kumar (name changed) who runs a popular snack joint in Kandhla, a small village just 12 km from Kairana in Shamli district of Uttar Pradesh. The letter was signed by the “Sabeer Kanga” gang. People said that other gangs, too, operate in the area.
Irrespective of the threat letters and calls, the Kandhla snack joint (name changed) in Sarvagyan colony bustled with energy as customers made a beeline for steaming samosas and spicy chaat. The manager of the rented snack joint, Suresh Kumar sat in a corner of the shop and substantiated his story with a photocopy of the “extortion letter” that his elder brother Surendrapal, owner of the snack joint, received on Wednesday.
Suresh Kumar expressed anger at the lack of law and order in the district and said, “How are we supposed to handle this situation? We can’t barge into the prison and beat those dacoits. We can only complain to the local police which we have already done. Those goons are in jail serving time and still they have the facilities to run their extortion rackets. Such letters and threat calls have been received by several people over the past two years. But this is the first time my family received such a letter,” said Kumar.
Suresh Kumar said, “We have been following the news and we know about the alleged ‘Hindu exodus’ here. But I don’t think our Muslim neighbours have anything to do with the extortion letters. I don’t know of any Muslim trader who might have received such letters, but we are not naïve. We know that the lack of law enforcement is being given a communal colour, which is condemnable. Politicising the issue will not solve our law and order problem and we don’t want any reckless communal rumours to ruin our peaceful town.”
After local MP Hukum Singh’s “flip-flop” on the list of 346 Hindu families’ “mass exodus” from Kairana, the MP released another list of 63 families who allegedly moved out of Kandhla.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Hukum Singh said, “I did not hear of any Muslim families in this district who received threat letters or calls for money. Only one section of society is being threatened to leave the town and relocate. There is a systematic machinery working behind those dacoits who are being allowed to harass only one segment. This is a serious law and order problem.”
Asked about why the word “Hindu” was used in the first list if it was only a law and order problem, Hukum Singh said, “Yes, that was a mistake.” Will he take responsibility for giving this law and order problem a communal colour? Singh said: “No, why should I take responsibility? People who are allowing criminal elements to grow unchecked with political support, should be responsible for this.”
Sujeet Kumar, the District Magistrate of Shamli, said, “I have no knowledge of such letters being received by locals. If the locals have received such letters and their complaints were ignored by local police officials, they should have come to me. I assure you that we will take strict action against anybody who tries to disturb the peace of this place.”
Suresh Kumar told these two correspondents names of three other people who recently received similar threat letters and calls in Sarvagyan Colony. All of them are still living in the town with their families, he said. “Even though we complained to the local police station, they have failed to take any action against anybody and the letters continue to arrive,” said Rishi (name changed). “If such extortion letters keep coming, we would have no option but to leave, because ultimately what matters is our safety and security,” Rishi added.
However, residents of Kandhla equivocally said that there is no communal issue in the area; it is just politically motivated by political parties to score brownie points. Jamal, a resident of Kandhla, said, “We have always lived like brothers here. We have no hatred against each other. It is the political parties that are trying to divide us on religious lines. Now we understand their politics and we would not fall prey to their desires. We are united here.”
Kandhla, which has about 80% of Muslim population, with the rest being Hindus, still lives in harmony even after the alleged attempts of political parties to divide them on religious lines.
In Kandhla, these reporters could not find any trace of communal tension or for that matter any divide on the basis of religion. Hindus and Muslims coexist in Kandhla. People from both communities were seen playing cards together at several places, sharing stories and laughter. The oldest mosque of the township shares its boundary with the Lakshimi Narayan temple of the village and people from both communities pray harmoniously.
“We have never seen any communal divide in this area. Even when Muzzafarnagar was burning, this area was peaceful. We live together and respect each other’s religion,” said Arif, a local resident.
Residents claim that it is not only Hindu families who moved out of this area, Muslim families also moved out for better livelihood, employment and education opportunities.
“Everybody migrates from their native villages to cities for better opportunities and this cannot be looked at with a communal colour,” Arif added.
However, some say that the pace of migration among Hindu families increased during and after the 2013 Muzzafarnagar riots.
“During the riots and even after, many Hindu families did move out, but it was not because of any persecution, but more due to the growing criminal activities in the area, mostly by the minorities,” Ritwik Garg (name changed), a businessman of the area, said.
On reports of families in Kandhla fleeing, District Magistrate Sujeet Kumar said, “We are conducting an inquiry into it as the MP did not give me the list himself. I got it through media and once we reach a conclusion on it, we will inform you. As far as the situation is concerned, there is no tension here.”
After the nine-member fact-finding team of the BJP visited Kairana and Kandhla on Wednesday, a five member team of Opposition parties consisting of JDU, RJD, CPI, CPI(M) and NCP also visited Kairana and Kandhla to assess the ground situation.
K.C. Tyagi of JDU said that the allegations of “Hindu exodus” were false and baseless and that people moved out of the village because of economic and better medical facilities. “The BJP is making it a communal issue because they do not have any other issue to go to the elections with.” Asked about the extortion letters being received by several people in Kandhla, Md Salim of CPI(M), who also visited Kandhla and Kairana, said that this is a law and order problem and has nothing communal about it.
Ravi Shukla (name changed), a resident of Kairana, said,” I have spent all my life in this town and I have relatives who have lived for years in Kairana. I can assure you that there never was any divide along religious lines. But since the Muzzaffarnagar riots, people did start feeling uncomfortable. Even so, those who left and went to the cities essentially wanted better economic opportunities far from this crime-ridden area. If all good and intelligent people in the region leave, how will it serve the purpose of those who are left behind? The government should focus on the development of our small towns and make them safe for everybody.”