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How a gullible media was taken for a ride
"Pakistani flags" in Meerut village!

Editor’s note: Reports in two Delhi newspapers claimed that on August 15 Pakistani flags were unfurled in Bisola village of Meerut district. We were stunned to read these reports. It was unbelievable that any Indian Muslim in his senses would do it. None of the reports were filed from the place of the claimed mischief. So we decided to find out for ourselves. To our utter disbelief, the story turned out to be totally unfounded, without a grain of truth. Here is our staff reporter’s account.

Twenty kilometers from the bustling town of Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh lies a medium-sized village called Bisola. The non-descript, quintessential Indian village is the unlikeliest of places to attract media attention. However, it made big news on Independence Day when some reputed newspapers in the national capital published stories that students from a madrasah had marched through the streets with Pakistani flags, shouting pro-Pakistan slogans.

The Right Reverend The Times of India reported in its August 17 edition that the madrasah students not only committed offences noted above, but also shouted "pro-Osama bin Laden slogans." The TOI correspondent did not bother to go to Bisola and sent the story from Meerut. That the reporter did not go to the village is also shown by the fact that the village is Bisola, not "Basala" as the TOI reporter wrote. The TOI story is based on omniscient "intelligence sources," a device being frequently used in the anti-Muslim campaign.

A similar story (albeit more detailed) appeared in The Pioneer published from Delhi, a newspaper with a formidable history of more than 125 years in journalism. Both the reports talked about Jamaat influence being the source of anti-national activity. (The TOI calls it "Zamaat").

Reaching this village is not the easiest thing for city folk. You take a rickety bus bursting with rural folk at Meerut, which, after a precarious drive down a virtually unpaved road dumps you at an unusual sounding place called Chhota Mawana More. From there you take a bone-shaking bumpy ride in a tonga (yes, this vehicle still exists in India) to Bisola, now bathed in media limelight thanks to The Pioneer and The Times of India.

However, what you get at the village is not a story, but disappointment, because the event reported so faithfully by the newspapers did not take place at all.

No one admits that any Pakistani flag was hoisted or any pro-Pakistan, pro-Osama slogan shouted. The village pradhan, Akbar Ali, says the students of Madrasah Islamia Nurul Islam took out a march through the village streets carrying the tricolour, shouting Gandhi-Nehru Zindabad like every year. Like every year they also carried a madrasah flag, which is black and white with a crescent and a star.

"Nobody has ever objected to it," he says. On the face of it, there is nothing objectionable about it either. The madrasah’s teachers too cannot figure out how an old patriotic practice overnight became a seditious act.

 

While the madrasah teachers and students were marching through the village lanes, a posse of policemen swooped down on the village and arrested three teachers — Maulvi Ruknuddin, Hafiz Omar and Maulana Isa. They were held at the Inchauli police station and subjected to intensive interrogation. Two days later they were released without a case being filed against them.

This has bewildered the villagers. Why were the maulvis held for two days and freed without any charges framed against them? The station head of Inchauli police station Lal Singh says, "No Pakistani flag was hoisted, nor any anti-India slogan shouted." In fact, the slogans they were shouting would make any Indian proud, Singh adds.

If there was nothing wrong about it, why did the police arrest the teachers? Possibly, to avert a communal clash. It turned out that the defeated pradhan candidate Omkar Singh had informed the police that the madrasah people were marching with Pakistani flags, shouting anti-India slogans. (The Pioneer goes on to say that a face-off was imminent with a group of regular, patriotic group of students from another school). The former pradhan had phoned the police that there was an apprehension of breach of peace because of the madrasah people’s "seditious" act.

Omkar Singh told MG he did not see anybody carrying a Pakistani flag or shouting anti-India slogans. He phoned the police on information given to him by a Dalit whose name he fails to recall. None of the Dalits this correspondent met agrees that any one of them would have gone to the former pradhan with the complaint. Why? Because the Dalits regard Singh, a Jat, as their tormentor.

A close look at all this reveals that this village has 28 percent Muslims and an equal number of Dalits. In the last panchayat poll they joined together to trounce the powerful Jat-upper castes combine. Akbar became the pradhan, defeating Singh. Since then Singh has not taken his defeat sportingly. A Dalit says that Singh naming an unidentified Dalit as the informer is yet another of his moves to destroy Dalit-Muslim unity in the village. Such unity is a great source of distress for the Sangh Parivar, which is always creating such situations and misinforming media about it.

What happened in Bisola was nothing but a defeated pradhan’s mischief. The villagers wonder why the police can’t nab Singh for misinforming them.

The Pioneer story says "the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) has been deployed in the village." The police station chief of Inchauli, under which the village comes, says PAC was not deployed in the village, but it was kept ready at another place.

MG investigations reveal that this is yet another case related to the nationwide anti-madrasah, anti-mosque, anti-Muslim campaign launched by the Sangh Parivar, which has the backing of some media persons.

And what about the Jamaat influence? A local intelligence unit (LIU) person deployed in the area says that there is nothing on record about any mischief in the area involving any Jamaat. The only Jamaat (there are dozens of Jamaats among Muslims) activity visible in this area is tabligh, which is there since the early part of the 20th century. This is possibly the only apolitical group in India (See Jamaat expert Barbara Metcalfe’s interview: "No madrasah has been linked to terrorism," on Page 17).

The Pioneer report, in the usual oblique manner, talks of "different agencies" which "have warned the government of deep conspiracy." There has to be a conspiracy (as per Sangh Parivar logic) because, says The Pioneer, "This place has emerged as a big centre of Jamaat."

The Pioneer report tries to make it look really menacing: "It is a Muslim pre-dominated area. A big mosque is being constructed here." Now, that is that. If it is a Muslim-dominated (not "pre-dominated" as The Pioneer says) area, there must be trouble. Why, even the Prime Minister says "wherever there are Muslims, there is trouble." The greatest proof of conspiracy, as this report seems to assume, is that "a big mosque is being constructed here."

Bisola’s Muslims cannot make the connection between "a deep conspiracy" and a new mosque. The police too don’t think so. Muslims also cannot figure out how they can "dominate" the area with a 28 percent population, most of whom are poor and illiterate. To know more about the "deep conspiracy" and Muslim "pre-dominance" ask The Pioneer.

Md. Zeyaul Haque
with inputs from Jeelani Khan

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