The Ghaziabad whodunnit


Since Muslims across the world are in anguished agitation, I decided to take a short drive from New Delhi, along National Highway 24 to Ghaziabad’s Dasna village leading to the Masoori police station, where six Muslim youth were shot dead by a nervous police on the evening of September 14, three days after the tragedy in Libya.

Ghazi, which means warrior, is common to both: Benghazi and Ghaziabad. This quaint detail is attributable to an earlier spurt of globalization in the medieval period.

Benghazi erupted on 9/11 when US ambassador and his three fellow Americans were killed by a mob after an anti-Muslim video, produced in the US, was aired on YouTube. Gradually, uncontrollable rage enveloped the entire Muslim world.

The producers of the film must be pleased at the effectiveness of their mischief. There were the expected expressions of anger in parts of India too, which is host to the world’s second largest Muslim population. Apparently, to boost local anger, pages of the Quran were desecrated near Ghaziabad.

I am not for a moment suggesting a common authorship for the troubles in Benghazi and Ghaziabad. What I am saying is this: the black mood which had spread far and wide because of the video was taken advantage of. That is where pages of the Quran, with “pig” scribbled on one of them, enter the narrative. Mysteriously, in one corner of the “desecrated” page is scribbled a mobile phone number which confuses but leads nowhere.

Behind the Masoori police station, which serves 33 villages, a “bazaar” (village market) is held every Friday. September 14, Friday, was no different. The bazaar did brisk business during the day. By evening, say about 5.00 pm, when shoppers were returning home, a whisper went around Masoori that someone had thrown torn pages of the Quran from a moving train: covering the entire stretch from Ghaziabad to Moradabad. Most of this turned out to be gross exaggeration.

I met nobody who had actually seen these pages. Nor had those I spoke to met anyone who had set eyes on the dreadful piece of evidence.

The Chairman of Dasna Municipality, Sajid Hussain, 6.4 feet, lanky, like a retired fast bowler, narrates the nightmare he lived through. He speaks almost in a daze. Holding his head in both his hands, he mutters: “Yes, I saw the desecrated page very briefly at the police station because I was distracted by the mob.”

Behind Sajid Hussain’s office is the mosque of the adjacent village of Rafiqabad. Someone, who is mysteriously anonymous, brought the pages of the Quran to Abdul Qadir, “Muezzin” (one who calls the faithful to pray) of the mosque. Accompanied by a posse of devotees, Qadir turned up at the Masoori police station, shaking with rage. He announced he had come to file an official complaint. The crowd meanwhile was rapidly transforming itself into a mob. And the mob grew exponentially in size from “Asr” to “Maghreb”, the two congregational prayers, one in late afternoon and the other at dusk.

Sajid Hussain stands up, stretching both his hands which nearly touch the ceiling. “Calls were being given at all the village mosques asking the congregations to rush to the Masoori police station.” That is how the crowd swelled. He then screams into the air: “Who has given them so much power, these Imams of mosques?” And when the situation goes out of control “You expect the secular leadership to douse the flames?”

Earlier when the SHO asked Qadir to let him have the pages of the Quran so he can attach it or make a copy of it for the FIR, Qadir refused. The Quran would become “unclean” if the SHO handled it. Was not that particular page from the Quran already “desecrated”? After all, that specifically was Qadir’s complaint. Moreover anyone can buy a copy of the Quran from bookshops. Qurans thus sold become unclean? I tried looking for Qadir but he remained elusive.

By 6.30 pm DM, ADM, every acronym in the administrative and police catalogue are crammed into one small complaints room from where they all crawl into the “khazana” or the Strong room to protect themselves.

“Reinforcements please” shouts the SP into the telephone, repeatedly “Or, we will be killed.” The mob has held up traffic on NH24, blocking reinforcements, he is told. As the mob, by now in thousands, surges towards the room, setting fire to vehicles in the way, the ADM orders the constable with his finger on the trigger. “Fire in the air.” The constable pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. He shouts “Bandook kharab hai”, (the gun doesn’t fire). Where is the armoury? There is no armoury, just one more .303 rifle. Encouraged by a virtually unarmed police station, the mob breaks the door.

ADM orders the police to fire from the solitary gun in its possession into the crowd. Youngsters, at least three including bystanders, are shot in the head. Three more die of excessive bleeding.

On the way back, I see armed police in several villages, a scary over correction by the administration. Just off NH24 some youngsters, seated on a cot, are sipping tea. This is politics, they say. In the assembly segments, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party did better than Samajwadi Party in recent elections. Culprits apparently wanted a communal riot. “But we did not fall for the bait”, they point to Rajiv Gupta, seated with them. In fact he owns the tea stall. “Inshallah, we, in the villages around Dasna and Masoori will never allow a communal riot.”

The “villains” may have planned for a communal riot, but the situation on the ground in Qasbahs and villages is quite different: Rajiv Gupta and Haji Shaukeen pitted against the administration!  But this is the picture probably only in the villages. Don’t forget, the MP from Ghaziabad is BJP’s Rajnath Singh: intricacies of first past of the post system.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

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