Communal Violence in 2013: Part – I ( Irfan Engineer)

Irfan Engineer

The year 2013 was worse than 2012 from the standpoint of communal violence.

According to the Home Ministry data released in the National Integration Council meeting, 107 people were killed in communal riots across the country, which includes 66 Muslims and 41 Hindus in 479 incidents of communal violence this year. Apart from those killed, 1,697 people including 794 Hindus, 703 Muslims and 200 policemen were injured. Bihar saw 40 communal disturbances, 25 incidents of tension-like situation and recorded nine deaths – five Hindus and four Muslims. Among the injured, 123 were Hindus, 66 Muslims and 19 police officials.

Gujarat reported 6 deaths (3 Muslims and 3 Hindus.) 147 injured (85 Hindus, 57 Muslims and 5 policemen) in 64 incidents of communal violence this year (up from 5 deaths and 500 injured last year). Incidents wise, Gujarat is next only to UP, while number of people killed in communal violence in Bihar is higher than Gujarat.

UP recorded the highest casualties until October 2013 at 62 deaths, of which 42 victims were Muslims and 20 Hindus in 93 riots and 108 incidents of communal tension (TOI dtd. 14.12.13 reports 95 deaths in UP in 500 incidents). Communal conflict in Muzaffarnagar alone witnessed 53 deaths. A total of 219 Muslims and 134 Hindus were injured. According to Indian Express dtd 18-10-13, in Muzaffarnagar riots 62 people died – 46 Muslims and 16 Hindus.

In 2012, the country had witnessed 93 deaths – 48 Muslims, 44 Hindus and one police official – in 640 incidents of communal violence. 2,067 people were injured, including 1,010 Hindus, 787 Muslims, 222 police officials and 48 others. Though the number of communal incidents reduced from 640 in 2012 to 479, the number of deaths increased from 93 to 107. In the year 2012 also, UP had recorded the highest number of deaths (39) in 117 incidents of communal violence, in which 20 Hindus and 19 Muslims were killed. Among the injured, 266 were Hindus, 197 Muslims and 25 police officials. This shows that with fewer incidents, and less spread out riots, the rioters were more angry or better armed and organized, or both.

The other factor behind higher fatality of riots is the approaching Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and mobilization of voters along caste and communal lines. Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, got his trusted lieutenant Amit Shah appointed as in-charge of UP State. Amit Shah soon visited the site of demolished Babri Masjid and prayed for construction of Ramjanmabhoomi Temple – revisiting the communal agenda of construction of Ram temple with the intention of communal polarization ahead of general elections. The Sangh Parivar next tried to promote communal polarization by organizing chauryasi kosi parikrama of Ayodhya, something that is not even a tradition, and timing wise, the only justification would be forthcoming elections. For over a year, the Sangh Parivar stigmatized love between a Muslim boy and a Hindu girl as “love jihad”. Unsubstantiated allegations of love jihad – a figment of imagination of course – is supposed to mean that every love of a Hindu girl by a Muslim boy is a conspiracy for which the Muslim boy receives a handsome amount and the Hindu girl suffers. The reverse – love between a Muslim girl and a Hindu boy – of course is not a conspiracy because Hindu boys are supposed to be only virtuous. Baseless and in fact obnoxious propaganda was carried out through leaflets. The written word in large sections of Indian society is unfortunately considered as proof. Muslims as a community therefore appear as bundle of evil lot, even when some of them are not terrorists.

Relentless campaign was carried on regarding “illegal immigration from Bangladesh” and practically the whole Bengali speaking Muslim community in Assam State, Delhi, Mumbai and other places was branded as illegal Bangladeshis. In addition to AASU, the Bodo leaders in Bodoland areas are also now accusing their neighbours since generations to be illegal Bangladeshis. Anti-cow slaughter campaigns have been used very effectively in Gujarat, MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and to some extent, in Maharashtra. Sangh Parivar linked vigilante having links with police personnel regularly stop cattle being transported and whenever either the driver or owner of the vehicle, or the owner of the cattle is a Muslim, then hefty bribes are asked for and on refusal, the cattle is ceased calling in the police, the Muslim owner or driver beaten up. Media contacts publicising the event as Muslims were illegally taking cows slaughter house. Regular news of Muslims illegally slaughtering cow, a religiously revered animal makes them object of hatred. These issues are in addition to traditional propaganda like “all terrorists are Muslims”, “Muslims are loyal to Pakistan”, “Muslim population is growing at an alarming rate due to polygamy and they would soon be a majority in the country” etc. This continuous propaganda and mobilization around the above issues contributed towards higher fatality during communal riots. The riots also appear to be better planned and rioters better armed as compared to 2012. The culpability of the Sangh Parivar is clear from the fact that in Bihar, there were 17 incidents of communal violence in 4 weeks after breakup of the alliance with the BJP and 24 incidents 6 weeks after the break up.

In the year 2013, the Sangh Parivar used both methods to polarize communally – shock and awe, as well as low intensity conflicts. The examples of shock and awe seem to Muzaffarnagar and Kishtwar where as the others, as we shall see below were low intensity, particularly in MP and Gujarat. In UP, students of Darul Uloom Deoband and Nadwatul Ulama were regularly attacked while travelling in train or outside their campus during the entire year with Urdu press carrying the reports, besides Indian Express dtd 9/9/2013. This year, restaurants became additional sites of conflict – in Dhule, Jalgaon (Maharashtra) and Nawada (Bihar). Social media was used ‘effectively’ in addition to rumours to mobilize the rioting mob on streets. Sangeet Som, BJP MLA was arrested and charged for circulating a fake MMS purportedly depicting Muslims beating up Sachin and Gaurav who later died. The video clip was actually pertaining to an incident in Pakistan. The video clip was widely circulated through WhatsApp and MMS. Without any doubt, the circulation of the video clip added towards large mobilization of Jats in their Mahapanchayat and the brutality that was witnessed during Muzaffarnagar riots, which included the brutal sexual assaults. A woman was dismembered into two and a ten year old’s head was smashed and 13 of the 53 bodies on which post mortem was carried on were beyond recognition. Maximum charred bodies came from Phugana (Sunday TOI dtd 15-9-13). After Gujarat in 2002, this appears to the first time when sexual assaults were used with brutality as a weapon.

Women’s organizations visiting Muzafffarnagar reported several incidents of rape, however, the women assaulted were not ready to complaint. A team with Farah Nazqvi and several other members that visited relief camps in Muzaffarnagar and other riot affected areas reported “The team heard accounts of sexual assault on women of varying degrees of brutality – from tearing clothes to rape and gang rape. We gathered first-person testimonies from two young women who spoke with great difficulty and trauma about gang rape being committed on them. Several girls spoke of their clothes being torn off. These were difficult testimonies to elicit, for the women were frightened and spoke about ‘their honour’ and ‘family honour’ and, at this stage, no one we met wants to go public or pursue a legal criminal case of sexual violence. We heard reports that many families had sent young girls who were assaulted away to relatives’ homes. They did not want them to be in the camp, or for the stories to spread. There is an urgent need for women’s rights activists to spend time in these camps and help create an environment of trust and security in which women may be able to speak freely and seek help, justice and restitution.”
The other very disturbing pattern was the spread of communal polarization to rural areas in Muzaffarnagar. The Jats and Muslims, largely from backward castes share the same culture and speak the same dialect. They shared strong bonds of harmony for ages and fought with unity against the Britishers right from the first war of Independence. The backward class Muslims in Western UP did not respond enthusiastically to the Pakistan movement.

Sir Syed too was not enthusiastic to spread his Aligarh Movement for education of Muslims among this class of Muslims. The campaign on love jihad stigmatizing Muslims, and the bahu beti bachao (save daughter-in-law and daughter) campaign persuaded Jats, who maintain strict control over their women, to believe that their women are under threat from the predating Muslims. It is ironic that the khap panchayats (caste based organizations that strictly enforce marital relations) known for maintaining strict control over women in the family and resort to honour killing of their daughters should name their campaign as bahu beti bachao muhim. These campaigns, nevertheless, “succeeded” in creating anti-Muslim consciousness. Scores minor incidents and skirmishes took place between the Jats and Muslims over teasing women, a common incident in patriarchal and feudal society. The incidents in which Shahnawaz was killed by Sachin and Gaurav also emanated from the allegation of teasing their sister and then, Sachin and Gaurav were killed. This enabled the BJP to hijack the Jat Mahapanchayat which metamorphosed into Hindu Mahapanchayat. The spread of riots in 4 districts in rural areas is devastating new trend. The displaced Muslims are still not able to return to their villages.

Seven people were killed in police firing (7 in Dhule – all Muslims) and one died in Tonk (Rajasthan) due to injuries sustained when police in entered mosque and subjected namazis to baton charge. Several policemen were also injured in line of their duty. The police were able to contain and prevent only a few riots while they were either mute spectators or participants in the rest. In Dhule and Tonk, the casualties were solely due to police rather than rioters and victims of police brutality in both the cases were Muslims.

The theatre of communal violence was in Maharashtra, Gujarat, MP, UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, J&K and Assam i.e. mainly West and North.

Statewise break up of some incidents of communal violence:
Maharashtra:
In Maharashtra, 11 people were killed and 271 injured in 64 incidents of communal violence until October this year. Seven of the 11 killed were from the minority community. Of the injured, 101 were Hindus, 106 Muslims and 64 police officials (figures given by the Central Govt. during the National Integration Council meeting).

The communal violence in 2013 started with Dhule in Maharashtra. On 6th January 2013, a Muslim auto driver had an argument with Kishore Wagh, owner of a restaurant in Madhavpur near Machchi bazaar in the heart of Dhule over nonpayment of a Rs 30 bill. Wagh hit the driver on his face with a ladle. Bleeding profusely, auto driver went to the police chowki, a 100 yards away, but they turn him away. The driver returned with a dozen or so youth, only to find that the crowd near the restaurant had also swelled. Stone pelting began from both sides. The police chowki, like a kiosk, was in the middle. The constables ran away. The Muslim mob pulled out the furniture and papers from the chowki, made a pile on the road and set fire to it. Police arrived and their fire was directed only on the Muslims. Six Muslims were shot dead and more than 229 people, including 113 policemen, were injured. Four of them, including a minor, were shot in the back, while one received a bullet in his neck. Muslim houses and shops, within a stone’s throw from the police formation, were looted and gutted almost under police supervision.

A Maharashtra Police report on the January 6 Dhule riots in the state indicted cops of firing “in excess” and without following the procedures. Six policemen were arrested on February 8 and two have been suspended based on the report, which states that the suspended policemen looted and vandalised property in the area.
On 5th February 2013 at 5.30 pm there was tension following communal clashes in Lonar town in Buldhana district. The District is known for its hot water spring in. One person from Majority community died while being treated in hospital. Spread of riots was prevented by combing operations and increasing police reinforcements. Five people were arrested (Sahafat Daily, dtd. 7/2/ 2013).

On 13-6-2013, curfew was imposed in Saudagaon (Raver Tehsil, Jalgaon Dist.) following clashes between two communities during which shops and vehicles were scorched. 7 persons were injured in the clashes. A small dispute in a hotel turned into heated arguments and soon members of the two groups pulled out sharp weapons and resorted to stoning each other. Police arrested 20 people. (Sahafat, 14-6-2013 )

On 18/8/13 there were communal clashes in Mumbai over collection of donation for Ganeshotsav in Agripada area. Shiv Sainiks insisted on contribution of a certain amount for the festival from a Muslim vendor who expressed his inability due to poor business. This led to clashes. Two policemen were injured while trying to control the situation.

Rajasthan:
Communal riots broke out in Sawa village, a Muslim majority village in Chittorgarh, on 28/6/2013 following a road accident in which one person was crushed to death by a dumper. Large crowd gathered after the incident and burnt the dumper and demanded compensation. There are many China clay mines in the region and their dumpers ply regularly through Sawa village on its way to Gujarat. The rash driving by dumper drivers led to pent up anger among the residents. The mine owners mobilized their forces and burnt shops in the village. 22 persons from minority community, including sarpanch of the village and 12 persons from majority community were arrested. One person was injured in police firing.

On 11 July 2013 when Muslims of Tonk City were offering Maghrib Salat (Prayer after sunset) at the Chhawni Jama Masjid, a Baraat procession came from the nearby ‘Keer’ Hindu locality playing D.J. in loud voice and stayed a bit longer in front of the mosque. Some people requested the Keers not to play the D.J. in front of the mosque. A heated argument took place which soon turned into conflict and then stone pelting from both sides began. The police came and controlled the situation.

On 12 July 2013, as the Muslims gathered at the Chhawni Jama Masjid in order to offer special Friday (Juma’) prayers, huge Police force was deployed along with RAC and STF personnel. The Juma’ prayers went peacefully and people came out of the mosque. According to the eye witnesses, all was peaceful and under control and the people were heading towards their homes. All of a sudden, allegedly without any provocation, about 150 policemen (including RAC and STF) stormed into the mosque breaking the back door of the adjacent Madrasa and instantaneously fired a number of teargas shells straight on the people offering Namaz in the mosque.

One of the shells hit a youth Nasir in his face, who died on the spot and another injured critically. Then the police resorted to ‘lathi charge’ and started beating everyone irrespective of their age. Even a Muslim police officer, who was praying at the mosque, was also thrashed by the STF. Even the Imam of the Jama’ Masjid was not spared. About 80 people were injured and two died. The person died other than Nasir could not be recognized, as the police took him away in very serious condition and he didn’t belong to Tonk.
…To be continued

(Guest Writer – Irfan Engineer, Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism)

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