In July 2019, a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh district was beaten up by his co-religionists for reading a Hindu text.
On his complaint, the police arrested two men, Sameer and Zakir. The accused, who live less than a hundred metres away from victim Dilsher Khan’s house, recently got out on bail.
Tired of the “repeated harassment”, Dilsher Khan now wants to sell his modest house and shift to his native village where, he believes, he would be able to pursue his religious interests in peace.
Khan hails from Kailora village of Hathras district. For the last three years, he has been living some 40 kilometres away in Mehfooz Nagar of Aligarh’s Delhi Gate area, where he works as a security guard at a meat factory. The colony where he lives is called ‘gosht gali’.
Khan, who spoke to this correspondent over the phone, said his Muslim neighbours object to his reading of Hindu religious texts. Khan regularly reads Ramcharitmanas, Ramayana and Gita and has been doing so for four decades.
According to his statement in the first information report (FIR) filed on 4 July, Khan was just about to open his copies of Ramayana and Gita around 9 am when a group of men barged into his house. The men, led by his neighbours Sameer and Zakir, told him that reading those texts was not allowed. When Dilsher protested, the men let out expletives and beat him up. They threatened to kill him and left, but not before taking the copies away and damaging his harmonium, which he calls ‘baaja’.
The police booked Sameer and Zakir under IPC sections 298 (uttering words to wound religious feelings), 323 (causing hurt), 427 (mischief), 452 (house-trespass), 504 (provoking breach of peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation). They recently got out on bail.
Khan says he feels a threat looming over him all the time, even though the accused haven’t approached him again so far. Asked if he informed the local police about the threat perception, he said he has not as he cannot “afford” security at his house. “I earn less than Rs 10,000, which barely supports my family of wife and five children. I have no money to sustain full-time guards deployed at my house who would need to be fed and served tea from time to time,” he explained.
Khan says the two men have been harassing him for some time now, but they aren’t alone in his neighbourhood doing so. “It’s always a mob. At times they confront me in the streets, and get violent and abusive. However, this was the first time they went so far as to barge into my house,” he said. The colony has around 2,500 families, all Muslims, he informed.
“They are illiterates” — is how Khan talks about his neighbours and their intolerance to his reading Hindu texts. “Kisi aur dharm ki jaankari lena to achi baat hai [it’s good to learn about other religions],” he says.
Khan is often invited to religious gatherings with his harmonium to recite Ramayana paath and sing bhajans. This, he says, is what has earned him the ire of “radical elements” in his community.
Khan says the only solution to his peace is that he sells off his two-room tenement in Mehfooz Nagar and shifts back to Kailora. “Ours is a Brahmin-Thakur village. My late father Phool Khan is a highly respected figure there. The only problem is lack of employment. That’s why I moved out in the first place,” he says. “But people in this colony [Mehfooz Nagar] are too repulsive to live with,” he adds.
Just two days ago, Khan visited Kailora to inquire about land rates and possibility of employment.
“The locals said I only need to buy land as construction of my house could be funded under prime minister’s housing scheme. I need some 2 lakh rupees in all. The moment I arrange the amount, I will return to Kailora,” he says.
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