Over a century ago, musician Abdul Karim Khan migrated from Kairana to Dharwad in Karnataka to establish the Kirana Gharana as a musical ideology that presumably forms the ‘line of actual control’ between Carnatic music and Hindustani classical.
What followed was a movement that revolutionised Indian music as we know it.
Today, a list released by a 78-year-old local BJP MP has brought another instance of migration from the same town in Uttar Pradesh. But this, in utter contrast, has struck a decidedly discordant note among the people of the state in the run-up to the upcoming state assembly polls.
The legislator, Hukum Singh, produced a list of over 350 “Hindu” families who left the town allegedly under threat from Muslim gangs. The comparison, quite obviously, was to the infamous exodus of Pandit families from Kashmir in the 1990s.
The district administration’s door-to-door campaign may have punched a sizeable hole in Singh’s list, but it can’t be denied that the gangs of Kairana – headed by two Muslims – are a dreaded reality. The controversy has highlighted the law-and-order crisis in Uttar Pradesh, touched up with a slight shade of communal colour.
At the centre of the controversy is Mukeem Kala, accused of killing two businessmen whose families figure in Singh’s complaint. By the time the gangster was nabbed in connection with the robbery of a Tanishq jewellery showroom in Saharanpur on October 19, 2015, he was already facing 14 murder cases. He is accused of killing 11 Muslims and three Hindus.
Kala was initially jailed in Muzaffarnagar jail, but when he began acquiring a cult following among the residents of nearby Jaanpura – his native village – the authorities shifted him and 24 accomplices to Maharajganj jail. Another reason for his prison transfer was extortion calls allegedly made on his behalf to businessmen in Kairana – one of which was traced to Muzaffarnagar jail.
Kala entered the world of crime in 2010 by joining the gang of Mustafa from Gangoh, Saharanpur. His first crime – a robbery at Panipat in Haryana – helped him become one of the gang leader’s most trusted lieutenants.
In December 2011, Kala became the gang leader after Mustafa was killed in an encounter. Since then, over 30 cases of looting, robbery, murder and extortion have been registered against him across Kairana, Shamli, Dehradun, Panipat and Baghpat districts.
One of Kala’s gang members, Furkan, formed a splinter group in 2013. Both Kala and Furkan carried out three sensational killings in August 2014, cited by Singh to illustrate the alleged threat posed by Muslims to Hindus.
This, however, is where the BJP MP goes mute.
The last census of Kairana put the population at 89,300, with 80.74% Muslims and 18.34% Hindus. The town has, till now, symbolised a melodic co-existence between the two communities. In the same month when the businessmen were killed, 200 to 300 Muslims volunteers helped Hindu Kawaria pilgrims in keeping with local tradition. After the third killing, the town locked itself down in protest for 12 days.
One of the factors that helps preserve the communal harmony in Kairana is the fact that a majority of both its Hindu and Muslim populations hail from the backward Gujjar community. This finds reflection in politics as well. Despite being a Muslim-dominated town, Kairana handed Singh – a Hindu Gujjar – four consecutive poll triumphs since 2014. His appointment as an MP in 2014 necessitated a bypoll that was won by Munawar Hasan, only the second Muslim to win the seat till then.
More significantly, Kairana remained unaffected when riots broke out in neighbouring Muzaffarnagar ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The few Jat families in the town faced no threat, though the main aggressors in the communal riots hailed from their community.
However, as Kairana seems to have set the discourse as the state gears up for the upcoming polls, it remains to be seen whether the town will descend into violence in the months to come – or stick to its Kirana tradition of harmonious existence.