Azamgarh, the place that gave birth to litterateurs like Shibli Nomani, Rahul Sankrityayan and Kaifi Azmi apart from innumerable other luminaries, has lately been associated with crime and terror.
Irresponsible reporting by channels like India TV that ran special programmes titled 'Aatank-garh' [House of Terror] have demonised the place.
Little did the sensationalists realise that Azamgarh is not a mere City or a town, it's a district that has scores of towns and hundreds of villages.
In fact, Azamgarh is the third most populous districts in Uttar Pradesh (UP). It's population was 40 lakh (4 million) as per the last census (2001). Though the Azamgarh town has barely a population of over 1 lakh.
Today the residents [not just Muslims of Azamgarh] of the district are angry. Irrespective of their religion, they share this anger. Any youth belonging to this district can't find an accommodation in Lucknow or any other City of UP, let alone other states. Either he has to lie or just forget getting a place to live on rent, unless it's a very close friend or relative.
Such is the situation that policemen interrogate and pick normal youths in trains and during bus journeys just in case the ticket shows that their destination is Azamgarh or because they belong to that place. It has sadly become Azamgarhi=Criminal.
Youths from Azamgarh are randomly caught across the country and kept under illegal detentions. Nobody disputes that a criminal or an accused should be caught.
But the branding of the town has hurt the citizens. Incidentally, it is believed that Azamgarh has a Muslim majority.
In fact, it doesn't have a higher percentage of Muslims. The district has around 13% Muslim populace, which is less than the average Muslim population in UP that stands at 19%.
However, in Sarai Meer, Azamgarh, Sanjarpur and other towns in the district, Muslims do form a large population, often in majority in these places.
The mafia that has active in Eastern UP has flourished due to the contracts of PWD and railway. Lack of development kept this region poorer. Mafias like Ramakant Yadav, Abu Salem and Harishankar Tiwari have been active in this region.
The rise of Mahant Aditya Nath and his Hindu Vahini Sena has also led to counter communalisation. After the Ijtima congregation that was held in Azamgarh, the saffron organisations targeted Azamgarh. No doubt, the gangsters, criminals and sharp-shooters of Azamgarh have brought notoriety to this place. After the Batla House encounter, the place almost became notorious.
Now hundreds of Muslim youths under the banner of Ulema Council is reaching New Delhi to raise their voice against the branding of Azamgarh as a den of terrorism and criminals. They also want inquiry into the Batla House encounter that took place last year.
Recently, Talha, the son of Maulana Amir Rashdi Madani, was arrested in Nagpur. Midway on the train journey he was detained and taken away. After several days, it was revealed that he was in police custody and when he was released, he was reporteldy warned not to make any statement or go to the media.
He works with a private company in Bangalore and the police had earlier claimed that he was the fourth 'terrorist' who escaped during the Jamia Nagar's encounter. Later the court let him go due to lack of any evidence.
Such incidents have been quite common. It is to protest this generalisation that the chartered train is taken to Delhi. A demonstration will be held at Jantar Mantar where the clerics and Azmagarh residents will speak out over the alleged mistreatment, common citizens are subjected to, lately.
Read and Watch Azamgarh Speaks, an extraordinary special series on Twocircles.Net that reveals the various aspects of Azamgarh and Muslims.