Is Maharashtra Heading for a Big Riot?

There have been four riots in April in the Mara­thwada region: Sevali (3 April, Jalna district); Rav­er and Chopda (13 and 22 April, Jalgaon district); Bharari (18 April, Aurangabad district). The rea­son was the same. A controversial CD with a song, Kasam Ram ki khate hain, Mandir wahin banayenge (We take oath on Ram, we will build the temple there — Ayodhya), is being played in public, inciting anger among Muslims.

In Muslim-majority Sevali, Muslims objected when the song was played at a paan stall just outside a mosque. The in­cident blew up. Muslims resorted to stone pelting and stab­bing. At least seven Hindus have been stabbed. As a pro­test, Hindu organisations like the VHP, Bajrang Dal, BJP, Shiv Sena and Arya Samaj called for a district bandh. Volun­teers forced shops to down their shutters. Public buses were stoned. Slogans like “Anyone living in this country will have to say Vande Mataram” were raised.

Hundreds — belonging to both communities — have been arrested.

“Some Muslims here have become so sensitive, they al­ways overreact,” said Amit Pradhan, a resident of Sevali.

“As far as the controversial CD episode is concerned, it was just one of the manifestations of communalism. Mara­thwada is communally sensitive. The basic cause of commu­nalism in Marathwada region is that people harbour a sense of revenge against the Nizam’s rule (the region belonged to the pre-partition Hyderabad state),” scholar Ashgar Ali Engi­neer, who has documented almost each and every riot since 1961, told Covert.

In Raver, Jalgaon, the VHP annd Bajrang Dal organised a re­ligious procession without clearance from the police on Ram Navami. As it passed a Muslim mohalla near Kotlawada Masjid, provocative slogans were raised and somebody threw gulal on the mosque. Muslims reacted.

“The police tried to pacify the people, but nobody would listen. At least seven policemen have been injured in the communal clash,” said Mushtaq Karimi, a social worker.

Both Hindus and Muslims have suffered. Most houses set on fire belonged to Hindus, while Muslims are being ha­rassed after the event. Of the 60 arrested, 50 are Muslims and ten Hindus.
“Muslim youths have been terrorised by mindless arrests. They are fleeing from their villages to the safer ghettos. It’s the same story everywhere,” Engineer lamented. Argues Ab­dul Karim Salar, a Jalgaon-based former politician and ed­ucationist, “It is a fact that Hindus have suffered more in financial terms, but does that give licence to the police to terrorise an entire community?” No action has been taken against the ‘illegal’ procession.

A Scuffle between a Hindu and Muslim in Chopda, Jalgaon, built quickly into a confrontation. Two Hindus died in po­lice firing. Shops and houses belonging to Muslims were set on fire.

“Police acted only when rioters started using kero­sene. Rioters turned their rage on the police, and one cop, Prakash Hake, was dragged by the collar for about 20 feet,” one eyewitness said on the condition of anonymity. “The mob poured kerosene on him, but before he could be set alight, police opened fire and two Hindus died on the spot.” 19 Hindus have been arrested so far.

In Aurangabad’s Muslim majorirty Bharari village, the con­troversial song was being played outside a mosque as Mus­lims were offering the evening prayer. Minutes later, a near­by paan stall owned by a Muslim was attacked. Muslims allege that rioters wore saffron masks and raised provocative slo­gans. Muslims cowered in the mosque, shielded by the po­lice. Mumtaz Khan Pathan, owner of Yash Photo Studio who used to provide pictures to the press in Aurangabad district, became a story himself. “All my belongings worth Rs 240,000 have been vandalised,” he said.

Ashgar Ali Engineer described the Marathwada region as communally “overactive” while western Maharashtra is mere­ly “active”. He warned the state government that communal forces might try to stoke communal passions all across Maharashtra

Malegaon Riots

* Shafiq Ahmed Azizullah’s dream was to join the Army. The 23-year-old had even filled up the recruitment form, which mentioned his roll number in the National Cadet Corps: MAH/JD/1991-60553. The clothes he wore last Friday are packed tight in a polybag propped up against the family’s loom, waiting for the panchnama. The bullet made two holes in his clothes: one in the front of the waistband, the other, behind. The blood has dried up, the pain festers.

* Nihal Ahmed’s father was swallowed by a mob of around 70. They beat his skull open with an iron rod as his terrified 23-year-old son watched on. Nihal waited till the mob left and then took his uncle and another man along to bring his father home. After four hours in pain, his father succumbed.

* Salim Ahmed’s body was found from the gutter in front of a medical store. He had stepped out of his house to buy medicines for his mother. I sent him to his death, cries his mother.

*Muzammil Khalil Ahmed, 28, was shot dead in his undergarments. Workers strip to their inner garments when working at the looms. In the middle of work, he had gone to ease himself. His wife, Aaliya, is two months pregnant.

These are few of the thirteen people who lost their lives in last week’s police firing in Malegaon, thirteen men and women who’ve left behind grieving families and memories that sting.

One of the persons who just escaped the police bullet said grudgingly,” the police didn’t have to snatch the anti-US handbills; they ganged up with the Hindus to teach us a lesson”

Irfana Hamdani, an advocate and the wife of the owner of Diamond Mill, the biggest power loom that was burnt down in the riots, says how she is sure that the riots were planned.

The incident took place Friday October 26, in the Perry Chowk area of Malegaon, about 246 kilometres from Maharastra capital Mumbai, when police prevented a group of 100-odd Muslims returning from Friday prayers from distributing handbills asking people to boycott U.S. goods to protest the American military offensive on Afghanistan.

The pamphlets, which made no laudatory reference to either the Taliban or Osama, bin Laden were allegedly torn up by a constable of the state reserve police. He neither read them nor asked what they carried but plucked them out of the hands of one of the protesters and tore them up. That pamphlet was already in circulation in Mumbai. This provoked a heated altercation between the police and protesters. Police forces say they were forced to open fire. Five people died in the first round of police firing and soon the protests spread to several Muslim pockets in nearby villages.

The initial skirmish between security forces and the protesters soon acquired communal overtones after several Muslims alleged that their shops and homes had been looted and burnt by Hindus. There are now fears that a region that has witnessed communal peace for nearly eight years (the last outbreak was after the demolition of the Babri Masjid) could get mired in the vortex of communal disharmony again.

“Both the communities have worked towards some sort of peace in the last few years. They used to sit together and resolve differences but now all that seems to have gone. The way they are attacking each other, it seems they have lost their sanity,” said Asghar Ali, a resident.

Besides Malegaon,incidents of arson were also reported in nearby Ravalgaon, Soundane, Umrane, Zodge, Jaykheda, Askheda, Kalwan, Antapur, Dabhadi, Manmad and Aghar, while mobs pelted stones at places of worship at Zodge and Askheda. Five platoons of SRPF have been deployed in the town to maintain law and order.

In Umrane, a large village of some 15,000 inhabitants in Deola Taluk, all 15 Muslim families left on October 26 itself. Two days later, local thugs torched their houses.

In Karanjgavhan, 13 kilometres from Malegaon, three mosque officials were assaulted by a mob of about 40 people on October 28. Shaikh Sohaib, whose head was injured in the attack, says, “All 12 Muslim families in the village had left. The police told us that they could not give us protection and asked us to go away. We had locked ourselves inside the mosque.”
To add to the problems, rumours doing the rounds are only feeding the hatred and suspicion. One story talks of how entire truckloads of arms are reaching Malegaon. Another story talks of women flower-sellers being ritually mutilated and killed by rioting mobs. There is no official record of such deaths, but villagers do not trust figures given by the police.

In the nearby village of Savandgon, two trucks were reportedly set ablaze. A violent mob damaged a few shops at Satana to Naka. In Azadnagar, the mob tried to set fire an electric sub-station, but police rushed to the spot in time and dispersed the mob.

In camp area, a cotton mill was set ablaze while in Shivar, two plastic industrial houses were set on fire. In Dhabhadi village, the mob burned down nine shops and a truck. Armed forces are deployed to maintain law and order in these areas.

Ejaz Ahmed Ansari, a schoolteacher, says, “There was no provocation. We just want to know why the police objected to the distribution of the handbills. The police should have allowed the crowd to distribute the handbills. The riots would not have happened then.”

What angers the Muslim community is that the police fired directly at the crowd before trying other mob control measures, like firing into the air or using tear gas. Many of those injured in the firing claim they were just innocent passers-by.

Malegaon has acquired notoriety for communal flare-ups. The first major riots here were recorded in 1942. The next round of rioting happened in 1963. Violence flared up again in 1988 and 1992.

Malegaon has a large Muslim population that had migrated from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The people depend mainly on the handloom industry but the industry is on the decline.

The riots had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan or the U.S. With Malegaon municipal elections slated in December, the reason for sparks turning into a bonfire may not be hard to find.

They were simply the outcome of power politics in the area. Malegaon has always been a stronghold of the Janata Dal till October 1999. In 1999, Mr Shaikh Rashid,of Congress who runs a transport business, trounced the veteran socialist and president of the state unit of the Janata Dal (Secular) Nihal Ahmed, who was earlier a leader of the opposition in the legislature, by a margin of about 28,000 in a surprise development.

Nihal Ahmed saw a golden opportunity to turn his fortunes around. He had ruled the roost in the city for nearly 20 years before being defeated in 1999 by a Congress rival. “Ahmed built his reputation for years as a secular Muslim. But losing that election in 1999 was a shock to him and he thought that he could regain his lost base only by ‘going extremist’,” says a state Congress committee executive.

On October 19, a week preceding the riots, Nihal Ahmed, was given permission to hold a rally where he preached peace but says some hotheads brought along pictures of Osama bin Laden. This might have triggered tensions since the Congress (I) MLA, Mr. Rashid Sheikh, who defeated Mr. Ahmed, too is competing for the same political space, long dominated by Mr. Ahmed.

The eyewitness allege that it was Shaikh who instigated police to resort to firing. Thus it was tug of war between two Muslim MLA’s.

Malegaon burned, lives were lost and Maharashtra once again tops the chart of communal locations in the country. The trouble was aggravated mainly because of three reasons: inept handling by police, a history of communally divisive politics in a decrepit town which cannot manage its own affairs – it does not even want to become a Municipal Corporation from a Council – and a total lack of anticipation by the authorities

It started as a people versus police incident; the people being those who came out of the mosque. As in 1992, here the police became the targets of the mob and the retaliation led to deaths of Muslims and soon, in an inexplicable manner – this is what a future probe which the Government has been saying is possible, should look into more than anything else – turned communal.

Policemen on the streets were not sensitised to find how a delicate communal cauldron, long on simmer, could come to a boil: an eye-batting moment. Once the trouble spread, they seemed woefully lacking in initiative.

Mushawarat delegation visits the riot-ridden city of Malegaon
New Delhi: A Musli Majlis-e-Mushawarat delegation that visited the riot-ridden city of Malegaon in Maharashtra where more than a dozen Muslims lost their lives, said in a press release here on 7 Nov. that the riots have destroyed more than 200 shops and seven large warehouses as well as a number of vehicles and residential complexes. The delegation was headed by Syed Shahabuddin.
According to the press release, several mosques were badly damaged in the arson including mosque in Sangmeshwar and Paltan Masjid in Camp area. The properties of the two mosques including a madrasa in the vicinity of the Palton Masjid were totally destroyed. All shops in the mosque were burnt down. Two other mosques and Eidgah were also damaged in the riots.

The press release adds that the minority community is increasingly thinking that the police is biased towards it and its actions are offending. It also believes that police crosses its limit causing severe law and order problems. The delegation demands that action should be taken against irresponsible and careless city administration and police.

The delegation that visited the area met local people and administration and advised them to maintain restraint so that no innocent people are arrested anymore. It demanded that the people of minority community who have left areas due to fear like Sangmeshwar and Camp should be rehabilitated in these areas. It also asked for adequate compensation for relatives of people who lost their lives during the riots and those who were injured and start immediate rehabilitation work. The delegation also demanded to assess and compensate those who have lost their business during the riots. The press release names the people killed during riots as follows: Shafiq Ahmad Azeezullah, Rafiq Shah Hamid Shah, Khalil Ahmad Muhammad Saeed Shikari, Bilqin Bano bint Muhammad Abbas, Muhammad Ismail Muhammad Ibrahim, Muzammil Khalil Ahmad, Riyaz Ahmad, Shaikh Ahmad Shaikh Murad, Bapu Ram Das Bachao, Muhammad Ishaq Driver. q

November 16-30, 2001
by Asghar Ali Engineer

The Malegaon was shaken with sudden spurt of communal violence on 26th October after the Friday prayer in the after noon. Communal violence often has connection, direct or indirect with announcement of elections. Within a couple of months elections to Municipal Council (to be soon declared municipal corporation) are expected in Malegaon and other towns and parties and contestants are worried about their vote banks. The people have to pay price for being governed through elected representatives.

The riots in Malegaon are quite serious and biggest after the Mumbai riots of 1992-93. It is not that riots had not taken place after the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 during the Shiv Sena-BJP rule as one commentator had suggested. Several riots had taken place in Penn, Junnar and other places during the SS-BJP rule. But it must be stated that the Malegaon riots would take the cake in the post-Babri riots in Maharashtra.

Malegaon, a taluka, is a Muslim majority town in the Nasik district. It has roughly a population of 800,000 of which nearly sixty percent is Muslim. These Muslims, most of them, had migrated from U.P and Bihar after the mutiny in 1857 due to persecution by the British, are quite poor and illiterate. Hardly any government in Maharashtra did anything to improve their economic conditions. Government after government used them for votes. A survey shows that the incidence of T.B. is also quite high among the Muslims of Malegaon. Malegaon, it must be noted, is an important centre of power looms like Bhivandi near Mumbai.

Besides elections which will be soon announced the incidents of 11th September in New York and Washington, were also responsible for what happened in Malegaon. Muslims in Malegaon, like the Muslims in many other places in India, are quite angry with the USA for its continuous carpet bombing in Afghanistan in retaliation to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and Pentagon in Washington.

These Muslims are expressing their resentment against the USA and the Britain which has joined the USA in punishing raids by giving a call for boycotting the American and the British goods particularly the Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, the popular soft drinks. Some Muslim scribes from Deoband and other places in U.P. had given a call appealing the Indians in general and Muslims in particular to boycott these soft drinks. Many Muslim hoteliers had even stopped selling these drinks. Some young boys in Malegaon were distributing the pamphlets appealing the Indians to boycott these goods and they went to distribute these pamphlets after the Friday prayers.

However, these pamphlets had nothing communal or offensive or even a thing in support of terrorist attacks on 11th September in New York. It contained only an appeal to boycott American and British goods. The district authorities had made police bandobast outside all sensitive areas. Malegaon is considered as one of the most communally sensitive areas in Maharashtra. So the authorities wanted to take no chances and the police bandobast was tightened.

One of the constables of the SRP (the state reserved police) snatched a pamphlet from the boy who was distributing it and reprimanded him. According to another version he even slapped him and arrested him. It is said that the boy refused to hand over the pamphlets to the constable. This led to protest from the people coming out of the mosque and resulted in skirmishes with the police. It is also said that the pamphlet in question was being distributed in Malegaon for the last one week before that Friday. It is also said that the Imam of the Jami’ Masjid Mufti Muhammad Ismail and one advocate Shuaib intervened and asked people to disperse peacefully. It is obvious that much trouble could have been avoided if the police had requested for the pamphlet and had not used the force. It is also pointed out that first the police demanded the pamphlet and it was refused and then force was used. Actually it should not be the job of police on duty to demand for the pamphlet. It could have been collected politely by a plainclothesman from intelligence department. Instead an SRP constable seized the pamphlet and so much violence resulted.

But there was anger against the police and also against the USA’s attack S.P, Suresh Ahire reached there with reinforcements and the local Congress MLA Sheikh Rashid also reached the spot. People were demanding apology from the police for snatching the pamphlets and arresting the boy. As the crowd was getting restless the police resorted to lathi charge with great intensity. Many people were injured and they began to run from there. The crowd ran towards Muhammad Ali and Qidwai Road and had scuffle with the police. Stone pelting began and many people including three policemen, it is said, were injured.

It is then that the police used force and begin firing in the direction of Muhammad Ali Road. The police fired 9 rounds in which 7 persons were injured. Three persons died of which one was a boy of 18 years, who was hit in the head, the other was a 23 years old man who was hit above his navel and third was a woman Biqis Bano 45 year old who was drying clothes on the terrace was hit in the chest and died in Faran hospital. It will be seen that all three were hit above the waist and none was fired upon below the waist.

Before we proceed further some comments about the role of the police will be in order. The police, particularly those at the lower ranks, often fire in excess against weaker sections of the society particularly the minorities, tribals and dalits. They hardly have respect for human rights or even for others life. When they fire on these sections they often fie to kill them. The way the sub inspector Kadam had fired on dalits in Ghatkopar a few years ago in which more than 10 dalits were killed is another proof of this. The Gundewar Commission had also observed that the firing was in excess. And we do have the Srikrishna Commission Report, which probed role of the police so painstakingly, police station by police station and concluded that the police was guilty of deliberately killing Muslims in many instances.

If the government does not pay attention to intensive training and sensitising the police towards human life this will keep on repeating in riot after riot as it has been happening in the past. No such attention is being given despite so many instances of the police brutalities. It is true we have many IPS officers of high integrity but they are few and far in between. For example in Malegaon too Mr. Bali, an Additional Director of the Police was sent to control the situation. He is man of great integrity and had controlled riots in Bhivandi during 1992-93 but it was too late. By the time Bali went to Malegaon damage was already done.

The crowd became even more restless after the firing and more than seven persons having been hit above the waist the crowd became even more restless. The firing took place at about five minutes past four O’clock on Muhammad Ali Road. The crowd from there spread to the other side of the river Mausam and began indulging in looting and burning shops and other properties belonging to the majority community, and the sections of majority community retaliated by burning shops and properties of Muslims. There is a Shiv Sena organisation in Malegaon called Janta Raja which is controlled by the Anand Dighe faction of Thane. They incited the Hindus to attack Muslims and their properties. The Samna also wrote, as usual, provocative articles and even said that if Muslims are in majority in Malegaon we are in majority in villages and we will teach them a lesson.

On 26th October 2001 lot of cases of arson took place between 4 and 7 P.M. in Dana Bazar, in Gur Bazar, Kirana Bazar, Shashtri Chowk, Nihalnagar, Muhammad Ali Road etc. The majority community communal elements openly began provoking people in number of areas around Malegaon like Samakser and camp and Suigaon and rumours began to spread in all directions as happens in most of the riots. In Samakser Muslim properties were destroyed, looted and burnt. Now communal elements and anti-social elements from both the communities were openly looting and burning properties. There were two cases of stabbing but all others (about 13 persons according to the official figures and 15 according to other sources) were killed in the police firing. About 12 persons were Muslims among those who died and two Hindus and one was unidentified.

The looting and burning continued for few days and the situation came under control only after 3rd November. Curfew had to be imposed for long hours from the very first day and day-curfew has been relaxed only on 7th November. The night curfew, however, still continues.

It is highly regrettable that such a major riot took place in which 15 persons were killed, more than 12 were injured in police firing and 477 persons were arrested. We heard many painful stories of killing of people. One Khalil Member, a person who was working for peace was called from his house on the pretext of controlling the mob and was killed. Water pipes were broken by the miscreants and Malegaon went without water for few days. A rumour was also set afloat that milk has been poisoned and many had to go without milk.

In villages and nearby areas it is mainly Muslims who suffered. In places like Rawalgaon (the famous chocolate town, Deola and Kalwan it is Muslims who mainly suffered. In Malegaon alone the properties worth more than 15 crores were destroyed and in these other places properties worth more than two crores were lost. Some estimates put the losses much higher.

It is also pointed out by some that the riots were caused mainly by election rivalry between the present Congress MLA and Nihal Ahmed of Janata Dal (Secular). There is no doubt both are political rivals and Sheikh Rashid, the Congress MLA even alleged that Nihal Ahmed had provoked the Muslims and riots ensued. However, Nihal Ahmed denies the charge. It is true that Nihal Ahmed had taken out a procession against the Afghanistan war on 19th October (i.e. previous Friday) in which many Muslims joined and some youth even carried the placards with Usma bin Laden’s pictures. Nihal, however, maintains, he did not control the youth who carried the placards. It was not he who invited them to join and carry the placards.

Whatever, the fact is that elections of Municipal council is due in Malegaon probably in December and politicians are tempted to cater to the sentiments of their voters. Both Sheikh Rashid and Nihal Ahmed had an eye on the coming elections and wanted to be on the right side of their voters’ sentiments. It is however, for all of us to reflect that elections at what cost? Should we play with the sentiments of our people as our politicians have been doing so far? Can elections be fought only on communal issues?

The BJP is also hotting up Ayodhya issue once again since elections in U.P. are due. It is exploiting the issue of terrorist attacks and is enacting POTO and strongly justifying it again to cater to the Hindu sentiments on terrorism. The Congress-NCP Government also failed miserably in controlling the riots in Malegaon and around despite the town being given to the army control. This itself is a serious thing that the army had to be called out on the third day of rioting.

The charge that when the Congress is in power more riots take place (already small riots up to more than 40 have taken place in Maharashtra since the Congress-NCP Government came to power) and when BJP or Shiv Sena is in power riots are far and few in between. Whenever the Congress is in power it is obvious that the BJP or Shiv Sena are out to cause communal trouble to alienate Muslim voters from the Congress, on one hand, and to consolidate their Hindu vote bank, on the other.

Thus the Congress has to be doubly cautious while in power to maintain communal harmony. But it is often seen that it miserably fails to maintain communal harmony as it happened in the case of Malegaon. To prevent riots police machinery on one hand, and the administrative machinery, on the other hand, must be spruced up. But the Congress government hardly plays any role and neglects very vital function to maintain harmony. The Congress once again has proved that it is incapable of pulling up the police force. If it has to revive itself and won over Muslims in U.P. it must play very proactive role in controlling communal situation where it rules. But there are no such signs and as usual it is succumbing to communal pressures.

Though the Congress Committee led by Motilal Vohra has given clean chit to the Chief Minister Mr. Deshmukh, in handling riots, it can hardly convince the victims of riots in Malegaon. It also must be pointed out that despite such vicious communal atmosphere, Hindus and Muslims saved each others lives. The Muslims protected four Hindu families in Pawar Gali and Hindus protected Muslims in other areas. This gives us hope in otherwise politically hopeless situation in the country.

The Government initially had ordered only Magisterial inquiry but later on due to pressure from Mrs. Sonia Gandhi a judicial inquiry has been instituted. So much for the Government’s seriousness about Malegaon riots. Mr.Bhujbal, the Home Minister, had also turned down compensation for those killed and injured saying it will amount to rewarding the mischief makers. Mr. Bhujbal should have known that very few miscreants are killed. It is mostly bye-standers who pay with their lives. A woman who was drying clothes on the terrace was killed. How can she be a miscreant? The Government has now announced to give compensation though amount has not been fixed


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