By Asghar Ali Engineer
4 January, 2013
Like other years in the post-Gujarat era, this year too witnessed several riots and riot-free India remained just a dream. India is a too vast and complex a country and one cannot expect uniform development all over the country. North, Central and Western India is far too sensitive to communal politics. South, it must be said, is less prone to communal violence though Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are more communally sensitive than Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
This year, as we will see, Assam witnessed a major communal violence between Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslims in Kokrajhar and other districts. After Gujarat it was indeed a major outburst of communal violence. Assam has certainly developed communally sensitive politics since AASU movement and Neli massacre of 1983. U.P. too witnessed six riots after Akhilesh Yadav, son of Samajvadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav took over after elections in U.P. in May 2012.
Only Bihar remained almost riot-free thanks to a new pattern of politics introduced by Lalu Prasad Yadav and continued by Nitish Kumar. Both need to be congratulated for making Bihar almost riot-free for a period of 20 long years. It is no mean achievement. They have carefully balanced caste and communal forces. One wishes Congress could learn a lesson from Bihar as the Congress Governments have never given us riot-free governance in the entire post-independence period. And of course BJP is the main culprit in promoting communal politics in our country.
Maharashtra, which was governed throughout by the Congress except 1995 to 2000 when it was ruled by Shiv Sena-BJP Government has always been communally very sensitive state. This year too i.e. in 2012 the first reported riot took place in Maharashtra in Pachora on 22 March though it was a minor one. Police reportedly displayed its usual bias and arrested mostly Muslim youth. It started with dispute between two fish traders, a Hindu and a Muslim and quite a few Muslim properties were burnt down.
Some disturbances occurred in Gaya (Bihar) when there was incident of stoning on Ramnavmi procession 2nd April 2012 but were immediately controlled by the district administration by lathi charging the crowd and firing in the air. Not much damage was done. This again shows that if administration is alert and state government has given proper instructions a riot can be easily controlled or prevented.
Sangareddy district of A. P. came under spell of communal violence on 29th March. Some Muslims were demonstrating outside the police station against image of Ka’ba having been desecrated. Police did not pay much attention to the Muslim demand and instead asked them to disperse. Hearing about the Muslim protest, it is alleged that members of RSS gathered together and started attacking Muslims, looting their shops etc. The police, it is alleged remained mute spectator and took no action against the culprits. They neither protected Muslims and their properties nor did they allow Muslims to protect themselves. The properties so damaged are estimated to be worth two cores.
It is also alleged that earlier a Muslim candidate was defeated by using communal and Reddy card in Mahboobnagar and same is being used for Sangareddy also. With still more damages the total loss came to 3.2 crores. The oldest and biggest hotel of Sangareddy is Grand Hotel, pan shop and bakery. The owner Ishtiaqur Rehman, told the investigators that their establishment was looted while police officers watched it silently. The police even beat up his brother and broke his leg. Mr. Rehman clearly mentioned the names of those who looted his hotel, the people belonged to the BJP and yet no action was taken.
Hyderabad, in A.P. witnessed rioting from 8th to 12th April. Needless to say Hyderabad Charminar area is extremely sensitive area and witnesses communal violence regularly. Both Ittihadul Muslimin and BJP compete with each other for Muslim and Hindu votes and their politics is communally oriented.
It all began with the priest of a temple noticing green colour sprayed on the wall of the temple and leg pieces of cow placed on the grill. The priest informed the local BJP Corporator by about 7 a.m. and by 7-30 a.m. a crowd of locals and the crowd swelled to 200 by the time police arrived with its dog squad. The crowd of agitated and started pelting stones at Muslim shops and houses in the area. Inmates had already left fearing for their lives. Violence continued and spread to other areas as well. To motor cycles were burnt and several buses were damaged.
There was lot of tension in the Charminar area and it became a national news. Also even as the situation in Saidabad- Kurmaguda – Madannapet areas as brought under control on 8th April, reports started coming of desecration of 6 more places of worship in different areas of Hyderabad – 4 Masjids and 2 temples between 9th and 12th April pointing to a clear and obvious conspiracy to foment communal violence by instigating religious sentiments of both Hindus and Muslim communities.
What was heartening was that religious leaders and elders of both communities condemned such misuse of religion and timely police action prevented major disaster waiting to happen. The Fact that general elections and A.P. Assembly elections are going to take place just two years hence (2014) also played its own part. The Muslim grievance is that police had arrested more than 14 Muslim youth and only 4 Hindu and shown 28 Hindu youth absconding. The police maintained that still investigations are going on and these figures are not final. But certainly it shows the trend.
Next major riot took place in Kosi Kalan in Mathura District of U.P. This happened immediately after the victory of Mualayam Sing Yadav’s party in U.P. Everybody was surprised that though SP had won with overwhelming Muslim support communal violence started no sooner than the Chief Minister was sworn. Muslims thought they will be more secure and better protected under SP rule but something quite opposite was happening.
Everyone was greatly shocked by a major riot right at the beginning of SP’ term. Some thought that it was some kind of conspiracy either by those who were not given ticket or by those who lost power. Anyway it was a major riot and no explanation is forthcoming as to who was involved. Mr. Azamkhan visited the place and apologized for what happened and assured that those involved will be punished.
The riot started by a very petty incident. It was Friday and a drum filled with cold drinking water was kept outside the door of the Jami’ Masjid. A Hindu came and put his hand in the drum and took water from it. It was on 2nd June just before Friday prayer. A Muslim from the mosque objected and an argument started and soon others got involved and rioting began in all its fury. Four persons died in this rioting. Of them one was Hindu and one Muslim and two unidentified charred bodies were recovered.
The fury of rioting was such that Additional Director General of Police Shri Yadav observed that “We have seen some riots, but I am seeing a whole locality rioting for the first time. This is why we think that someone was instigating them. We cannot rule out that this communal tension was created keeping in view the local body elections.” Well whether it was due to local body elections or some much wider conspiracy the very beginning of the SP regime was marked by communal violence. Muslims were certainly disillusioned.
Among most sensitive cities in Gujarat is Baroda (Vadodra). Even very minor incident can cause major rioting in the city. On 11th June a minor incident of road accident brought two communities face to face and they started pelting stones and other missiles. The police rushed to the site lob bed teargas shells and resorted to lathi charge. Six policemen were injured and more than 15 civilians were also injured. Several vehicles were set afire.
On 14th June Damnagar in Amreli, Saurashtra district got affected by communal violence when a piece of land was at the centre of controversy on which a temple was being built and Muslims claimed that it was land belonging to a cemetery (Qabrastan). They came face to face and fought each other. The two groups were armed with sticks, pipes and swords. Two rounds of private firing were also reported. Ten persons were injured 4 of whom were injured seriously and four shops were gutted.
On 24th June Pratapgarh, U.P. witnessed fury of communal violence between Dalits and Muslims took place. A Dalit girl was gang raped though it is not clear by whom. This incident was too close to Kosi incident of early June for SP to be comfortable with. The Dalits of Pratabgarh collected near the Muslim locality and set foe to their houses. These Muslims are mostly weavers (Ansaris) and many men from this community work in Bhivandi. Many women and children would have died but for the fact that it was marriage season and many men had come from Bhivandi to attend marriages and they could save old men and women.
These men complained that the police just looked on and took no action against the rioters. The Circle Officer V.S.Rana was suspended for his partial role.
On 29th June Buldana, in Maharashtra came under volley of communal violence when some dispute in Sakher Kheda village behind the Dargah of Hazrat Dawoodshah Baba resulted in attack on two Muslims of which one died and the other was severely wounded. The person who died – Sheikh Taj – had objected to a stone being put in the small drain opposite the Dargah. He was attacked by a crowd with sharp weapon and killed and near the Dargah there is a Hindu cemetery and often tension builds up and communal hatred is spread. Buldana is a sensitive district in Maharashtra. It is ridiculous that communal violence can break out on such petty issue. It shows how communal propaganda is doing damage to inter-group relations.
Next was the turn of Sahibabad in Ghaziabad district of U.P. On 8th July again a small incident of two motorcycles clashing with each other and some argument between Hindu and Muslim riders took serious form of communal clash in which one person was killed and several others injured, The Hindus belonged to Tyagi community and Tyagis entered into a Muslim locality and began attacking Muslim shops and houses. In this melee someone fired and one Tyagi boy was injured and died when being taken to Delhi. This further invited wrath of Tyagis and they took full liberty to attack and burn Muslim properties. Property worth crores was destroyed. If police had taken prompt action after initial events, things would not have taken such a serious turn.
On 13th July members of Tablighi Jamat from Delhi were visiting Sitapur in U.P. and were passing through the lanes and bye-lanes of Sitapur when the son of a Samajwadi party happened to pass that way and was riding on motorcycle. He had to wait because of crowd and began abusing Imam who was leading the Tablishi people. The crowd became violent and set fire to the house of Chandrakumar Singh, the S.P. activist; it is alleged the crowd set fire to some 13 motor cycles also. The S.P. activist also alleged that the violent crowd took away 7 lakh cash besides jewelry, T.V. set etc. was also looted. Many Muslims were named in the complaint.
In July itself Assam witnessed a major communal clash between Bodos and Muslims of Bengali origin. It began around 19th July though skirmishes between them were going on for several days. I have already written in detail about it when communal violence began on its causes etc. Suffice it may to say here that it was one of the most major riots in post-Gujarat riots of 2002. The difference is that in Gujarat about 2000 people were killed and Modi led BJP Government was actively involved in committing the massacre but in Assam about 100 people were killed and Assam Government was not directly involved but was responsible by way of slow action.
Another significant difference was by way of number of refugees. In Gujarat loss of life was much higher but number of refugees was not as high as in Assam. It is estimated that in all there were four and half lakh refugees, both Bodos and Muslims but Muslims far outnumbered the Bodos. It was indeed a massive problem. Also they remained in some make-do refugee camps in very pitiable condition for more than three months. These refugees lost everything except cloth on their bodies.
The Assam communal violence made Indian Muslims once again very insecure like the Gujarat riots and in Mumbai during the month of Ramadan they took out a huge procession consisting of some 45 thousand people which resulted in violence on the streets of Mumbai in South Mumbai. Once again the atmosphere was charged with communal tension. Here in this article I am not giving details of these unfortunate events as I have already written on them in Secular Perspectives.
On 24th July Bareilli in U.P. witnessed another communal riot in which one person was killed thanks to Kanorias (Shivbhagtas carrying Gangajal to Shiv Temple) when they insisted passing through a Muslim locality of Barieli. Bareili is a sensitive town. It is also a centre of Baareili Muslims and there is also mausoleum of Hazrat Yusuf Razakhan, the founder of Bareili School of Muslims. It had witnessed communal riots a few years ago which persisted or several days on the occasion of Prophet’s birth day. Though no one was killed more than 20 persons were injured.
Next riot took place again in U.P. in Bijnor on 22nd September. The provocation came from a Panchayat which took place in Basta of Chandpur area of Bijnor district. The bars were completely closed after communal violence broke out. The police controlled the situation. Three persons were arrested for provocation from amongst the Panchayat members. It is said that a few days before communal clashes broke out some Muslim youth had beaten up son of Chandpur block Pramukh Surendra Kaur. She was former chief of Panchayat. A Panchayat was held in Basta and provocative speeches were made and then communal violence followed.
Next Ghaziabad again witnessed communal violence in which 7 Muslim youth were killed on 15th September. These disturbances took place because some torn pages of Qur’an were found scattered. The protesting Muslim mob went to police station and it is alleged that they indulged in breaking furniture and setting fore. The police resorted to firing in which 7 persons were killed.
The Qur’anic pages were found scattered on railway line and some objectionable things were written on these pages along with a mobile number. When someone rang on that number the person started abusing and using vulgar language. And when the mob went to police station to take action, police did not act promptly and violence followed.
The Government has adopted tough attitude towards miscreants and has also announced Rs. 5 lakh for each of the dead. Action is being taken against guilty police officers also especially those who directly fired on Muslim youth and killed them.
We had minor communal riot in Raver and Jalgaon in Maharashtra too on the occasion of Ganesh festival when Hindus insisted on taking the Ganesh procession from a Muslim locality and Muslims took objection. The police did not allow procession to be taken out from there. Four houses were set to fire. Police has arrested 39 from one community and 41 from the other and thus controlled situation.
Akot in Maharashtra witnessed riots on 25th October when someone allegedly Muslims attacked Durga procession. Four persons were killed and Over 17 houses and 16 shops were and 10 vehicles were burnt. Burnt Muslims localities were very badly affected as various miscreants entered these localities and burnt houses and attacked people. A house caught fire by electrical malfunctioning according to the police authority and rumour spread that house was burnt the police intervened and Durga procession continued and idols were immersed.
However, disturbances started again on Wednesday and Muslims suffered most. Many of them lost roof over their heads.
Next it was turn of Faizabad where communal violence broke out on 25th October. It was alleged that someone had broken the arm of a Durga idol. Obviously it was a deliberate conspiracy to start communal violence there. Faizabad has a special place due to Ayodhya being very close. In fact Ayodhya and Faizabad are twin cities. Faizabad was on fire and it is said police deliberately came late. Even Fire brigade is reported to have delayed its arrival causing much more damage.
Even in Bhadrasa, 18 kms. from Faizabad experienced communal disturbances. Eyewitnesses said even security forces became part of mob. Police role was very very partial and this too in SP regime in U.P. The Indian Express dated 10th November gave details of video footage showing the police in very bad and doubtful role. It was openly partisan. Radoli, otherwise a peaceful place near Faizabad also came under spell of communal violence. But in Radouli 10 policemen stood in rioters’ way. Thus there are some policemen who are true to their salt.
U.P. was very badly affected. Nine riots took place in 8 months after Mulayam Singh Party came to power. Muslims were badly shaken that they voted for Mulayam Singh and Mulayam Singh hardly took any effective measures to control communal violence and made Muslims feel much more insecure. Mulayam Singh is strong on rhetoric and very weak in delivery.
From above account it would be seen that as usual most of the riots started on petty and sometimes personal quarrels and soon assumed communal shape. This is effect of constant communal propaganda. Secondly, with few honourable exceptions the role of police is very partisan and often they become part of the mob and even indulge in looting and plunder. It takes neither proper preventive measure nor does it control once riots break out.
Asghar Ali Engineer is an Islamic scholar who also heads the Centre for Study of Society & Secularism, Mumbai