The residents of Sanjarpur say they are looked upon with suspicion
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh
More than six months after two young men from this village in India's Uttar Pradesh state were shot dead by Delhi police for being alleged terrorists, a deep distrust of the outsider still prevails here.
It's as if the people of Sanjarpur, a village of about 10,000 residents in Azamgarh district, have withdrawn into a shell.
"Every time there is a terrorist incident anywhere in the country, people here begin to worry that their names may crop up. That they may get arrested," says Mohammad Asif, a resident.
Their fear is not unfounded. In the last two years, police have picked up nearly 20 men from Azamgarh, linking them to various militant attacks around the country.
"We are looked upon with suspicion everywhere. We get harassed at the airport and the railway station. They say, 'Oh you're from Azamgarh!' Sometimes they call us a terrorist, to our face," says Rizwan Ahmad.
"We think twice before we say we're from Azamgarh."
As Azamgarh gets ready to vote on Thursday, the only election issue here seems to be justice for Azamgarh's youth.
Azamgarh's ordeal began on 19 September when Delhi police killed two men in a shoot-out at Batla House in the capital's Muslim district of Jamia Nagar.
Police said the dead men were militants from the Indian Mujahideen - a militant group which had claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in the capital a week before.
Dr Javed Akhtar is a candidate for Ulema Council
The residents of Sanjarpur say the men were students who had gone to Delhi to study.
Mohd Zahid's brother, Sajid, was one of the men killed.
"He had gone to Delhi for the first time. He appeared for an entrance test in Jamia Milia university, but failed. So he joined a three-month English-speaking course. And they killed him! He was only 16. How could he be a terrorist?" asks a distraught Zahid.
Zahid says he first heard of his brother's death when reporters descended on his home.
"The encounter took place in the morning. I heard about it at 4pm when reporters came to our village. I broke the news to my parents at 6pm. My mother fainted. My father didn't say a word but he has been unwell since then. My mother is trying to cope; she has to live, so she lives."
'Nursery of terrorism'
It's not just Sanjarpur - the taint has spread to the town of Azamgarh and surrounding villages too.
"After the encounter, there was such terror here that the young men were afraid to even go out," says Dr Shahnawaz, vice-president of the Indian Minorities' Youth Association.
Many of our boys were thrown out of their jobs under the excuse of recession. Many landlords in Indian cities shut the door on them simply because they were from Azamgarh."
The election issue in Azamgarh is justice for the youth
And to make matters worse, the media dubbed Azamgarh, Atankgarh - the nursery of terrorism.
The area's MP, Akbar Ahmad Dumpy of the Bahujan Samaj Party, is seeking re-election and is going around the district canvassing for support.
He stops to address a roadside gathering of about 200 supporters.
"After the Batla House encounter, I was the first one to visit the area. The police were painting all of us - Hindus and Muslims - as terrorists," he says.
After some of the arrested men were produced in court wearing the Arabic keffiyah scarves, he turned up at parliament in a similar scarf.
"I wore a keffiyah to parliament house and I challenged the authorities to come arrest me," he tells me afterwards.
Mr Ahmad says the authorities have two sets of rules, one for the Hindus and another for Muslims.
"You can't have two sets of laws. Two Hindus arrested for blasts in Malegaon [Maharashtra] are sent to judicial custody, whereas our boys are still languishing. Obviously, the boys feel they are being done in."
Mr Ahmad says the authorities have different rules for Hindus and Muslims
Fighting for the votes in Azamgarh along with the mainstream political parties is the newly-formed Ulema Council which has put up 10 candidates in the state.
Maulana Amir Rashadi, the council's convenor, says: "In the last few months, the anti-terrorism forces, in contravention of all laws and norms, began raiding each and every house here, picking up our boys and taking them away for interrogation.
"So I gathered the Islamic scholars. I told them that we Muslims had played a role in India's first war of independence in 1857. Can't we fight again?"
Hence, the council was born in October last year.
"Our aim was to make people aware of their rights. Fighting the election was not our aim, but it became a necessity for us."
Maulana Rashadi says: "For us, this is a practice match, we want to tread softly and expand gradually."
The party has put up Dr Javed Akhtar, a respected orthopaedic surgeon, as its candidate in Azamgarh.
"I wasn't convinced with the policies of the mainstream political parties for some time now, but for all these years, we kept our distance. Politicians have the policy of divide and rule," he says.
"But it's the moral duty of every citizen to raise the voices of those who are being tortured," he says.
Azamgarh has a large Muslim population and the Ulema Council says it's banking on their support in the elections.
In Sanjarpur, however, the mood is still downcast, although there is appreciation for the Ulema Council's work.
"Ever since the Ulema Council was formed, we have got some relief - now the police don't come here and make random arrests," says Zahid.
"It will take years to wash off the taint, but we don't ask for any favours, just let us live in peace," says Rizwan Ahmad.
The Ulema Council says the situation will improve after the elections if their candidates win.
"We are 25 to 30% Muslims in this area. We voted for the Congress for 27 years. Then we voted for the Samajwadi Party and then the Bahujan Samaj Party, but no one stood up for us when we needed them.
"Now we have formed our own party and will contest the polls. When we are strong politically, our work will get done easily.
"So far our vote has been divided, and that's why we have not been in the reckoning, but now if we're all united, we will do much better," he says.