Angry Hindus have vowed to avenge the death of journalist Rahul Upadhyay, above, who reported died when Hindus and Muslims were involved in riots in the Indian city of Kasganj last month.
But Upadhyay, a 24-year-old Hindu, is very much alive. However, the news has yet to filter through the country, and, according to this report, hundreds of miles away, in the city of Gorakhpur, posters with his photograph are being distributed with the words:
We will take revenge for the death of martyr Rahul Upadhyay.
The clashes occurred during celebrations of India’s Republic Day, January 26. Schools, shops and a mosque were damaged. One person, Chandan Gupta, 21, died of bullet wounds; another almost had his eye gouged out.
Upadhyay stayed away from the violence, bunkering down inside his home in a nearby village. But the following evening, a friend called to share a peculiar bit of news:
You have been elevated to being a martyr.
In the span of a few hours, messages on WhatsApp and Facebook went viral across Uttar Pradesh State, which includes Kasganj. They mourned “martyr Rahul”, claiming he had been killed in the clashes.
Candlelight vigils paying respect to Upadhyay, who is Hindu, lit up the streets of seven districts, some with the participation of local politicians.
By the time Upadhyay found out, there was little he could do: the riots had become so bad in Kasganj that the authorities shut down the Internet. He said:
No media house or politician bothered to visit my place or call me first to confirm that I was indeed dead. The marketplace of rumours had heated up beyond control.
For much of its history, Muslims and Hindus coexisted peacefully in Kasganj, a dusty city about 100 miles east of New Delhi. But in the years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party rose to power in 2014, violent outbreaks between Hindus and Muslims have become more common in some pockets of India.
The Kasganj clashes began with the Muslims raising a flag to celebrate Republic Day, which marks the enactment of India’s constitution in 1950.
According to a police report filed by Sushil Gupta, the father the man who was killed, a group of Muslims began taunting Hindus, shouting “Long Live Pakistan,” and telling them that they would have to chant “Hail Pakistan” if they wanted to pass.
But Shamsul Arafeen, 70, a Muslim tailor, blamed the Hindus.
They started abusing us, saying, ‘If you want to live in Hindustan, you must chant ‘Hail Sita and Ram’.
He was using another name for India and referring to two Hindu gods.
The confrontation escalated, with rioters from both sides throwing stones at each other and burning shops to the ground. Videos of the confrontations spread rapidly. The authorities shut down internet service in the area for hours.
By the end of the clashes, which stretched over a week, over 100 people had been arrested, both Hindu and Muslim. Mohar Singh Tomar, an investigating officer with Kasganj’s police force, said it was unclear who started the clashes, brushing aside suggestions that either religious group had received unfair treatment.
Purnendra Pratap Singh Solanki, the district president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, took a harder line, characterising the confrontation as a “preplanned conspiracy” by a growing Muslim population to target Hindus.
What is very problematic for us is that Muslims are ruled by their religion first. They consider themselves Muslims before Indians, whereas the Hindus consider themselves Indians first and then Hindus.
The solution to such problems is to control their population. Their religious education at the madrassas must be combined with nationalism, peppered with nationalism. The problem is they don’t want to get educated at all.
As for Upadhyay, he still has not figured out who first reported his death or why he had been singled out. Over the last weekend in January, he fielded over 400 calls from people asking if he had died.
My mother had to serve endless cups of tea to visitors and convince them that I was alive.
Eventually Upadhyay figured that if he could not control social media, he might as well participate.
“I am Rahul Upadhyay,” he said in a recorded message sent out into cyberspace. “I am well and I have not even received a scratch.”