‘The biggest criminal is Media’

Victims of one-dimensional police claims and sensational media clichés, the angst ridden people of Azamgarh are on the verge of despair

Suman Gupta Azamgarh

Residents of Sanjarpur village in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh are convinced that the encounter in L-18 of Batla House is "completely fake". Five boys of this village had gone to study in Delhi with the hope of getting good jobs. All the five boys were living together in L-18 in Batla House at Jamia Nagar.

Sajid, 17, son of Dr Ansar, was the youngest. He had come to Delhi with the dream of getting a job in a multinational company after doing English- speaking and computer courses. Zahid, brother of Sajid, says that having done his matriculation from Mohammadpur Inter College in 2007, Sajid tried to get admission in Jamia Milia Islamia in Delhi and wrote the entrance exam as well. He failed to clear the entrance exam and took admission in Paramhans Jamuadas Hadaura Inter College. Two months back, he had gone to Delhi to learn English and computer courses. Sajid's brother lives in Riyadh and had come back home to celebrate Eid with his family. He had never expected that he will return to find his young brother dead - his head full of police bullets.

Atif, 23, was also killed in the encounter. The youngest son of Amin Ahmed, resident of Sarai Meer, he was doing B Tech from Jamia Milia Islamia. His elder brother works for a TV channel as a cameraman. Says Atif's mother: "My son was innocent, he didn't kill any one. Four days back I had called him for the sehri. He told me not to worry and he takes sehri regularly."

She was reading Quran when we reached Atif's home. Atif's father is sick since the death of his son and hasn't spoken to anyone.

Jamshed Ahmed, uncle of Atif, is a resident of Sanjarpur village. He calls the whole incident a "fraud". He says: "It's all a conspiracy against the people of this region. It's an attempt to hamper the educational and economic growth of our children. Atif was innocent. Atif wanted to celebrate Eid with us and had got his ticket booked in the Kaifiyat Express."

He is crying. Everyone is crying here all the time. There is absolute terror of the police and collective depression. Everyone is on the verge of despair.

Saif, son of Shadab, arrested in the encounter, had come to Delhi from Sanjarpur village. His father was district vice president of Samajwadi Party (SP). After the encounter, the SP instantly broke its relations with Shadab Ahmad. Locals are angry with the SP. Tariq Shafiq, a local resident, says, "Shadab Ahmad was the one who established the SP in this area and now the party says that he is not a member. This is obnoxious."  In Sanjarpur village and Binapar, party hoardings display the names of MP Abu Azmi and Shadab Ahmad. Locals say he is widely respected and popular.

Shadab Ahmad explains: "I wanted Saif to study in Azamgarh, but he wanted to go to Delhi and do a higher quality English-speaking and computer course. In July, Saif had come here since he was not well. He stayed here for 15 days and returned as soon as he got well."

People are angry with the role of the media. Zahid, brother of Sajid, says that one TV channel was continuously telling a disturbing lie: "that my father had died".  Tariq Shafiq got infuriated after it was

published in the Varanasi edition of Dainik Jagran that Atif has a bank balance running in crores in the Pawae Lordpur branch of the Union Bank.  The regional manager contested the news report. The manager says that the accounts of Atif and Sajid are not operational now. These accounts were opened for scholarships. Atif's account no. is 42530201008836 and he has only Rs 1,409 in his account. Sajid had Rs 30,000 in his account and this amount was deposited in three installments.

Umair Nadvi of Shibli Academy is angry and disturbed. "The local media is speaking the language of Adityanath Yogi," (Hindutva hardliner) he says. "Few days back, BJP MP Yogi said in a speech that Azamgarh has become a nursery of terrorism. Media is making his statements as its headlines. The biggest criminal in the whole incident is media."

Tariq, resident of Sanjarpur village, says that immediately after the so called encounter, journalists came to the  village and started asking crude and tactless questions like - ‘Your son is a terrorist. What do you have to say?' This enraged the locals. Some TV channels are calling Azamgarh as aatankgarh (terror fortress). This is an attempt to defame the district. "Azamgarh is not aatankgarh," say locals.

Around 50-60 children from Sanjarpur village have gone to either Lucknow or Delhi after class 12 to pursue higher studies. Since the encounter all of them are scared and most of them keep their phones switched off. Till last week, people were eagerly waiting for Eid. Now, there is not an iota of celebration in the air. People are terrorised. They think young boys can get picked up and killed in encounters anytime - "they will immediately be branded as terrorists by the police and the media will splash it as the only and final truth, without even one iota of public evidence."

Says an old man, his eyes wet" "There is no mental peace in this village anymore. There is no peace in this village anymore."


Aatankgarh? Listen to these voices...

Azamgarh district was famous for being a citadel of communism, socialism, arts and literature. It played a decisive role during the freedom movement. This district has produced the intellectual giants like Rahul Sankritayan, Shibli Nomani and Kaifi Azmi.  Now, Azamgarh has become a political playground. Dr VN Gaur, famous physician of the district, argues that this entire murky scenario is an attempt on the part of political parties to polarise voters for their personal gains. "This can become disastrous," he says.

Iftiqaar Ahmad, principal of the prestigious Shibli PG College: "It's an attempt to terrorise our children so that they can't pursue higher studies. The government should send a message that only those who are guilty will be punished while innocents will not be harassed in the name of fighting terrorism."

Abu Sufiyan, principal of Binapar College, is known as a mini Sir Syed Ahmed for his contribution to education: "Our children are terrified and it's all being done under a conspiracy. Earlier people used to go to the Gulf to earn money. Now, with the opening of MNCs, our children became hopeful that good English and computer education can help them in getting a good job in these companies...  These incidents are taking place because of the political battle between the BJP and Congress. Elections will take place next year. Both the parties want power at any cost. The Congress will have to pay a heavy price."

Siddiqui Naqvi, senior research fellow in Shibli Academy: "Azamgarh has been famous for waging a united battle against the Britishers. Today, the projection of Azamgarh as the nursery of terrorism is shocking... The political parties are most dangerous because they do everything in the context of their vote bank politics. Whatever is happening in Azamgarh is also a part of this larger political game to capture power."

Dr Javed, famous orthopaedecian of the city": "We are peaceful and law- abiding citizens. The media is trying to create a gulf between the two communities by not showing the truth," Elders of Chittupatti Madarsa Hanfiya question, with tears streaming down their eyes: "Who are these people responsible for widening the gulf between the two communities? One politician in Maharashtra openly humiliates and tortures the Hindi speaking population. No one calls him a terrorist. Isn't it a disgrace to our national language?"