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Yogi Adityanath, the Militant Monk

 


In 2017 Uttar Pradesh swore him in as its Chief Minister. Now, there is no man more powerful, visible, and controversial in India’s most populous state.

Neha Dixit

Ajay Singh Bisht was born in Uttarakhand, a hilly state carved out of Uttar Pradesh. A mathematics graduate, at 22, he was unemployed and looking for work. So he joined the Gorakhnath Math monastic order, named after 11th- century saint Gorakhnath, in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh. The Nath tradition did not believe in idol worship or one God. Rather, its syncretic culture welcomed people from all castes and religions. Even today, the Math has non-Brahmin priests, a break from the Hindu caste order, and runs schools, hospitals, and cow sheds in its large temple complex.

On joining the Math, Ajay took on a new name and a vow of celibacy, shaved his head, embraced saffron robes for life, and officially changed his last name to be similar to that of the head of the Gorakhnath Math, Mahant Avaidyanath.

Four years later, in 1998, he would become the youngest Member of Parliament in India at age 26, representing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose claim to fame at the time was the political arm of a national movement to reclaim Hindu god Ram’s birthplace.

In 2017, Uttar Pradesh would swear him in as its Chief Minister. Uttar Pradesh, as the most populous state in India, sends the most people to the Indian Parliament. The party that wins Uttar Pradesh impacts national politics. There is no man more powerful and visible in the state today than Yogi Adityanath. And this is his story.

LUCKNOW, INDIA - MARCH 31: Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath feeding cows along with Mulayam Singh Yadav's daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav and Deputy CM of UP Dr. Dinesh Sharma during his visit at Kanha Upvan at Nadarganj area, on March 31, 2017 in Lucknow, India. Kanha Upvan is a shelter home for cows and stray animals. (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

In 1998, the BJP, a right-wing party that believed in making India a Hindu nation, won enough votes to form a coalition government and install its own prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The party had grown in strength within a decade of starting the Ram Janmbhoomi movement, a nationwide campaign to reclaim the land of Lord Ram’s birth. The campaign’s followers had destroyed Babri Masjid, which they believed was sitting atop Ram’s birthplace, in 1992. The incident sparked sectarian violence all over the country, with thousands dying and millions injured. The event also shaped the future of modern India, turning a secular republic into the seat of Hindu majoritarian, sectarian politics.

In the last century, in a departure from the earlier Math traditions, the head priests of the Goraknath Math have played a crucial role in making Gorakhpur the crucible of Hindutva. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose political wing is the BJP, has long promoted the ideology of Hindutva, which believes in the supremacy of a Hindu nation. Avaidyanath, a four-time member of parliament from Gorakhpur, was a key figure of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

His predecessor, Digvijaynath, was a member of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, a militant organization whose members included Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi for condoning Partition. Digvijaynath was in jail for nine months for inciting Hindus to kill Gandhi at a public meeting on January 27, 1948. Two years after Gandhi’s murder, when he became the General Secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, he famously said that if they come in to power, they will take away voting rights from Muslims for five to 10 years. The Math now worships idols of several Hindu Gods.

“Around the time Adityanath became part of the Math, east Uttar Pradesh was in the grips of organized crime,” said Omair Ahmad, a writer who grew up in Gorakhpur.

Unemployment and other low socioeconomic indicators meant that people turned to crime. The city had one of the largest railway hubs in northern India and gang wars would break out over acquiring high-budget railway contracts. Many would call east Uttar Pradesh the “Chicago of the East” and “Slice of Sicily,” and the gang wars, “varchasva ki ladai,” or fight for absolute power. During that period, the police would gun down many gangsters, most of them Brahmins or from Other Backward Castes (OBC).

Adityanath used this dynamic to power his rise in local politics. “Adityanath played his upper-caste Thakur identity, started making public appearances unlike his predecessors, and tapped into the resentment amongst the youth and rose,” added Ahmed. Adityanath was now part of the varchasva ki ladai. Within five years of Adityanath joining the Math, Avaidyanath, at age 77, retired from politics and declared him his heir and candidate for the 1998 general elections for Gorakhpur district.

During his first term as a Member of Parliament, two months after the Gujarat 2002 pogrom that left over 2,000 Muslims dead, Yogi Adityanath formed the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), a militant Hindu youth organization. HYV members were mostly unemployed, young Hindu men. The group even fielded candidates against the BJP.

The HYV’s agenda included cow protection, ghar wapsi-reconversion drives of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, and combatting love-jihad, namely the alleged practice of Muslim men feigning love to convert Hindu women to Islam. HYV members beat up Muslims on accusation of cow slaugher, separated Hindu-Muslim couples, and terrorized churches. The HYV also served as a vigilante system. People would watch over others for not towing the Hindutva line and complain to HYV, pitting people against each other to create an endless cycle of terror and violence.

Between 1998 and 2017, Adityanath was elected to serve as the Member of Parliament (MP) from Gorakhpur five times. As MP, he created the template for what a majoritarian Hindu nation could look like: no tolerance for multiculturalism, violation of civil liberties, and repression of political opponents via legal cases against them.

During this period, Gorakhpur saw several sectarian riots. There were advantages to wearing Hindu majoritarianism on the sleeve. So Gorakhpur police stations constructed Hindu temples on their premises and started holding weekly Hindu prayers and celebrations. Gorakhpur changed the names of local places from more Persianized Hindi to Sanskritized Hindi: Mian Bazar became Maya Bazar, Urdu Bazar became Hindi Bazar, Ali Nagar became Arya Nagar. In 2005, Adityanath also led a purification drive, forcibly converting 1,800 Christians to Hinduism in the town of Etah.

In 2008, at the Virat Hindu Chetna rally in Siddharthnagar, Uttar Pradesh
— which the HYV had organized — Adityanath 
claimed that Hindu culture and Muslim culture can never coexist and that a religious war is inevitable. On his official website, Adityanath’s prominent articles include “Khatre Mein Hindu” (Hindus in Danger), “Savdhaan! - Yeh Islami Aatankvaad Hai” (Beware, This is Islamic Terrorism).

In 2015, when Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan joined writers, filmmakers, scientists, and historians in decrying the growing religious intolerance in India, Adityanath compared him to Pakistan terrorist Hafiz Saeed, threatened to invoke the Hindu majority to boycott his films, and suggested that he “go to Pakistan.”



Chief Minister of India's Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath (L) gestures during a Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) rally ahead of India's general election, in Ahmedabad on March 26, 2019. There are nearly six weeks between the first round of voting on April 11 and the last. (SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images)

In his election campaign in 2017, Adityanath linked the crime graph of Uttar Pradesh to the religious composition of the state, hinting that the Muslim community was responsible for criminal activities and that criminals should be killed.

By the time he was elected as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in March 2017, Adityanath had been accused of 18 criminal charges, including hate speech, attempt to murder, and instigating sectarian violence. When he became Chief Minister, he dismissed all the cases against him. It was the first time in independent India that an active religious leader was appointed to public office.

Within a year of his appointment, the Chief Minister’s Office, the state secretariat, public buildings, curtains, and towels in government offices, police stations, transport buses, toilets, road dividers, toll plazas, school bags in government schools, felicitation and beneficiary certificates, and even the state Haj office that facilitate the pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims, were colored in saffron, considered holy in Hinduism.

In March 2018, Adityanath said in a state assembly that, as a proud Hindu, he doesn’t celebrate Eid, a Muslim festival. This was a departure from the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, a local phrase denoting the multicultural way of life in large parts of the state. According to the 2011 census, 19% of Uttar Pradesh is Muslim. The state is known for its syncretic fusion of Hindu and Muslim culture, a result of centuries of interfaith exchanges where Muslim rulers with Hindu subjects and vice versa actively participated in each other’s culture and festivals. This is reflected in its cuisines, art forms like Kathak, celebration, literature, clothes, and daily life.

Every Holi, Dewa Sharif, the white shrine of Sufi Saint Haji Waris Ali Shah in Barabanki district, turns red, yellow, red, pink, purple. Waris Ali Shah was a 19th-century saint who believed that all religions are based on love and affection. His followers were Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs. To mark this tolerance, he started the tradition of celebrating Holi at the shrine every year, which has continued for over a century.

On November 26, 2017, while campaigning for local elections, chief minister Adityanath used electricity distribution to Dewa Sharif as a poll issue. Dewa, he said, “got electricity 24×7, Mahadeva got none.” He implied that “discrimination has ended in the BJP government” because now both the temple and mosque have electricity.

Lodheshwar Mahadev temple is an hour away from Dewa Sharif on the banks of Ghaghra river. The temple is also known for its syncretic culture. For centuries, shops outside the temple have sold offerings, owned and run by both Hindus and Muslims. The two annual fairs held at this temple, one on Shivratri in March to April and the other, a cattle fair in October to November, are major contributors to the village’s economy. Both Hindus and Muslims participate with equal enthusiasm.

In 2017, Mahant Adityanath Tiwari, a priest in his 30s who fashions himself after Yogi Adityanath, and known as “Chota Yogi” was designated as the chief priest of the temple. Following Adityanath’s statement, Chota Yogi, aided by a local HYV unit, started removing loudspeaker from the 200-year-old mosques next to the temple, and ousted all Muslim shop owners from outside the temple complex.

Police have also arrested several Muslim vendors under the draconian National Security Act (NSA), which empowers federal and state governments to detain a person without trial for 12 months without appeal.

“I want to ask these people, have they forgotten how a Muslim tailor has been serving Ramlalla in Ayodhya for years? Have we not served the Mahadeva by taking care of the devotees who come every year?” ask Shakeela, whose son Rizwan was also arrested, using the colloquial phrase “Ramlalla” to refer to baby Lord Ram.

She says that such arrests of breadwinners are further weakening Muslim communities, who have the worst socioeconomic indicators in the country. According to the Sachar Committee report, a report to study the socioeconomic conditions of Muslims in India, 31% of Indian Muslims were living below the poverty line.



Uttar Pradesh state chief minister Yogi Adityanath at holy sangam, the confluence of Ganges, Yamuna, and Saraswati rivers, during his two-day visit in Allahabad on June 3,2017 (Ritesh Shukla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In the first 18 months of the Adityanath government, 160 people were charged with NSA, most of them working-class Muslims: brick kiln workers, rickshaw pullers, street vendors, students. More than one-third of the 120 cases in which authorities in Uttar Pradesh invoked the National Security Act between January 2018 and December 2020 were against Muslims accused of cow slaughter.

Hindutva proponents use cow protection as an excuse to target Muslims. Since Adityanath has come to power, official dinners no longer serve meat, though data shows that only 20% of Indians are vegetarian. Adityanath’s government has targeted the slaughterhouse business in Uttar Pradesh, which contributes about two-thirds of the total exports of buffalo meat from the country; India’s buffalo meat exports are worth more than $3 billion. The business is mostly run by Muslims. In the past nearly five years, the state government has reportedly shut down 150 illegal slaughterhouses, and arrested 319 alleged cow smugglers in the state.

Apart from arrests, several Muslims have been lynched to death in the state on rumors of cow slaughter. “There was no cow, knife, axe, or blood. We were attacked because we are Muslims,” said Samiuddin, who was brutally injured by a Hindu mob on accusation of cow slaughter in Hapur in June 2018. His friend, Qasim was lynched to death.

By October 2021, the Uttar Pradesh police had killed 151 people and injured 3,473 in pre-planned police shootouts, known as police encounters. Almost all of them are under trial — as an under trial, you could spend several years in prison while the case is being tried in the slow judiciary system in India. According to National Crime Record Bureau prison data for 2015, 67% of all jail inmates are under trial. Over 55% of under trials across the country are either Muslims, Dalits, or tribals.

The Adityanath government lists the encounter numbers as an achievement in annual reports, celebrating and awarding cops. Meanwhile, family members who demand information on the killings have been threatened, their houses vandalized.

“If we are a family full of such dreaded criminals, why don’t we have any money to feed ourselves even twice a day? Why do we still live in
a kachcha house?” asked Nasreen, whose husband Furquan was killed in October 2017.

The National Human Rights Commission has issued over a dozen notices to the Adityanath government. In January 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights wrote to the Indian government expressing alarm. Between 2016 and 2019, the National Human Rights Commission registered 2,008 cases where minorities and Dalits were harassed, including lynchings. Of these, 43% of the hate crimes were from Uttar Pradesh alone, making it the most unsafe state for minorities, Dalits, and the tribal community in the country.



LUCKNOW, INDIA - DECEMBER 6: Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath addresses the gathering after paying floral tribute to the statue of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on his 66th death anniversary, at Hazratganj, on December 6, 2021 in Lucknow, India. (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Dalits form 21% of Uttar Pradesh’s population and play a decisive role in the state’s politics. For centuries, they have faced societal marginalization and discrimination.

In April 2017, within a month of Adityanath coming to power, the Dalit community was denied permission by the district authorities to install a statue of B.R. Ambedkar in Shabbirpur village in Western Uttar Pradesh, owing to objections by the Thakur community. Ambedkar was the father of the Indian Constitution, and inspired the Dalit Buddhist movement.

Within a few weeks, in the same village, the Thakur community was granted permission to take out a procession of Maharana Pratap, a warrior king. Clashes broke out and the mob burned down 55 houses in the Dalit neighborhood, grievously injuring many. In the protest that followed, over 50 Dalits and only two Thakurs were arrested.

“Adityanath does not want any space for dissent, especially for the Dalit community,” said Meerut-based Sushil Gautam, president of the anti-caste group Blue Panthers. “Most top police officers in his government are Thakurs. There is a blatant upper-caste dominance in his government.”

In May 2017, Adityanath held a public meeting with the Dalit families in Kushinagar district, in east Uttar Pradesh. A day before his visit, the families were distributed soaps and shampoo to clean themselves before attending the meeting. The move was criticized globally.

In August 2018, the Dalit community of Uldepur village in Meerut was denied permission to protest in the Chaudhury Charan Singh Park, at the heart of the city. They had gathered to protest the killing of a Dalit boy by the Thakur men in the village. This was just two weeks after the Thakur men from the same village had gathered at the same place to show solidarity with the accused. Each time, people come out to protest, Section 144, which prohibits the assembly of five or more people in an area in urgent cases of apprehended danger, is imposed.

“Large parts of Meerut have been under section 144 for the past four-and-a- half years. He does not tolerate dissenters,” added Gautam.

While the Indian constitution reserves seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Class in government colleges and jobs, Adityanath has opposed the reservation policy. One out of every five Dalit students drops out of school in India because of lack of resources. His government has changed the rules for scholarship for Dalit students: now, students from marginalized communities will get a scholarship only if they secure at least 60% marks.

This year, in January, just a month before the Assembly elections in the state, Adityanath and a couple of BJP members ate at the house of a Dalit family in Gorakhpur. Gautam shared, “We all know that members of Dalit community do not drink mineral water. But Adityanath was sitting with a Bisleri bottle. So it was a photo op, not breaking the practice of untouchability. If he really wants to treat us as equal, he should also enter the gutter with us, the jobs that have been traditionally assigned to us.”

On July 17, 2019, 11 people were killed and 25 injured in Sonbhadra district. The Gond tribe had refused to vacate land claimed by the village headman, Yagya Dutt, who belonged to the dominant Gujjar community. Even though the tribe warned Adityanath’s office in advance, the administration refused to act.

“The Adivasis have been tilling the land for the past seven decades. After the Adityanath government took office, the Adivasis have been threatened by the local land mafia to stop tilling the land,” said S.R. Darapuri, a former Indian police services officer and president of All India People’s Front.

Darapuri says that the Adityanath government is not happy with the assertion of tribal identity, which has its own customs, rituals, and religion. “Assertion of a Non-Hindu identity by the local tribe upsets him and so the tribes are being punished with eviction.”



LUCKNOW, INDIA - JUNE 24: Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on his way to inaugurate 181 women helpline rescue van at 5 Kalidas Marg, on June 24, 2017, in Lucknow, India. Yogi Adityanath congratulated his team for programs undertaken regarding empowerment of women and girls and success achieved in 100 days. He said that the government was highly concerned with the rising crime rate and is undertaking various steps to address it. (Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Women are not capable of being left free or independent, wrote Adityanath in his 2014 essay, “Matrushakti, Bharatiya Sanskriti Ke Sandarbh Mein” (Power of the Mother Figure in the Context of Indian Culture), which he first published on his personal web site. Adityanath firmly believes in providing male protection to women, controlling them, and protecting them from western ideas of feminism that could threaten the social order.

He writes: “If you leave energy free and uncontrolled and unregulated, it may become useless and destructive, similarly ‘shakti shakti swaroopa stree’ — woman as the epitome of power — does not really need freedom.”

“Only such controlled and protected women power will give birth to and raise great men ...Else the thoughtless storm of women freedom of the western world will drive them to an even more disastrous condition and it will hamper the creation and stability of the home and family and prevent the glorious rebuilding of the nation and motherland,” he writes.

His ideas have a stark parallel to the idea of an ideal women in Nazi Germany, one who did not have a career outside her home and her most important duty was to be a good wife, raise able son to fight for the Fatherland, and populate the Aryan race.

He also opposes the Women’s Reservation Bill, which allocates 33% of seats for women in Parliament, because he thinks it will impact their roles in the family structure. He writes: “Women who are in active politics and public life like men, whether in this process they may not lose their importance and role as mothers, daughters, and sisters.”

But since women as an electoral block have played a key role in several elections since, Adityanath has since removed the essay from his website. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s latest report, 371,503 cases of crime against women were reported across India in 2020. Among states and union territories, Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 49,385, followed by West Bengal (36,439), Rajasthan (34,535), Maharashtra (31,954) and Madhya Pradesh (25,640).

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Jawaharlal Nehru University students along with other demonstrators burn a cut-out of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath during a protest to condemn the alleged gang-rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in Bool Garhi village of Uttar Pradesh state, in New Delhi on October 5, 2020. - India's federal investigators will take over the probe into the alleged gang-rape and murder of an oppressed-caste teenaged woman that has sparked nationwide outrage and days of protests. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

In June 2017, just three months since Adityanath took over as Chief Minister, a 17-year-old was gang-raped by a BJP Member of Legislative Assembly, Kuldip Sengar, and his associates in Unnao district. For two years, Aditynath provided patronage to Sengar while the survivor’s family faced threats. In her pursuit for justice, the survivor tried to self-immolate in front of Adityanath’s residence. Instead, her father was arrested and later died in police custody. Her uncle was arrested, two aunts killed in a truck collision, she and her lawyer seriously injured in the same incident.

Only after the Supreme Court recognized the case, after civilian protests, and opposition parties raised the issue in Parliament was Sengar finally arrested and convicted in December 2019. But only two years later, courts discharged Sengar and his associates due to insufficient proof.

In September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped by four dominant caste men in Hathras, hundreds of miles from Lucknow. The violence damaged her spinal cord and left her paralyzed, and her tongue was cut off. She died in a Delhi hospital two weeks later. The state government forcibly cremated the body of the victim, without the family’s consent, in the middle of the night.

The case received widespread media attention and generated nationwide protests. Adityanath claimed that the Hathras incident was being exploited to incite caste violence. Within a week, the Uttar Pradesh government filed 19 law and order cases, including sedition, against people who highlighted the case in public. This includes the arrest of Siddique Kappan, a journalist who was on his way to cover the case and charged with the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and has been in jail for over 16 months.

Adtiyanath’s government hired Concept PR, a Mumbai-based public relations firm, that pushed a clarification note ‘Hathras girl was not raped’ among international media.

“He is not interested in the progress or empowerment of women,” said Subhashini Ali, a former Member of Parliament and politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). “He is only interested when a Hindu woman is involved with a Muslim man.”

In 2017, soon after taking over as Chief Minister, Adityanath formed an Anti- Romeo Squad, a moral policing force that targeted young men and women in public places, forcing them to show their identity cards to check if Hindu women are dating Muslim men. Between March 22, 2017 and November 30, 2020, the Anti-Romeo Squad had arrested 14,454 people.

In November 2020, UP government enacted the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020, called the “love jihad law” in popular parlance. The act makes religious conversion non-bailable with up to 10 years of jail time if undertaken through misinformation and allurement. It also requires that religious conversions for marriage in Uttar Pradesh to be approved by a district magistrate.

In December, 2021, the first sentencing under the new law came about, when a young Muslim man in Kanpur was given a jail term of 10 years and slapped with a fine of 30,000.

“It is a tool to arrest Muslim men and control Hindu women...who are seen as the property of the community,” said Ali.

In May 2021, Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar reported hundreds of unaccounted dead bodies on the banks of Ganges River. Uttar Pradesh had seen a large number of deaths during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Two months later, several bureaus of the newspaper all over India were raided by the income tax department. Opposition parties called it an attempt to intimidate the media.

Over 200 people have been arrested for criticizing Adityanath on social media.

Dr. Kafeel Khan was a lecturer at the Department of Pediatrics, Baba Raghav Das Medical College, Gorakhpur. In August 27, 63 children died after the hospital ran out of oxygen. The deaths attracted national attention. Kafeel spent his own money to buy oxygen cylinders to remedy the situation.

Three days later, the Uttar Pradesh government denied any deaths due to oxygen shortage. Several cases were filed against him, including NSA. He was arrested, incarcerated for over 500 days in several Uttar Pradesh prisons, and terminated from his job. During the pandemic in 2021, Adityanath ordered a crackdown on several hospitals flagging lack of oxygen, asking officials to take action under NSA and seize their property.

“A pseudo euphoria has been created around him because [Adityanath] crushes anyone who brings him bad press and criticism,” Khan told me.

As Chief Minister, like his predecessors, Adityanath changed the names of Uttar Pradesh cities: Mughalsarai became Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhayaya Nagar, Allahabad became Prayagraj, and Faizabad became Ayodhya.

During his Chief Ministership, estimates suggest that the gross domestic product (GDP) of Uttar Pradesh grew only 1.95% per year as compared to 6.92% during the previous state government between 2012 to 2017. In Uttar Pradesh, the urban unemployment rate stands higher than the national average of 7.7%, at 10.6%.

Between 2017 and 2020, sectors like agriculture, forestry, and fishing have displayed satisfactory growth but livestock, manufacturing, transport, communications, and financial services have contracted. Adityanath has spent much of the state’s limited resources — Uttar Pradesh is one of the poorest states in the country — in creating temples.

In March 2020, Adityanath named and shamed anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters by putting up their names, pictures, and addresses on billboards all over Lucknow. The Act fast-tracked Indian citizenship to people of all religions from neighboring countries except Muslims.

“We were not even allowed food, medicines, our spectacles,” said 78-year-old Darapuri, who was arrested for three weeks. “This has been one of the worst periods of suppression.”



GREATER NOIDA, INDIA - MARCH 9: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during the inauguration of Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya Institute of Archaeology, Noida City Centre-Noida Electronic City section of the metro and two thermal power plants, on March 9, 2019 in Greater Noida, India. (Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

“As an MP, he has had no impact on the development of Gorakhpur. His party was voted out of power in the elections soon after he became the CM because he could not keep his promises,” said Ahmad. Yet, Adityanath remains the star campaigner of the BJP.

He is a firm proponent of the Akhand Bharat dream of the Hindu nationalists and endorsed it in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly. Akhand Bharat literally means undivided India. The idea posits that modern-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Burma are one big Hindu nation.

Many are now viewing him as far more radical and committed to the Hindutva cause than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, under whose leadership the state of Gujarat saw one of the worst pogroms against Muslims.

After a large number of deaths in the second coronavirus wave in Uttar Pradesh, rumors floated that Modi was unhappy with Adityanath. Many RSS officials even visited the state to do an audit of the government. A few months later, Modi and Adityanath did a photo-op, where both were seen walking the corridors at Modi’s residence.

People are calling Adityanath Modi’s successor. “If he succeeds, our Constitution will be thrown out and Hindu supremacy will be imposed. There will be no democracy, only dictatorship,” said Darapuri.

The cult around Adityanath is not designed to convince or reason. Instead it destroys anyone who questions his leadership.

“His life trajectory is now a guide book for the politically ambitious, who have learned that communal poison and not development leads to advent,” said Ali.

As a Hindu monk promising to replicate the Ramjanmabhoomi model in cities of Varanasi and Mathura, he now enjoys varchasva, absolute power without constitutional limitations.

Assembly elections are currently underway in Uttar Pradesh. The results will be out on March 10. While the Adityanath-led BJP party had an edge initially, the recent farmers’ protest has dented the BJP vote in the sugarcane belt in western Uttar Pradesh. Some are predicting a tie between the BJP and the opposition put up by Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal coalition.

But perhaps the results don’t matter for Adityanath. His eyes are set on a far larger stage.

“[Uttar Pradesh] has been in a state of social and economic Emergency,” said Gautam. “If he comes to the national stage he will use the same methods to create India into a homogenous Hindu society with one religion, one language, one ideology.”

Published by The Juggernaut on Feb 15, 2022

Link: https://www.jgnt.co/yogi-adityanath-the-militant-monk

उत्तर प्रदेश: क्या बहुसंख्यकवादी भारत में फ़र्ज़ी आतंकी आरोप चुनावी मुद्दा हो सकते हैं?


आतंकवाद के फ़र्ज़ी मामलों में फंसे लोगों के लिए लड़ने वाले सामाजिक कार्यकर्ता और रिहाई मंच के महासचिव राजीव यादव उत्तर प्रदेश में आज़मगढ़ से चुनाव में खड़े हुए हैं.
नेहा दीक्षित


सराय पोही (आजमगढ़): पूर्वी उत्तर प्रदेश के आजमगढ़ जिले के सराय पोही गांव में एक सर्दियों की दोपहर में लहराते बालों वाले युवा और लंबी दाढ़ी वाले बुजुर्ग लगभग 30-35 वर्ष के आदमी को घेरे हुए हैं.

मो. जावेद को 2002 में पाकिस्तान के कराची में रहने वाली प्रेमिका को पत्र लिखने के आरोप में गिरफ्तार किया गया था. एक पत्र में उन्होंने एक दिल की आकृति बनाकर उसके अंदर J+M लिख दिया था. पुलिस ने J+M, जावेद+मोनोबिना को पाकिस्तान स्थित आतंकी संगठन जैश-ए-मोहम्मद का कोड घोषित कर दिया था और जावेद को भारत में उसके स्लीपर सेल का सदस्य बताकर गिरफ्तार कर लिया.

जावेद ने रामपुर की जेल में एक विचाराधीन कैदी के रूप में 12 साल बिताए. 2014 में उन्हें सभी आरोपों से मुक्त कर रिहा किया गया.

वह अपनी ही उम्र के राजीव यादव की ओर इशारा करते हुए कहते हैं, ‘जब मैं जेल में था, मेरी रिहाई के लिए आवाज उठाने वाले एकमात्र शख्स रिहाई मंच के राजीव यादव ही थे.’

राजीव यादव उत्तर प्रदेश विधानसभा चुनाव में आजमगढ़ की निजामाबाद सीट से निर्दलीय उम्मीदवार हैं.

आम नागरिकों के आतंक के फर्जी मामलों में कैद रहने और इनमें हस्तक्षेप करने की राजनीतिक इच्छाशक्ति की कमी के बारे में आवाज उठाने वाले राजीव यादव के कई स्टार प्रचारकों में से एक जावेद हैं.

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‘जहां आदमी, वहां आज़मी’ यह आजमगढ़ के लिए एक आम कहावत है, जहां लगभग एक सदी पहले बड़े पैमाने पर पलायन शुरू हो गया था. ऐसा कहा जाता है कि प्रत्येक घर का कम से कम एक सदस्य खाड़ी देशों या मिडिल ईस्ट एशिया में काम करता है.

आजमगढ़ में आज भी गुणवत्तापूर्ण उच्च शिक्षा वाले कॉलेज, औद्योगिक इकाइयां या अन्य रोजगार के अवसर नहीं हैं जिससे इस पलायन को रोका जा सके. यह भारत के 250 सबसे पिछड़े जिलों में से एक है.

हालांकि जिले की आबादी में मुसलमानों की संख्या महज 15 प्रतिशत है, लेकिन पिछले डेढ़ दशक से यहां इस्लामोफोबिया चरम पर है.

मीडिया, भारतीय सिनेमा और यहां तक की हिंदू दक्षिणपंथियों ने भी सांप्रदायिक आधार पर वोटों का ध्रुवीकरण के लिए इसे ‘आतंकवादी फैक्ट्री’ करार दिया है.

उत्तर प्रदेश के वर्तमान मुख्यमंत्री योगी आदित्यनाथ ने जिले में 2007 में  एक कथित जानलेवा हमले में उनके बचने को लेकर एक लेख लिखा था, जिसका शीर्षक था ‘आतंक का गढ़, आजमगढ़.’

2008 में दो छात्रों- आतिफ अमीन और मोहम्मद साजिद की गोली मारकर हत्या कर दी गई थी और एक अन्य जीशान, को पुलिस ने आतंक के आरोप में दिल्ली के बाटला हाउस में गिरफ्तार किया था. तीनों इसी इलाके के रहने वाले थे.

बाटला हाउस मुठभेड़ पर काफी बहस हुई है, मानवाधिकार कार्यकर्ताओं और वकीलों ने इसका जमकर विरोध किया. घटना की प्रामाणिकता आज तक सवालों के घेरे में है.

2016 में पुलिस ने दावा किया था कि मोहम्मद साजिद मुठभेड़ में नहीं मारा गया बल्कि भाग गया और बाद में आईएसआईएस में शामिल हो गया. इस पर भी काफी बहस हुई क्योंकि पुलिस कोई सबूत नहीं दे पाई.

अमेरिका में 9/11 के हमलों के बाद बढ़े वैश्विक इस्लामोफोबिया की राह पर चलते हुए यह वही समय था जब भारतीय पुलिस और सरकारी एजेंसियां ‘इस्लामिक आतंक को जड़ से उखाड़ फेंकने’ के लिए बेताब थीं.

बाटला हाउस मुठभेड़ के बाद यूपी की राजधानी में लखनऊ बार एसोसिएशन ने फैसला किया कि उसका कोई भी वकील सदस्य आतंकी आरोपियों के केस  नहीं लड़ेगा.

सुप्रीम कोर्ट के एक फैसले के अनुसार, संविधान का अनुच्छेद 21 कैदियों को उनके जीवन और स्वतंत्रता के मौलिक अधिकार के हिस्से के रूप में एक निष्पक्ष और त्वरित सुनवाई का अधिकार देता है. हालांकि, बड़ी संख्या में विचाराधीन कैदी सामाजिक-आर्थिक रूप से वंचित पृष्ठभूमि से हैं और उनकी कानूनी सहायता तक पहुंच नहीं है. इससे अदालत में अपना बचाव करने की उनकी क्षमता बाधित होती है और वे जेल में लंबा समय बिताते हैं.

इसी समय रिहाई मंच का गठन किया गया था. इसके अध्यक्ष लखनऊ के वरिष्ठ वकील, मो. शोएब हैं, जिन पर कई आतंकी आरोपियों का बचाव करने के लिए अदालत परिसर के भीतर साथी वकीलों ने बेरहमी से हमला भी किया था.

आजमगढ़ में पले-बढ़े राजीव यादव एक युवा पत्रकार हैं, जो एक छात्र नेता के रूप में पूर्वी उत्तर प्रदेश में सांप्रदायिकता और मानवाधिकारों के मुद्दों को उठाते रहे थे. वे मंच में उनके साथ शामिल हो गए. वे पहले पीपुल्स यूनियन ऑफ सिविल लिबर्टीज (पीयूसीएल) के सदस्य के रूप में सक्रिय रह चुके थे. अब वे रिहाई मंच के महासचिव हैं.

आजमगढ़ वैश्विक आतंक को लेकर चल रही कॉन्सपिरेसी थ्योरी के शीर्ष पर था. 2008 में पुलिस ने आजमगढ़ के दो युवकों को हिरासत में लिया था. फिर उन्हें उल्टा लटकाकर कश्मीर के आतंकी संगठनों के साथ उनके जुड़ाव का पता लगाने के लिए उनकी पिटाई की. पुलिस ने पूछा, ‘हमें उन सभी कश्मीरियों के नाम बताएं जिन्हें आप जानते हैं!’

उन्होंने जवाब दिया, ‘फारूख अब्दुल्ला, उमर अब्दुल्ला.’ जम्मू कश्मीर के मुख्यमंत्री और उनके बेटे. इस जवाब पर उनकी और पिटाई की गई.

राजीव ऐसी कार्रवाइयां, जो अभी भी जारी हैं, की मूर्खता की ओर इशारा करते हैं, ‘अगर कल ग्रामीण यूपी के किसी व्यक्ति, जिसने दुनिया नहीं देखी है, से अमेरिका के किन्हीं दो लोगों का नाम लेने के लिए कहा जाता है, तो वह डोनाल्ड ट्रंप और बराक ओबामा कहेगा, क्योंकि उसने मीडिया से केवल उन्हीं लोगों के बारे में सुना है.’

रिहाई मंच के हस्तक्षेप के एक हफ्ते बाद उन दोनों युवकों को रिहा किया गया था.

जावेद (बाएं) के साथ राजीव.

राजीव कहते हैं, ‘आजमगढ़ को बलि का बकरा बनाया गया और शहर के गरीब, अशिक्षित युवकों को पुलिस द्वारा बार-बार कुर्बान किया जाता रहा.’

अब तक रिहाई मंच फर्जी मामलों में फंसे कम से कम 17 लोगों को कानूनी मदद, वकालत, विरोध-प्रदर्शन, मीडिया अभियानों के माध्यम से मुक्त करवाने और जेल से रिहा करने में कामयाब रहा है. यह कोई छोटी उपलब्धि नहीं है, क्योंकि 2015 के राष्ट्रीय अपराध रिकॉर्ड ब्यूरो के जेल संबंधी आंकड़ों से पता चलता है कि भारत में कुल कैदियों में से दो-तिहाई से अधिक कैदी विचाराधीन हैं.

देश भर में 55% से अधिक विचाराधीन कैदी मुस्लिम, दलित या आदिवासी हैं, विचाराधीन कैदियों में उनकी हिस्सेदारी स्पष्ट रूप से उनकी आबादी के अनुपात से अधिक है.

पिछले 14 वर्षों में राजीव को सार्वजनिक विरोध-प्रदर्शनों में बेरहमी से पीटा गया. गुजरात, यूपी में फर्जी मुठभेड़ों पर सवाल उठाने के लिए हिरासत में लिया गया. उन्होंने अक्षरधाम मंदिर हमले में कई लोगों की गिरफ्तारी, 1984 के हाशिमपुरा नरसंहार, मुजफ्फरनगर दंगों और नागरिकता क़ानून पर सभाओं का आयोजन भी किया. उन्हें ‘पाकिस्तानी एजेंट’, ‘राष्ट्र-विरोधी’, ‘आतंकवादी’ कहा गया है, जो आज के भारत में सरकार पर सवाल उठाने वाले हर इंसान को कहा जाता है.

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योगी आदित्यनाथ सरकार के पिछले पांच वर्षों में यूपी पुलिस ने पुलिस मुठभेड़ों में 151 लोगों की जान ली है और 3,196 लोग इनमें घायल हुए हैं. उनमें से लगभग सभी विचाराधीन कैदी हैं, उनमें से लगभग 40 प्रतिशत मुसलमान हैं और शेष अनुसूचित जाति (एससी) और अन्य पिछड़े समुदायों (ओबीसी) से हैं.

इस बारे में हुई पड़ताल से पता चलता है कि कैसे ये हत्याएं पुलिस मुठभेड़, जहां पुलिस आत्म-रक्षा में गोली चलाती है, न होकर पूर्व नियोजित थीं और निशाना बनाकर की गई थीं.

पुलिस मुठभेड़ में मारे गए या घायल होने वालों में से 13 आजमगढ़ के थे. उनमें से दो मुसलमान हैं, बाकी या तो एससी थे या ओबीसी. हालांकि हमेशा से आजमगढ़ की मुस्लिम आबादी पर लांछन लगाया गया है, लेकिन जिले में बड़ी संख्या दलित और ओबीसी की है.

आजमगढ़ के एक युवा दलित भीम सागर हैं, जो ‘हाफ एनकाउंटर’ का शिकार बने. हाफ एनकाउंटर उस घटना को कहा जाता है जहां पुलिस किसी व्यक्ति के पैर में गोली मारती है, जिससे गंभीर चोट लगती है.

भीम के भी पैर में गोली लगी थी, जिसका जेल में सही इलाज नहीं किया गया, नतीजन उनका पैर काटना पड़ा. इस तरह की पुलिस मुठभेड़ों के कई पीड़ितों ने इसी तरह अपने अंग खोए हैं.

आजमगढ़ के एक दलित कार्यकर्ता बांके यादव कहते हैं, ‘आजमगढ़ में पुलिस मुठभेड़ों का ऐसा हौवा है कि किसी भी नेता ने कभी एनकाउंटर हुए लोगों के पीड़ित परिवारों से मुलाकात भी नहीं की. नागरिक स्वतंत्रता के ऐसे मुद्दे अब चुनावी राजनीति का हिस्सा नहीं हैं.’

यही वजह है कि राजीव ने सक्रियता से राजनीति की ओर रुख किया और 2022 उत्तर प्रदेश विधानसभा चुनाव लड़ने का फैसला किया. वे कहते हैं, ‘ये सवाल संसद में उठाए जाने चाहिए.’

निजामाबाद सालों से समाजवादी पार्टी के लिए सुरक्षित सीट रही है. पार्टी ने अक्सर खुद को धर्मनिरपेक्ष राजनीति के रक्षक के रूप में खड़ा किया है. इस निर्वाचन क्षेत्र में 2.9 लाख ओबीसी, मुस्लिम और दलित वोट हैं.

संयुक्त राष्ट्र के अनुसार, भारत में हर तीसरा दलित और मुसलमान गरीब हैं. निजामाबाद अच्छी गुणवत्ता वाले कटहल, लाल मिर्च और 36 से अधिक प्रकार के आमों का उत्पादन करता है लेकिन सरकारी सहायता न होने कारण लोग अब किसानी छोड़कर दूसरे व्यवसायों की ओर रुख कर रहे हैं.

राजीव कहते हैं, ‘यहां तक कि जब योगी आदित्यनाथ ने पूर्वांचल विकास आयोग का गठन किया, जो क्षेत्र के सामाजिक आर्थिक संप्रदायों को बढ़ाने के लिए एक आयोग था, तब भी बहुत कुछ नहीं बदला.’

आधिकारिक आंकड़ों के अनुसार, पूर्वांचल से 38 लाख प्रवासी कामगार हैं, उनमें से कई 2020 की कोविड-19 लहर में घर वापस आ गए थे. हालांकि स्थानीय कार्यकर्ता मोहसिन अहमद कहते हैं, ‘दलित और ओबीसी समुदाय के कई लोग स्थानीय स्तर पर रोजगार की कमी और करणी सेना जैसे उच्च जाति के ठाकुर समूहों के बढ़ते प्रभुत्व और उत्पीड़न के कारण बड़े शहरों में वापस चले गए हैं.’

इससे क्षेत्र के गांव-गांव खाली हो गए हैं. चुनाव अभियान के दौरान केवल महिलाएं और बच्चे ही दिखते हैं.

इसी तरह, भले ही आजमगढ़ में आर्सेनिक के चलते भूजल के दूषित होने के कारण हर साल कैंसर के मामलों की संख्या बढ़ रही है, मगर शहर में एक भी कैंसर अस्पताल नहीं है. राजीव कहते हैं, ‘यह कभी किसी राजनीतिक दल के एजेंडा में नहीं रहा.’

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संजरपुर गांव में शाम का समय है. आजमगढ़ के एक प्रसिद्ध वकील शाहिद आज़मी, जिन्हें मुंबई में आतंक के आरोपियों का बचाव करने के लिए गोली मार दी गई थी, और दलित सुधारक और भारतीय संविधान के रचयिता डॉ. भीमराव आंबेडकर  की तस्वीरें मेज पर लगी हैं.

बिजली नहीं है, सो अंधेरा है. अनुसूचित जाति और अनुसूचित जनजाति (अत्याचार निवारण) अधिनियम को कमजोर करने के खिलाफ 2018 के देशव्यापी विरोध के दौरान गिरफ्तार किए गए दलित कार्यकर्ता आरपी गौतम कहते हैं, ‘आप गूगल, यूट्यूब, इंस्टाग्राम, ट्विटर पर राजीव के काम पर एक नज़र डाल सकते हैं.’

यहां बैठे युवक जल्दी से ऑनलाइन स्क्रॉल करना शुरू कर देते हैं. स्मार्टफोन से निकलने वाली रोशनी से पूरा क्षेत्र जगमग हो जाता है.

चुनाव आयोग ने कोविड-19 महामारी के कारण चुनाव अभियानों के लिए सार्वजनिक रैलियों पर रोक लगा दी है. केवल घर-घर जाकर और वर्चुअल अभियानों की अनुमति है, जिससे केवल संपन्न राजनीतिक उम्मीदवारों को फायदा मिल रहा है.

राजीव कहते हैं, ‘हमारे पास पैसा नहीं है लेकिन हमारा काम खुद बोलता है. हम ज़बानी पब्लिसिटी और लोगों के भरोसे पर चल रहे हैं.’

पिछले कुछ वर्षों में गांव और आसपास के इलाकों से कम से कम छह लोगों को आतंकवाद के आरोपों में आजीवन कारावास की सजा सुनाई गई है. यूपी पुलिस और आतंकवाद विरोधी दस्ते (एटीएस) ने भी शहर के कई मुस्लिम युवकों की गिरफ्तारियां की हैं. आतंकवाद के अप्रमाणित आरोपों में सैकड़ों अब भी जेल में बंद हैं.

इससे जुड़ी आतंकी छवि को दूर करने के लिए गांव बेताब है. एक बुजुर्ग राजीव को बीच में रोकते हैं, ‘कृपया आतंकी आरोपों के बारे में बात न करें. हम कोई इंसाफ नहीं चाहते हैं.’

राजीव जवाब देते हैं, ‘फर्जी आतंकवाद के आरोप, पुलिस अत्याचार, मानवाधिकार उल्लंघन के मुद्दे मुस्लिम मुद्दे नहीं हैं, वे संवैधानिक मुद्दे हैं जो सभी भारतीय समुदायों के लिए समान हैं.’

हाल के दिनों में कई भारतीय कार्यकर्ताओं ने चुनाव लड़ा है. जहां जिग्नेश मेवाणी जैसे दलित कार्यकर्ता गुजरात में जीते, वहीं पूर्वोत्तर भारत में आफस्पा के खिलाफ 16 साल की भूख हड़ताल पर बैठीं इरोम शर्मिला और तीन दशकों तक अपनी जमीन से लोगों के विस्थापन का विरोध करने वालीं मेधा पाटकर चुनाव हार गईं.

राजीव सामंती पितृसत्तात्मक पृष्ठभूमि के खिलाफ जाति, धर्म को लेकर बंटी वोट बैंक की राजनीति की उसी अग्निपरीक्षा से गुजर रहे हैं.

वे कहते हैं, ‘मौजूदा चुनावों में कई लोग कह रहे हैं कि मुस्लिम मुद्दों को न उठाएं वरना यह सांप्रदायिक आधार पर वोटों का ध्रुवीकरण करेगा. हमने कश्मीर का मुद्दा पर्याप्त नहीं उठाया और अब पूरा देश कश्मीर जैसा हो गया है, एक ऐसी जेल जिसमें कोई मानवाधिकार नहीं है.’

राजीव कहते हैं, ‘जो आजमगढ़ में हुआ वही न्यू इंडिया में होगा. पहले के राजनीतिक नैरेटिव में केवल मुसलमान अपराधी थे. अब दलित, ओबीसी और यहां तक कि किसान भी आतंकवादी हैं. इसे चुनौती दी जानी चाहिए.’

इस पर बुजुर्गवार लोग चुप रहते हैं, लेकिन नौजवान ताली बजाना शुरू कर देते हैं और राजीव के साथ गांव की पदयात्रा में शामिल हो जाते हैं.

Published by Wire Hindi on Feb 9, 2022

Link: https://thewirehindi.com/204491/uttar-pradesh-can-fake-terror-charges-be-an-election-issue-in-majoritarian-india/

English version here: https://www.nehadixit.in/2022/02/can-fake-terror-charges-be-election.html

Can Fake Terror Charges Be an Election Issue in Majoritarian India?



Rajeev Yadav, a civil rights activist who has been working with those wrongfully accused in terror cases, is contesting from Azamgarh in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh.

Neha Dixit

Sarai Pohi (Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh): On a winter afternoon, young men with floppy hair and old men with long beards surround a petite man in his late 30s in Sarai Pohi village in Azamgarh, a district in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Mohd Javed was arrested for writing letters of love to his beloved in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002. In one of the letters, he drew a heart and inscribed J+M inside it. The police interpreted J+M, Javed+Monobina, as a code for Jaish-e-Mohammmed, a Pakistan-based terror outfit, and called him a member of its sleeper cell in India. He spent 12 years in a Rampur prison as an undertrial, was absolved of all charges and released in 2014.

“While I was in jail, the only person who raised a voice for my release, ran a campaign was Rajeev Yadav from Rihai Manch,” he says pointing towards Yadav, a man his age and an independent candidate from the Nizamabad assembly seat in Azamgarh.

Javed is one among the many star campaigners for Yadav, who speak about their incarceration and lack of political will to intervene in fake cases of terror against ordinary civilians.

Mohd Javed with Rajeev Yadav. Photo: Neha Dixit

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‘Jahan aadmi, wahan Azmi (Where there is a human, there is an Azmi).’ This is a common saying for Azamgarh, which started witnessing large-scale migration almost a century ago. It is said that at least one member of each household works in the Gulf or Middle East. Azamgarh still does not have quality higher education institutions, industrial units or other employment opportunities to stop the migration. It is one of the 250 most backward districts of India.

Although Muslims form just 15% of the population of the district, the region has been at the receiving end of Islamophobia for the past decade and a half. It has been demonised by the media, Indian cinema and even the Hindu right-wing, by dubbing it a ‘terror factory’ to polarise votes on sectarian lines.

Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh wrote an article – ‘Atank ka gadh, Azamgarh (Terror hub, Azamgarh)’ – about how he survived an alleged murderous attack in the district in 2007.

In 2008, two students – Atif Ameen and Mohammed Sajid – were shot dead in encounter and another person, Zeeshan, was arrested by the police in the Batla House case in Delhi on charges of terror. All three were from this area.

The Batla House encounter was debated and heavily contested by human rights activists and lawyers. The authenticity of the incident is mired with complicated questions till date. In fact, in 2016, the police claimed that Mohammed Sajid did not die in the encounter but fled and later joined ISIS. This is also heavily debated, since the police could not provide any proof.

In line with global Islamophobia, heightened after the 9/11 attacks in the US, this was the time when the Indian police and state agencies were desperate to ‘root out Islamic terror.’ After the Batla House encounter, the Lucknow Bar Association took a call that none of its lawyer members will take up cases of terror accused.

According to a Supreme Court ruling, Article 21 of the constitution entitles prisoners to a fair and speedy trial as part of their fundamental right to life and liberty. However, a significant number of undertrials are from socio-economically deprived backgrounds and have no access to legal aid. This hampers their ability to defend themselves in court and they end up spending long stretches in jail.

This is when Rihai Manch was formed. It was headed by Mohd Shoaib, a senior advocate in Lucknow. He was brutally assaulted by fellow lawyers within court premises for defending several terror accused.

Rajeev Yadav, a young journalist who grew up in Azamgarh, and as a student leader raised issues of communalism and human rights in the Poorvanchal region, joined Shoaib. Yadav had earlier dipped his toes in activism as a member of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties. He is now the general secretary of the organisation.

Azamgarh was at the centre of global terror conspiracies. In 2008, two young men from Azamgarh were detained by the police. They allegedly hung them upside down and beat them up in order to find out their links with terror outfits in Kashmir. The police asked, “Tell us the names of all the Kashmiris you know!”

They replied, “Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah.” The then chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and his son. They were thrashed more for this answer.

Yadav points out the silliness of such operations that still continue, “If tomorrow, a person from rural UP, who has not seen the world at all, is asked to name someone from America, they will say Donald Trump and Barack Obama, because those are the only people they have heard of from America in the media.”

The two men were released a week later, following Rihai Manch’s intervention.

“Azamgarh was the scapegoat, and poor, uneducated young men from the city were repeatedly used as fodder by the police,” Yadav says.

Rajeev Yadav. Photo: Neha Dixit

Till date, Rihai Manch has managed to get at least 17 people absolved of such cases and released from jail through legal aid, advocacy, protests and media campaigns. This is a no small feat, since the National Crime Records Bureau prison data for 2015 suggests that over two-thirds of all jail inmates in India are undertrials. Over 55% of undertrials across the country are either Muslims, Dalits or tribals; their share among undertrials is clearly disproportionate to their population.

Over the past 14 years, Yadav has been beaten up in public protests and detained for raising questions on fake encounters in Gujarat and UP, arrests of several people in the Akshardham temple attack and organising meetings on the 1984 Hashimpura massacres, Muzaffarnagar riots and the Citizenship Amendment Act. He has been called ‘Pakistani agent’, ‘anti-national’, ‘terrorist’ – labels given to all those who question the establishment in today’s India.

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In the last five years of the Yogi Adityanath government, the UP police has killed 151 people and injured in 3,196 in police shootouts, known as police encounters in popular parlance. Almost all of them are undertrials, nearly 40% of them are Muslims, and the rest are from Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes.

Investigations reveal how the killings were pre-planned and targeted instead of chance encounters where the police fired in self-defence.

Out of these, 13 people who were shot dead or injured in police encounters were from Azamgarh. Only two of them are Muslims, the rest are either from the SC or OBC communities. Though Azamgarh’s Muslim population has been stigmatised, the district has a large Dalit and OBC population.

Bhim Sagar, a young Dalit man from Azamgarh, was a victim of what is now called a ‘half encounter’. In these situations, the police shoot a person’s leg, causing grievous injury.

Sagar had a bullet injury in his leg which wasn’t treated in the prison. As a result, his leg had to be amputated. Many victims of such police encounters have lost limbs in a similar manner.

“Such is the stigma of police encounters in Azamgarh that no politician paid a single visit to the encounter families. Such issues of civil liberties are no longer part of electoral politics,” says Banke Yadav, a Dalit rights activist from Azamgarh.

This is the reason why Rajeev Yadav turned from activism to politics and decided to contest the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. “These questions must be raised in the Parliament,” he says. 

Nizamabad has been a secure seat for the Samajwadi Party for years. The party has often portrayed itself as protector of secular politics. The constituency has 2.9 lakh OBC, Muslim and Dalit votes.

According to the UN, every third Dalit and Muslim in India is poor. Nizamabad produces good quality jackfruit, red chillies and over 36 types of mangoes. But with no aid, farmers are quitting and moving to other professions.

“Even when Yogi Adityanath formed the Poorvanchal Vikas Aayog, a commission to raise the socio-economic indicators of the area, much remains unchanged,” says Yadav.

Rajeev Yadav addressing a gathering. Photo: Neha Dixit



















According to official data, there are 38 lakh migrant workers from Poorvanchal, many of whom walked back home in the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. “Many from Dalit and OBC community have returned to bigger cities for lack of employment locally and the growing dominance and oppression of upper-caste Thakur groups like the Karni Sena,” says Mohsin Ahmed, a local activist.

This has emptied village after village in the area. During the campaign, we only see women and children left behind.

Similarly, even though Azamgarh has high number of cancer cases every year due to contamination of ground water because of arsenic, there is not one single cancer hospital in the city. “It has not been on any political party’s agenda ever,” says Yadav.

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It is evening in Sanjarpur village. Pictures of Shahid Azmi, a celebrated lawyer from Azamgarh who was gunned down in Mumbai for defending terror accused, and Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar adorn the table. There is a power cut, it is dark. R.P. Gautam, a Dalit rights activist who was arrested during the 2018 nationwide protest against the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, says, “You can take a look at Rajeev’s work on Google, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter.” The young men quickly start scrolling online. The area is illuminated by the light emanating from the smartphones.

The Election Commission has prohibited public rallies for election campaigns because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only door-to-door and virtual campaigns are allowed, putting candidates with deep pockets at an advantage.

“We don’t have money but our work speaks for itself. We are relying on word-of-mouth publicity and the trust of the people,” says Yadav.

In the last few years, at least six people have been sentenced to life imprisonment on terror charges from the village and neighbouring areas. The UP police and Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has also made several arrests of Muslim young men from the city as part of their official ‘deradicalisation’ project. Hundreds continue to languish in jail on unproven charges of terror.

The village is desperate to shun the terror stereotype associated with it. “Please don’t talk about terror charges. We don’t want any justice,” an old man interrupts Yadav as he speaks about Rihai Manch’s work.

Yadav responds, “Issues of fake terror charges, police atrocities, human rights violation are not Muslim issues, they are constitutional issues which are the same for all Indian communities.”

In the recent past, many Indian activists have contested elections. While Dalit rights activist Jignesh Mevani won in Gujarat, Irom Sharmila, who sat on a 16-year hunger strike against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the Northeast, and Medha Patkar, who protested against the displacement of people from their indigenous land for three decades, lost elections.

Yadav is undergoing the same litmus test of vote bank politics divided over caste and religion, against a feudal patriarchal background.

“In the current elections, many people are saying ‘Let’s not raise Muslim issues’ or else it will polarise the votes on communal lines. We didn’t raise the Kashmir issue enough and now the entire country has become like Kashmir, a prison with no human rights,” he says.

“The trajectory of Azamgarh is the trajectory of ‘New India’. In the earlier political narrative, only Muslims were criminals. Now Dalits, OBCs and even farmers are terrorists. This has to be challenged.”The older people remain quiet. But the young men start clapping and join Yadav in a march across the village.

Published by The Wire on Feb 4, 2022

Original Link: https://thewire.in/politics/can-fake-terror-charges-be-an-election-issue-in-majoritarian-india

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