Field Notes: A Vale Of Tears & Anger In Kanpur 

ALIZA NOOR & NIKITA JAIN

Ghulam Ghose’s grandmother would not stop crying when we met her on 8 June, five days after a protest against the derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad made by a former Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson ended in violence and a biased investigation where the Uttar Pradesh police only arrested Muslims.

Ghulam, a garment salesman, one of the young men arrested after the violence, went to work that day and returned home, his grandmother insisted, as other family members and neighbours watched with tears. 

There was a tragic story everywhere we went in the narrow bylanes inhabited by poor Muslims struggling to get information about where their loved ones were incarcerated and the charges against them. 

Many of those arrested are their families’ chief earning members. Living in one-room-quarters with attached kitchens, their families cannot afford lawyers. Mothers and fathers said there was little they could do except pray for a miracle and the return of their sons. 

“We have not lit the stoves of our houses since our children were arrested. Nobody has been able to eat or drink properly,” Ghulam Ghose’s neighbour told us. 

Stunned by the one-sided investigation and the local media blaming them for the violence, Muslims were reluctant to speak with us. While we expected some hostility given the anti-Muslim coverage of pro-government channels over the past few years, we were taken aback by the intensity of the anger we faced. This disintegration of trust in the media proved to be a challenge. Even as we tried making them feel seen and heard and assured them of fair coverage, they were unwilling to talk. 

Muslim shopkeepers were no less reluctant than the parents. They told us that any protest by a Muslim, even if intended to be peaceful, is criminalised by the media and the government. Even if they are some instances of violence, they said the Muslim community is demonised, and the punishment is illegal and disproportionate. Even those who promised to be fair, they said, pitted one side against the other and made irrational comparisons between majority and minority communities.

When the Muslim families finally opened up, they spoke not of politics or religion but about the loved ones who were suddenly gone, how to help them and to survive themselves in even more reduced circumstances. While digging up college admission papers or speaking of how hard they worked as daily wagers, elderly parents made a case for their sons not being troublemakers but productive members of society. 

This helplessness against the might of the state that we witnessed will stay with us for a long time. 

You can read Aliza Noor & Nikita Jain's full story here.

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