A week after the village grabbed headlines after a Muslim neighbor was lynched by predominantly Hindu villagers for allegedly eating and storing beef on Bakr’id, Bisahara continues to draw in droves both politicians and the media.
On Saturday when an Outlook team visited Dadri to make an on-the-spot assessment, they were denied access to the victim’s family and the controversial temple from where the announcement was made past 10 pm for the mob to collect or to the priest, who is reported to have arrived in the village barely three months ago from Gujarat. Not just Outlook but access was denied to other media, the opposition and to civil rights activists as well on Saturday.
Who gains by blocking access to the family of the late Md Ikhlaque? The family on Friday was reportedly threatened by an SDM who is alleged to have told them ‘Jo bolega woh bhugtega’ (Those who speak will pay for it). Villagers the Outlook team spoke to seemed to have been mobilized and their outrage appeared orchestrated. This is what the Outlook team saw on Saturday:
Barely a kilometer after we took a left turn towards the NTPC power plant at Dadri, half a dozen OB vans and several other vehicles parked on the right caught our attention. Curious, we got down to enquire and were informed that reporters and crew of the news channels were beaten up by irate women, who pelted stones and drove them away.
A car screeched to a halt and a young man emerged, incongruously beaming. “I barely escaped,” he announced with a grin. One of his acquaintances from another channel chipped in, “Bhaiyya, you remember that time in Mumbai? This one was almost as bad.” All of them of course had their smart phones out, showing each other what they managed to capture on their mobile and informing the respective studios of what had happened.
“Don’t go in a car and don’t take cameras,” one of them warned as the Outlook team decided to go ahead. We took his advice, left photojournalist Sanjay Rawat behind while my colleague Pavithra Rangan and I decided to walk the last stretch to the village named variously as Bisahada, Basera, Bisahara and Bisada in the media (trust the media to get the name wrong!).
Several daily wage labourers were busy making half-hearted attempts to fill up the ‘potholes’ on the Kuccha Road. Is this being done for the CM Sahib, I asked on a hunch. They nodded in the affirmative. Is the CM coming from Lucknow or Delhi? They of course had no clue. The contractor, a well-dressed young man, was tight-lipped but was clearly taking no chances with the VIPs descending on the village in droves.
A group of men huddled together outside an electric repair shop. A few plastic chairs and a charpoy had been pulled out as they spoke animatedly to a group of activists. We stopped to listen. The media had given their village a bad name, they argued. The coverage was one-sided, they complained (implying that the victim’s family members were hogging air time). And Muslims and outsiders in the guise of the media were fomenting trouble in the village.
“That man Owaisi was here yesterday and declared that Muslims would deal with the village once the police left…” claimed an angry young man. I could not restrain myself and asked how they learnt about the alleged statement. That seemed to offend them. Someone pointed to Pavithra’s cell phone and accused her of recording the conversation. “Why should we record it? We are not even from the media,” she replied belligerently. That was the strategy we had worked out, that we would claim to be researchers.
For some time that seemed to calm them. “Even if the carcass was that of a pigeon, human beings would react, wouldn’t they,” asked a middle aged man reasonably. The exclamation, ‘…and here it was a calf the family had slaughtered…’ hung in the air. This was of course at the centre of the controversy. Initial reports had claimed that a cow was reported missing from the village. Later reports quoted villagers as saying that a calf was slaughtered and the remains were thrown in a garbage dump in the village while some reports have quoted villagers as saying that the remains of the calf were found inside the house and were dragged out by the mob. “All the women saw it,” the sister of one Vishal Rana, detained by the police, told the media. She had earlier claimed that the remains were spotted in the garbage dump.
“Who reported his cow or calf was missing,” I ventured to ask. Someone blurted out, “it was awaraa, a stray calf.”
The questioning seemed to upset some of them. “Who are you to question us? Are you in a position to give us any help? If not, leave and leave immediately,” screamed a man in rage.
He was joined by apparently a Brahmin, called Panditji by others. “There are wiser and more clever people than you in this village,” he asserted, “We don’t need you here.” Attempts to calm him down seemed to add fuel to the fire. “It will not take more than a minute for things to turn ugly”. Outsiders are giving us a bad name and we will not allow them,” he said resolutely even as someone else warned that a mob of women was approaching from the interiors of the village.
Even as we stood our ground and tried to placate them, saying that they needed to talk for their version to be heard, an upper caste woman distinguished by her veil, pointed a finger at Pavithra. “Chal yahan se, bhaag le,” (you better get lost) she said aggressively even as Pavithra seemed ready for a fight. There seemed little point in lingering there and I persuaded my colleague to leave.
As we walked back towards the main road, two more women charged at us. They both spoke in a torrent and seemed to be asking why the police had taken away young men from the village. We stopped and asked if their sons were among them and if so, what were their names. For a moment they seemed to have been taken aback. But soon they recovered their poise and shouted that outsiders were not welcome.
Was it an orchestrated outrage? They certainly seemed to have no specific complaint against the media and it certainly looked as if villagers had been brainwashed to ensure that the media are not given access to the victim’s family and others. Throughout this week they had spoken happily enough, posing for photographs and claiming that Hindus in the village had actually helped the Muslim family during the lynching.
Persistent queries by hordes of newsmen certainly had the potential to reveal uncomfortable facts and challenge some of the claims. Blocking the media, opposition and civil rights activists (villagers did not allow Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and some Congressmen also to enter the village) appear designed to protect the culprits. It perhaps warrants a Supreme Court monitored investigation by a group of eminent citizens and lawyers.
The killing has already taken an ominous turn after the Islamic State (IS) allegedly vowed to avenge the killing of the 50 year old ironsmith, who was dragged out of his bedroom by the mob. The continued silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the incident appears to have emboldened elements and agencies working to protect the cow. Facebook pages of Gomata Gauseva Trust depicts writer Shobha De , who tweeted, “I eat beef. Come and kill me”, as the devil. And the website of Gomata.in continues to depict gruesome pictures of cow slaughter, believed to be morphed and photoshopped. No attempt has been made by either the UP Government or the Centre to take any action against these agencies or block them.