Aligarh/Mathura/Firozabad/Kasganj: Soaking up the winter sun in his courtyard, which is flanked by fields of mustard, Virendra Pal Singh, a resident of Kumarpur in Firozabad, says the atmosphere around him has improved since Yogi Adityanath became the minister in leader of Uttar Pradesh. “There were three things that perpetually worried us, Bhains, Beti aur Baali (cattle, daughter and jewelry). It used to be that women couldn’t go out after sunset, cattle rustlers raided our stables and even in broad daylight purse snatching was common,” he says.
Singh, who is a Thakur, the same caste as the CM, says his village is now safer and people do not hesitate to attend weddings even late at night. His neighbour, Janki Devi, in his seventies, agrees. “Now we have no fear, we know the police will have to act if there is a complaint,” she said.
Both claim that the law and order situation has changed drastically since the Samajwadi party lost power in the 2017 elections. emboldened,” Singh said.
The state’s ruling BJP government has repeatedly touted its law and order record; the demands find resonance on the ground.
“There is not only fear of the police, but also fear within the police. There were times when some police officers were asking for bribes and harassing us…now they are also careful,” says Pradeep Sharma, who runs a shop in Mathura. In Hathras, a first-time voter, Meenu (who gave only one name) says Adityanath’s stance against criminals encouraged her to join the police force. “I’m finishing my BA, but I’m also preparing for the competition (the competitions) and I want to join the police,” she says.
Repression against crime
The Adityanath government says that since coming to power – winning 312 out of 403 seats in the assembly – there has been a 37% decrease in cases of acid attacks against women, from 41.4% of the trafficking and 33.6% of rapes compared to 2016. He also claims that the state has seen a significant drop in the number of rape cases, from 3,419 in 2016 to 2,317 in 2020.
Various crime bureau data compiled by the state government highlights that in 2016, the National Crime Records Bureau placed UP at the top of the list of states in the crimes against women category. He adds that from 59,445 in 2016, the number of such cases has fallen to less than 56,000 in 2021.
The government also touts its record of dealing with harassment and harassment cases. The controversial “anti-Romeo” brigades set up to control the harassment of young girls have led to 14,454 arrests, he says.
The government’s controversial decision to seize the assets of those found guilty of damaging public property during the anti-CAA protests is hailed and criticized in equal measure.
“It is a bold move to take such a strong step. It sent a message that public property cannot be burned at will. The demolition of Mukhtar Ansari’s house was a clear message that this government is damdaar ( powerful),” says Sharma.
In August last year, the Lucknow administration razed Ansari’s residence. A former lawmaker, Ansari is currently in jail on charges of murdering BJP leader Krishnanand Rai in 2005.
The government claims to have collected ₹32.36 lakh in confiscating the property of those found guilty of destroying public property during the anti-CAA protests and has over the past five years razed properties worth ₹1,800 crores which belonged to criminals and gangsters.
In various places in Western UP, the CM’s powerful and decisive image is recognized as a reason to curb communal riots. “During the reign of the SP, riots were frequent. Hundreds of clashes took place between Hindus and Muslims and the government did nothing,” says Singh.
The government says 700 riots took place during the ruling Samajwadi party’s tenure between 2012 and 2017.
In Kasganj, the epicenter of a 2018 riot where a dispute between two groups over the passage of a Tiranga Yatra on January 26 resulted in the loss of life and property, people from different sections have points of contrasting views on the public order situation. Mukesh (who gave only one name), owner of a pharmacy in the region’s Tawal Pur village, said communal tensions have subsided. “Now that the Mandir (Ram temple in Ayodhya) issue is settled, they (Muslims) have realized that this government is serious.”
criminalize the other
Things are not looking up for everyone, says Vinod Kumar, a painter from Dalit-dominated Tilsai, located a short distance from Tawal Pur, also in Kasganj. “Law and order have improved for the upper castes. Aren’t Dalit girls still being raped? Jiski lathi, uski bhains (he who owns the staff, owns the ox).
The issue of improving law and order is most debated in Muslim-dominated regions.
In Aligarh, where Muslims represent 43% of the population according to the 2011 census, the issue of minorities perceived as criminals is hotly debated. A private company employee who asked not to be named said ‘this improvement in public order is just a pretext to criminalize the other’.
The employee goes on to add, “Suddenly all the slaughterhouses were declared illegal…because only Muslims and Dalits were engaged in slaughtering. Go to Agra and Kanpur, there are hundreds of small cottage industries locked down because this government has an obvious bias. Look at the number of people slapped with the NSA and the Gangsters Act.
In UP, the slaughter of cows and their illegal transport is sanctioned by the NSA, which can result in a prison sentence of a year or more and the gangster law allows the seizure of property as a punishment. According to state government information, up to August last year, UP police had invoked the NSA against 139 people in the state of whom 76 had been convicted of cow slaughter.
Mohammad Sajjad, professor of modern and contemporary Indian history at Aligarh Muslim University, says there is a disparity in the response to crime. He adds that the actions the government took against Muslims who participated in anti-CAA protests were not the same for others who protested.
“The cottage economy has been crippled and there is a return to the raj licence. Who are the biggest meat exporters, what party are they aligned to, these issues are not gaining political importance and the electorate cannot not see it.
According to Sajjad, the narrative that Muslims are “the other, the dangerous and the figure of hate” is gaining receptivity and durability. “There is an invisibilization of minorities and the opposition is forced to do the same because it fears losing the majority vote.”