In UP, muslims are the victims in 66% of hate crimes

Mohammad Anwar, 50, of Pasoi village in Sonbhadra district, southeastern Uttar Pradesh, was out for a walk after dinner on the eve of Holi, March 20, 2019, when he was beaten to death by a group of young Hindu men–including minors–when he found them vandalising a revered Islamic site. It was the latest hate crime against Muslims in UP. The young men had gathered around Imam Chowk–a white, square dais of religious significance for Muslims. The site, constructed a few years ago on Gram Sabha-owned land, had become a point of dispute with local Hindu residents in the last six months.

“My husband rushed over to Imam Chowk to find out what was the matter–he went there on my request–those people were trying to vandalise Imam Chowk… when he intervened, someone from the group attacked him with an axe,” Kamrun Begum (47), the victim’s wife, told FactChecker. “He collapsed… then they attacked him again to make sure he was dead before fleeing.”

“The victim was attacked with a sharp object when he tried to stop the men from the other community from demolishing the structure,” Salmantaj Jafertaj Patil, superintendent of police at Sonbhadra, said. There was no response to her cries for help from other villagers or neighbours, said Begum. The police took Anwar to the hospital after his son called a helpline. “But by the time he reached the hospital, it was too late–he was declared dead on arrival,” Begum said.  

Since 2009, 285 hate-crimes motivated by religious bias have been reported across India, according to Hate Crime Watch, a FactChecker database that tracks such crimes. At least 101 Indians have been killed and 717 injured, the database shows. Nearly two-thirds of those attacked (65%) and those killed (62%) are Muslim. Up to 91% of these crimes were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party came to power at the Centre in 2014. With 63 attacks since 2009, UP, India’s most populous state, where Muslims account for 19% of the population, occupies the top spot for religious-bias-motivated hate crimes. Muslims comprise 66% of those attacked, and about 97% of the crimes reported in UP took place after 2014, according to our database.

A farmer, Anwar, is survived by his wife, a daughter and seven sons who own their own small businesses. After his death, the family left the village for a few days, fearing for their safety.

“There was fear for a few days, and understandably so–our family member had just been murdered–so we left the village for a few days; but now, things are returning to normal,” Naeem Ghazipuri (60), Anwar’s elder brother told FactChecker. The family is “now satisfied” with the police action, he added.

Over six months to April 2019, Hindus and Muslims had sparred over the structure three times, as Hindus opposed it, according to police superintendent Patil.

“The police and the administration had successfully sorted out their differences the last two times,” said Patil. “This time, unfortunately, a tragedy happened.”Sonbhadra police have arrested seven persons, including five minors, under sections 147, 148, 149, 295, and 302 of the Indian Penal Code on charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, and murder. While police had initially registered cases against 19 people, this is now down to 15, of whom 11 are minors.

“The main accused, Ravindra Kharwar, from Ballia district, is currently behind bars and is being interrogated,” said Patil. There was harmony in the village for the last 17 years before Kharwar, a teacher, was posted in the town six months ago; since then the dispute over the Imam Chowk had been simmering, alleged Mohammad Sikander, Anwar’s son.

“Anwar was killed because he protested against the intentional damage being caused to the holy place–he was gagged first and then hacked with an axe,” alleged Azrul Begum, 50, the victim’s neighbour. “For months there have been disputes in our village over Imam Chowk, but the police did not register any case about it earlier, and no added security was provided to the village. They only gave us verbal assurances every time.”In January 2019, when Imam chowk had previously been vandalised, the district magistrate, sub-district magistrate, and other senior officials visited the village to assess the matter. “But the administration did not take it seriously, and tension in the village grew,” said Suraj Kumar (26) another neighbour of the dead man said. “Ultimately, Anwar Khan was killed.” The Kumars said they did not help Anwar and his family during the attack because they had gone to bed early that night, tired from Holi preparations. “We got to know about the incident only in the morning,” Kumar said.

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