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Bijnor violence: only six accused arrested so far, situation 'under control'

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 17 September 2016, 22:42 IST

A day after the triple murders in Peda village, which led to tension in Bijnor district, 21 out of the 27 people named as accused in the FIR continue to be at large.

"Six accused have been arrested so far, while 21 others are still absconding," Daljeet Chaudhary, Additional Director General (Law and Order) told Catch.

"We have told the local officials to ensure the arrests at the earliest. I am hopeful all the accused will be in our custody by tonight," he said.

Administration swings into action

Meanwhile, the district administration has also blocked all internet services in the district for two days, to stop rumour-mongering. Sensing the seriousness of the situation, Chaudhary and the home secretary of Uttar Pradesh reached the spot within four hours of the incident.

"We have decided to restrict internet services for two days, for now. A decision on it will be taken day after tomorrow, keeping the law and order situation in mind," Chaudhary said.

Chat platforms like WhatsApp and other social media platforms like Facebook have helped spread rumours in the past, leading to violence. It happened in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, when a video from Sialkot, Pakistan, was passed off as being one of the local incident, which led to rioting, resulting in the deaths of more than 60 people.

Once bitten, twice shy, the state government and the security apparatus are not leaving anything to chance in Bijnor. "All the accused will be booked under the stringent NSA," Chaudhary said, adding that if the accused remained absconding, their assets, including their homes, will be sealed by the administration.

"One rifle and two country-made pistols have been recovered," Umesh Srivastava, the superintendent of police, Bijnor, told Catch.

District magistrate Jagat Raj added: "Nine companies of the Provincial Armed Constabulary and 3,000 UP Police personnel have been deployed." He added that the situation is under control, and that "the district administration is meeting with peace-loving people to restore normalcy".

Shahnawaz's story

Peda village lies on National Highway 179, barely three kilometres away from the centre of Bijnor city. Friday's incident has led to communal tension within the city itself. Markets shut down at five in the evening when a group attacked a clinic in the city, pelting stones. "Things are under control now," Chaudhary assured.

Bijnor has not seen any communal strife since the bloody riot in 1990, which claimed many lives. The city remained calm in 1992, when the state witnessed communal strife related to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and then again in 2013, when the neighbouring Muzaffarnagar was engulfed in a communal frenzy.

Peda has no history of any discord, according to locals. "We do not know why they fired at us all of a sudden. We have had no enmity in the past. We lived in harmony as neighbours in the village," said Shahnawaz, whose family was the target of violence on Friday.

"Around 15 members of our extended family are injured, while three died," he said, pointing out how four of the injured were in a serious condition. Three of them are recovering in a hospital in Meerut, while one has been referred to Delhi. The injured include women and children.

"It happened on the spur of the moment," Chaudhary said, explaining how, prima facie, it does not look like a planned crime.

Shahnawaz recounted: "All of us were having breakfast on the terrace, when around eight to nine people from neighbour Sansar Singh's terrace started firing with their rifles."

He said earlier that morning, when his first cousin Talib was going to drop his sister to school, some boys of the other community, including Sansar Singh's son, tried to harass her, leading to a heated conversation and a scuffle.

When the boy came back and narrated the incident to the family, a few members of the family approached Singh with the complaint. Then they came back home, and were later fired at indiscriminately. Shahnawaz somehow survived, while others were not so lucky.

"The attackers then ran away through the farms," he said.

The other side, according to locals, claimed that things were actually the other way around, and the boys of the minority community would harass school-going girls on a routine basis.

The Bijnor police however, said it was a clear case of harassment of a girl from the Muslim community and that the Jats thrashed the Muslims and fired on them.

Most of the members of Shahnawaz's family are either painters, or do similar daily wage jobs for a living.

Politics versus eyewitness accounts

The incident in Peda was serious enough to remind the locals of Muzaffarnagar riots, when a similar incident had culminated in a riot after more than a week of heated politicking.

However, in Bijnor, things seem to be different, at least for now. "It will die down soon," said a senior Jat leader from western UP.

"We want peace to prevail," said Yashwant Singh, the BJP MP from Nagina, who, along with Bhartendra Singh, the BJP MP from Bijnor, met top police officials, including the IG, the DIG and the SSP with a set of demands.

Speaking to Catch, Yashwant Singh said the incident should not be given a communal colour, and that the incident was a "reaction" to continued the harassment of women by members of the other community, about which complaints had been made to the local police, but no action was taken. He said the Jat villagers resorted to firing after they were thrashed and pelted with stones by members of the other community. "They were outnumbered and fired in self-defence," he said.

The circle officer in-charge of the police station, Asit Shrivastava, however, said that no complaint of eve-teasing was received from the village. The self-defence argument also looks thin, for most of the injured have gunshot injuries, and belong the minority community.

Multiple accounts of the event state that a relative of one of the attackers was later arrested with a country-made weapon from the hospital, where the injured from the minority community are being treated.

Meanwhile, Yashwant said that members of the Samajwadi Party were engaging in creating trouble in the city, adding that they were involved in pelting stones on a clinic, and the residence of a mediaperson on Friday evening, and that the police should not be seen as partisan.

Jayant Chaudhary, the general secretary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, said the government should take stern action. "They should make an example of people who tried to take law in their own hands," he told Catch.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 17 September 2016, 22:42 IST