In a year marked by back-to-back controversies, the Tyagi caste identity politics in western Uttar Pradesh, an area where they wield significant political influence, has received a substantial boost.
The most recent incident that has stirred the pot is the Muzaffarnagar classroom assault case.
Tyagi Connection In The Muzaffarnagar Case
On 24 August, a seven-year-old was repeatedly slapped by classmates at the direction of a female teacher. A 39-second video of the incident, which surfaced on social media a day later, revealed the teacher using the term “Mohammedan” while instructing students to slap the boy, who is Muslim.
Although the full sentence was inaudible, it was enough to ignite a firestorm of accusations.
Prominent opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, Jayant Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, and Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen, quickly accused the BJP of fostering a climate of hate that enables the targeting of minority communities.
Various political and activist groups visited the boy's village, Khubbapur, on the outskirts of New Delhi in Muzaffarnagar district of western Uttar Pradesh.
However, the narrative of religious hate was swiftly rejected by both the boy's family and the police.
Nadeem, the boy's cousin who recorded the video, refuted any Hindu-Muslim angle, saying that the teacher's actual statement was a critique of Muslim parents not focusing on their children's education.
Muzaffarnagar Superintendent of Police Satyanarayan Prajapat and the boy's father, Irshad Ali, supported this version of events, denying any communal intent. Irshad even admitted to asking the teacher to discipline his son, albeit criticising her for involving other students in the punishment and not doing it herself.
The teacher, defending herself, stated that her physical disability necessitated asking others to slap the boy. The police have charged her with assault under IPC sections 323 (causing hurt) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace).
Despite the initial uproar, the case has quickly faded from the national political discourse.
Surprisingly, opposition parties and groups like the Samajwadi Party and Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) have aligned with the BJP in rejecting the communal narrative and facilitated peace between Hindus and Muslims in the region through a mahapanchayat.
BJP leader and Union Minister Sanjeev Kumar Balyan as well as BKU chief Naresh Tikait dismissed the communal angle, with Tikait saying the teacher did nothing wrong and should neither face an FIR nor her school should be de-recognised. SP chief Akhilesh Yadav suggested the teacher tie a rakhi to the boy's father and end the matter.
The political response seems influenced by the fact that the teacher, Tripta, is from the Tyagi caste.
Incidentally, even the victim boy belongs to the Tyagi caste. Despite converting to Islam several generations ago, almost all 600-odd Muslim residents of Khubbapur, an almost entirely Tyagi village of about 2000 people, continue to use the Tyagi surname.
Muzaffarnagar Case Third In The Line Of Tyagi-Related Controversies
With a significant population in western Uttar Pradesh, the Hindu Tyagi community, which predominantly votes for the BJP, can influence the outcome in several constituencies.
They are believed to impact results in four Lok Sabha and 15 Vidhan Sabha constituencies.
However, recent controversies have threatened to change the community's political allegiance, empowering its leaders to negotiate more effectively in upcoming elections.
Mange Ram Tyagi, an influential Tyagi leader, expressed the community's discontent with the BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government's actions against Tripta Tyagi, which he said include filing a case with the state minority commission and sealing her school.
Speaking to Swarajya, Mange Ram, who is chief of the Tyagi-Bhumihar-Brahmin Samaj, cited two other cases where he said the BJP failed the Tyagi samaj.
He mentioned the beheading of Deepak Tyagi in Khajuri village of Parikshatgarh area of Meerut in September last year, where the police arrested Mohammed Fahmid and Mohammed Asif for murder over a relationship with their sister.
He also mentioned the death of Anurag Tyagi in the same Parikshatgarh area, where his body was found charred in a blast furnace inside an iron smelting factory under mysterious circumstances in November. Anurag’s brother accused the factory owner Asif Ali of murder even as the latter called it suicide.
"Tyagi youths were killed in a most brutal way, but the BJP neglected the bereaved families. Proper investigations were not conducted; no ministers visited the kin or awarded any compensation."
He said that the Tyagi community, a long-time BJP supporter, plans to back independent candidates in future elections.
Mange Ram was also a leading figure in the agitation against the BJP last August, when the state government took 'disproportionate and discriminatory' action against politician Shrikant Tyagi.
The 35-year-old was caught on video verbally abusing and threatening a woman over a dispute over plants in their residential society in Noida.
“I stood against the way Shrikant's wife Anu, who was innocent in the matter, was treated,” clarifies Mange Ram about his position.
Shrikant was booked and arrested under the UP Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act. Parts of his apartment were also bulldozed by the Noida authority, after which several members of the Tyagi samaj staged night-long protests demanding all encroachments in the residential society to be bulldozed without discrimination.
Before that, a Tyagi mahapanchayat in Noida with participation from Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr, Baghpat and Hapur was held in Shrikant’s favour.
Since he came out of jail on bail in October, Shrikant, who identified as a BJP member before the controversy, has been campaigning against the party and trying to launch himself politically with the support of anti-BJP Tyagi voters.
Ahead of the bypoll for the Khatauli Assembly seat in Muzaffarnagar in November 2022, Tyagi held several meetings in the area urging Tyagis to not vote for the BJP for “criminalising the Tyagi community”. Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate Madan Bhaiyya won the seat.
Both Mange Ram and Shrikant, along with several other Tyagi leaders, have been criticising the BJP for its handling of various incidents related to the community, including a controversial statement by Cabinet Minister Swatantra Dev Singh made earlier this month.
The BJP found itself under fire yet again from the Tyagis when Singh, in a speech on improved law and order in Uttar Pradesh since the BJP's victory in the 2017 assembly elections, said that daughters of Kashyap, Saini and Tyagi communities used to be picked up and raped under the previous governments.
Calling the statement demeaning to Tyagis, the community's leaders including Mange Ram ad Shrikant led several agitations and demanded an apology from the minister. They also asked for a share in seats for the Tyagi samaj in upcoming general elections.
'Opposition Abandoned The Muzaffarnagar Issue'
Bhoore Tyagi, an activist from the 'Muslim Tyagi' community, noted that the opposition's abandonment of the case is because of their realisation that a strong communal narrative could benefit the BJP by attracting disenchanted Tyagi voters.
Bhoore estimated that ‘Tyagi Muslims’ make up approximately one-fifth of the entire Tyagi population, yet he noted that their electoral preferences diverge from those of their Hindu counterparts.
Discussing the societal framework of the group, he said that nearly all community members carry the Tyagi as last name and identify themselves as Brahmins, but have substantially lagged behind their Hindu peers due to the backward teachings of religious leaders.
“Mullahs and maulanas, have consistently advised them against pursuing education to avoid becoming like Hindus,” remarked Bhoore, 60, who takes pride in the educational accomplishments of his children.
He said that all his children, including daughters, have achieved a minimum of a postgraduate education. “The government has even awarded one of my daughters a medal,” he said.
Historically, Tyagis in western Uttar Pradesh held landowner status. However, those who underwent conversion eventually descended into poverty within one or two generations as they failed to ascend socially and resorted to selling land for survival, Bhoore said.
“As a consequence, while Hindu Tyagis are sending their children overseas for education, scarcely five per cent of our community is literate,” he lamented.
He revealed that within the Hindu Tyagi community, individuals who converted to Islam but reverted to Hinduism within one or two generations are referred to as ‘dasse,’ whereas those who remained Hindu are termed ‘bisse.’
A journalist based in Muzaffarnagar told Swarajya that opposition parties that initially capitalised on the case, were likely uninformed about its details. Their unawareness of the Tyagi affiliation and the absence of a robust communal narrative ultimately caused them to abandon the matter.
The Muzaffarnagar case, despite its initial appearance, has not bolstered communal politics against the BJP.
Instead, it has inadvertently strengthened the Tyagi community's position in the political landscape, enabling them to demand greater representation and negotiate more effectively in the future with the BJP or inflict political damage on it.
Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.
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