By: Annet Preethi Furtado
June 20 2023
The accused have been identified as Harish, Ajay, Shivam, and Keshav. The police have clarified that the incident was not communal in nature.
On May 31, four temples were vandalized in a village in Bulandshahr district of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Idols of several Hindu deities were reported to be damaged by the vandals. Soon after the incident, visuals of the vandalized idols were shared on social media and were accompanied by communal and anti-Muslim narratives in many instances.
Adding fuel to fire, certain mainstream news outlets indirectly held members of the Muslim community responsible for the destruction of Hindu idols in their coverage of the incident.
For instance: In an episode of the Hindi show 'Black and White’ that aired on June 2, Aaj Tak's Consulting Editor Sudhir Chaudhary claimed that the desecration of temples in India did not invite much discussion even as “fake news” about an attack on a mosque or a church could lead to “riots” in the country. Though he refrained from any direct reference to the Muslim community, he highlighted the percentage of Hindus and Muslims that lived in the Bulandshahr district. He also mentioned a separate incident involving the arrest of a Muslim youth from Bulandshahr in connection with a minor girl's murder in Delhi in May.
On June 1, Zee Uttar Pradesh Uttarakhand shared a video on Twitter featuring a news segment with three guests and the news anchor discussing idol destruction in the four temples of Bulandshahr. The discussion was titled "बुलंदशहर में औरंगजेबी गैंग?" (Translation: Aurangzeb gang in Bulandshahr?). Aurangzeb was a Mughal emperor who ruled India for nearly five decades.
In a press conference held on June 8, Shlok Kumar, the senior superintendent of police (SSP), Bulandshahr, disclosed that four individuals had been apprehended in connection with the incident. He said that one Harish, alias Illu, a resident of Baral village, was identified as the primary perpetrator. According to the SSP, Harish and the other accused knew each other and frequently consumed alcohol together.
The SSP also stated that the accused were under the influence of alcohol on the day of the incident. He further mentioned that the police formed teams to examine electronic surveillance footage and CCTV recordings from the vicinity, which expedited the investigation process. Based on this evidence, the police were able to identify additional individuals involved in the act, he said.
On June 8, the Uttar Pradesh government's official website published a press release that carried the photographs of the accused. The press release stated that four persons— Harish (alias Ilu), Ajay (son of Rajpal), Shivam (son of Sundar), and Keshav (son of Deepchand)—were apprehended by the police the same day on charges of vandalizing the temples. The accused were placed in judicial custody while further investigation was ongoing to collect additional evidence.
The police confirmed that the incident was not communal in nature. Speaking to Logically Facts, Surendra Nath Tiwari, superintendent of police (City), Bulandshahr, said, "I would like to clarify that there is no communal angle involved in the vandalism case. All the accused arrested in connection with this incident are Hindus and have been subsequently sent to judicial custody."
However, before the police nabbed the accused, social media users and some channels like Aaj Tak gave a communal hue to the incident. It was on June 8 that Chaudhary tweeted to clarify that the individuals implicated in the incident were Hindus. However, the 5-minute clip from his show that suggestively pointed fingers at the Muslim community remained as it is on Aaj Tak’s YouTube channel without any update or clarification.
The police have arrested four individuals, identified as Harish, Ajay, Shivam, and Keshav, for allegedly vandalizing Hindu temples in Bulandshahr. Social media users and some news outlets wrongly gave the incident a communal color.