Many Muslim families in Uttar Pradesh are concerned about their lives and livelihoods as the BJP returns to power.

By ARSHI QURESHI / Maktoob Media

“Do you think we’ll be able to do anything if the BJP retakes power?” We are 20%, they are 80% – obviously, we will bear the brunt of it,” said Aslam’s family.

Before changing his profession, Aslam (name changed) worked as a meat seller in a small town in western Uttar Pradesh. He was thrashed mercilessly by a gang of right-wing Hindu men who accused him of transporting beef.

The perpetrators are still at large, and Aslam continues to live in fear.

Aslam’s family refused to reveal their identity out of fear of being harassed again.

Many Muslim families in Uttar Pradesh are concerned about their lives and livelihoods as the BJP returns to power.

During the course of the article – Maktoob spoke with the families of  victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes, all of which occurred during the Adityanath’s regime. The families were dissatisfied with the progress of the cases and blamed the government for failing to provide justice, only four families agreed to be mentioned in the article; aside from being victims of anti-Muslim crime, these families shared a common fear – “We are scared.”

BJP’S litmus test for 2024

On 10 March, 2022 – India’s most populous state ,Uttar Pradesh chose the Yogi regime for the second time. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the UP Assembly election, taking 255 of the state’s 403 seats with a 41.3 percent vote share. Yogi Adityanath won from Gorakhpur Urban constituency by a margin of 1,03,390 votes.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ended a 37-year jinx by becoming the only party to win UP elections for the second time in a row.

The UP elections are seen as a litmus test for the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the general elections in 2024, in which the BJP will seek a third term.

Adityanath returns despite failed wave

Despite a lacklustre electoral wave, Yogi Adityanath, a monk turned politician, led his party to victory.

The Samajwadi Party and other opposition parties failed to capitalise on the anti-BJP wave created by protests against the three farm laws, outrage over rising food prices, COVID mismanagement, violence against minorities and all-time high unemployment.

The brutal second COVID wave, the floating bodies in the Ganga, the shrouded river bank, migrants walking thousands of kilometres to reach their villages in Uttar Pradesh during the ill-prepared lockdown, lynching of Muslims, anti-Muslim hate crimes, nothing stopped the voters from re-electing the BJP regime.

Right ahead of elections the Uttar Pradesh CM didn’t shy away from targeting the Muslims. Calling the elections 80 Vs 20 – Yogi Adityanath – a highly divisive remark seen as implying a religious divide. Adityanath’s figures roughly correspond to the Hindu-Muslim ratio in Uttar Pradesh.

But it seems like the communal “80 vs 20” – didn’t really work in the favour of the saffron monk. “The party has won a majority of seats, but its vote share, even when smaller allies’ votes are included, is only around 45 percent. Given the battle lines on which this election was fought, it is reasonable to conclude that the remaining 55 percent was an anti-BJP vote,” reported The Wire.

“Data suggests, while approximately 80% of Muslims and Yadavs voted for the SP alliance, other communities did not shift as much as was required to defeat the BJP. Hindutva is a significant factor, and the BJP benefited from polarisation. There was also anti-Yadav polarisation, as some communities appear to have feared the return of Yadav dominance,” journalist Aditya Menon stated.

Adityanath has been a forerunner of Hindutva vigilantism in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Despite the fact that Adityanath has denied harbouring anti-Muslim sentiments, a wave of anti-Muslim attacks by right-wing Hindu groups in the last five years has boosted Adityanath popularity.

He openly backs the Hindu nationalist agenda of the ruling regime.

Just a few weeks ahead of the election result, Adityanath stirred controversy by referring to Muslims as “kathmulla.”

“We have also given them such opportunities, but the biggest impediment is the “kathmulla” attitude that people like Owaisi support,” said Adityanath during an exclusive interview to Aaj Tak’s Anjana Om Kashyap.

In September 2021 – during a public meeting in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh – Adityanath said “there is no room for appeasement politics under PM Modi’s leadership. Was it possible to get rations before 2017? Previously, only those who said ‘Abba Jaan’ could eat the ration.”

“Maas, meat ki dukaan band karaye adhikaari, yahan Ram Rajya hai (Officials understand that there should not be a single meat shop visible in the area because of Ram Rajya)” said Nand Kishor Gurjar, the MLA from Loni, Ghaziabad.

This was the first thing the BJP MLA said after being re-elected for the second time. The BJP’s Gurjar forced Muslims in Ghaziabad’s Loni area to close their meat shop.

The Election Commission served notice on Loni MLA Nand Kishore Gurjar two months before the elections for his controversial anti-Muslim statement, “Na Ali, Na Bahubali, Keval Bajrang Bali.” However, the notice had little to no effect on the Loni MLA, as Gurjar repeated the same slogan two days later.

Baldev Singh Aulakh, a BJP minister in Uttar Pradesh, said after winning the Rampur-Bilaspur seat, “Muslims did not support the BJP, so the bulldozer will run faster.”

During election rallies, Adityanath frequently used the term “Bulldozer” to refer to heavy vehicles used by his administration to raze the ill-gotten property of criminals and mafias in the state.

However, it is significant to note that polarising leaders like Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana lost in West UP and Raghvendra Pratap Singh who made an anti-Muslims speech during elections lost in Domariyaganj in East UP – Menon explained.

Muslims under fire in UP

Crimes against Muslims in Uttar Pradesh have become an unfortunate reality since 2014. Data show that hate crimes against Muslims have increased since the BJP came to power in 2014.

Uttar Pradesh was one of the first states to enact anti-conversion legislation, which was then used to harass Muslim men in interfaith relationships. During the protests against the draconian CAA law, many Muslims were harassed and their properties were seized. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath openly threatened the protesters, saying he will take revenge on those who “vandalise” state property.

Around 22 Muslims were killed by the Uttar Pradesh police during the anti-CAA protests – families of the deceased still seeking justice.

The constant harassment of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh never stopped, whether it was excluding the community and labelling them “corona jihad” all thanks to the national media, which led to a nationwide witch-hunt of Muslims, or “economic jihad,” in which right-wing Hindu groups harass Muslim vendors.

According to a report by the Centre for Development Policy and Practice (CDPP), the state’s unemployment rate among Muslims increased by 9.95 percent between 2018 and 2019. This is higher than the 7.23 percent national average.

Uttar Pradesh Police investigated Hindu leader Swami Anand Swaroop for allegedly calling for a “economic and social boycott of Muslims,” reported The Quint.

Menon believes with BJP’s second term in Uttar Pradesh – the fear of day to day harassment of Muslims by vigilantes and use of police power against them may continue, if not increase.

“The BJP would undoubtedly see the victory as evidence of popular support for its policies, many of which have been directed at Muslims. To some extent, the strengthening of the opposition may provide some solace, though it remains to be seen how vociferously SP raises issues concerning Muslims,” Menon said.

According to Doto Database, at least 212 hate crimes against Muslims have been reported in Uttar Pradesh since the Adityanath government took power in 2017.

Maktoob spoke with the families of  victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes, all of which occurred during the Adityanath’s regime.

kashmiri students charged with sedition in UP

In October 2021, when India suffered 10-wicket defeat against Pakistan in T20 World Cup – the UP police filed sedition charges against those who allegedly celebrated Pakistan’s victory over India, these were Kashmiri students in Agra college.

It’s been over 100 days and the three students – Arsheed Yousuf, Inayat Altaf, and Showkat Ahmad Ganai – all in their early twenties are still languishing in Agra jail.

The three students enrolled at Raja Balwant Singh Engineering College in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, as part of a special scholarship programme for students from conflict zones.

They were arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police under IPC sections 121 (A) (sedition), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505 (1)(B) (with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public), and 66-F (cyber terrorism, an offence punishable by life imprisonment).

Showkat Ahmad Ghani’s father had to travel to Agra three times to meet his son. They had to sell their cow for Rs 60,000 to cover their expenses.

“It’s been five months – my brother is still in jail, and I don’t have any hope from the government,” Showkat’s sister Humeira Akhtar said.

Showkats come from a low-income family, and their only source of income is daily wages. The family’s mental and financial well-being has suffered due to the legal proceedings.

“We used to sell cow milk, and it was a huge help in running the family,” told Maktoob.

Humeira said that she has a message for the second-time elected BJP government.

“I request the government to release my brother, his future is at stake, we are a poor family, we cannot afford to lose our brother,” Humeira told Maktoob.

No hope from the UP government – Altaf’s family

Altaf, a 21-year-old from Nagla Sayyad Ahroli, was accused of eloping with a girl from the Hindu community. On November 8, 2021 – he was taken to the Sadar police station in Kasganj for questioning, where he allegedly died while in custody. The police claimed Altaf died by hanging, but their claims raised many questions.

When speaking with Maktoob about the BJP’s victory, Altaf’s father, Chand Miya, stated that they don’t care about the government because they have lost their son and nothing is being done to help them.

“What should I say to you? No one from the BJP government has visited us since my son’s death, there has been no hearing, does it matter which government comes to power?” said Chand Miya, a visibly upset father.

According to Altaf’s father, many politicians came for photo ops but no one helped the family.

“BJP never helped, I even wrote a letter to Adityanath requesting a proper investigation, I didn’t get a reply, now tell me does it matter what government comes,” Chand Miya said.

The Uttar Pradesh government offers no hope to Altaf’s family – “I am sick, I can’t do anything else, I don’t care about the government, I have lost my son,” said Chand Miya.

“leave us alone, we don’t want to be identified”

Before changing his profession, Aslam (name changed) worked as a meat seller in a small town in western Uttar Pradesh. He was thrashed mercilessly by a gang of right-wing Hindu men who accused him of transporting beef.

“Please leave Aslam and his family alone; he is a daily wage labourer and does not want his family to be bothered,” Aslam’s kin, who did not want to be identified, said.

Aslam’s family has decided not to speak to anyone because they are already terrified under the Adityanath’s regime.

“Do you think we’ll be able to do anything if the BJP retakes power?” We are 20%, they are 80% – obviously, we will bear the brunt of it,” Aslam’s family said.

“Unchangeable political situation is hopeless”

“We expected Adityanath to lose the people’s mandate, but that didn’t happen,” a relative of one of the UAPA prisoners told Maktoob.

In 2020, Siraj** (name changed) was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police under the draconian UAPA.

Under the condition of anonymity, the relative told Maktoob that Siraj** was mentally tortured and was not given proper food.

In response to Adityanath’s re-election, Siraj’s relative stated that the BJP was retained due to the party’s pro-Hindutva campaign.

“The BJP gained popularity among the Hindu majority, and that is the truth,” Siraj’s kin said.

Reiterating Adityanath’s “80 vs 20” remark, Siraj’s kin  claimed that the BJP didn’t even work for Muslims’ votes.

“During the campaign, BJP leaders instigated voters to unite everyone against us; even the Opposition didn’t try hard enough; had all voters who believe in equality and pluralism voted for a single strong Opposition party, the BJP would not have come to power,” the relative said.

Siraj’s family believes his arrest was political in nature.

“The unchangeable political situation is hopeless for us, but we will continue our fight both legally and politically,” Siraj’s family told Maktoob.

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