Communal Violence in 2013: Part – II – Irfan Engineer

Irfan Engineer

In the previous article, we examined the trends in riots and the all India statistics of communal riots provided by the Union Govt. We also described some of the communal riots in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. In this article, we now propose to describe some riots in J&K, UP, MP, Bihar and Assam.

Kishtwar, J&K

On 9th August after the Eid-ul Fitr prayers, there was sudden stone pelting. There are two versions of the incident. After the Eid prayers, the dispersing gathering was greeted with provocative posters depicting hanging of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Butt. The other version says that the dispersing mob was shouting anti-India slogans, which infuriated the sentiments leading to stone pelting. The latter version seems hardly credible as Muslims in Jammu hardly identify with Kashmir nationalists for self-determination. 3 persons died during the riots and 80 were injured in Hidyal village. Among the dead was Arvind Kumar Bhagat (23 yrs) who succumbed to bullet injuries – Hindus claim in private firing while Muslims claim it be from police firing. Bashar Ahmad Mochi was beaten by a mob and later burnt alive. Curfew was imposed in 8 districts of Jammu region. Kishtwar has a delicate demography with Hindus constituting 45% and Muslims 55% and known for its saffire mines and saffron. Minister of State for Home Sajjad Kitchloo, who hails from the district alleged that preparations for riots were being done at least since a month and armed mob was planning to attack minorities. Home Minister P. Chidambaram made a statement in Parliament blaming Bajrang Dal for stoking communal fire. The role of Village Defence Committee members who have been provided with fire arms was also brought into sharp focus during the riots. Most of the VDC members are Hindus.

At the centre of the Kishtwar communal clashes is vote-bank rather than separatist politics, a sustained effort at polarisation that explains how a small fight escalated into a frenzy so suddenly. The BJP tried to politicize the unfortunate incident by sending Arun Jaitley to the spot and chose this incident from among hundreds in Jammu and Kashmir where people have been killed and properties destroyed. The only time when BJP sought to increase the compensation amount paid to riot victims was for the Kishtwar riot victims. Kishtwar was known for cordial relations between the two communities. Two agitations had strengthened the bond – a joint struggle for carving out a separate district for Kishtwar, and one for a separate degree college.

Before the militancy years, the BJP polled a mere 1,066 votes in 1983, and 3,309 in 1987 against Bashir Kitchloo’s 18,044. In 1996, when the BJP made militancy a poll issue, its candidate came second with 10,900 votes to the senior Kitchloo’s 17,889. But in the last election, in 2008, the BJP’s Sunil Kumar (16,783 votes) ran Kitchloo (19,248) close, while the PDP, contesting for the first time, polled 10,403 votes to be number three. The BJP had managed to consolidate the Hindu vote and Kitchloo would have lost but for the SC votes. Sunil Kumar, incidentally, had been working with security agencies in counter-militancy for almost 10 years before joining politics.

UP

On 12-7-13 the Saffron Brigade objected to Namaz being performed on streets in Meerut during the month of Ramzan. There was tension between both the communities, however, police force was deployed and escalation of the tension into violence was prevented.

On 26/7/13, 1 died and a dozen were injured in Nanglamal village near Meerut in communal violence. The conflict was over use of loudspeaker outside a temple situated near a mosque. However, elders from both the community intervened and sorted out the matter amicably. An Iftaar party was going on when some persons under the influence of liquor started abusing and this escalated into violent clash. During the clashes, bullets were fired and the police had to resort to baton charge. One Sunil died of bullet injury and Shahid was hospitalized. The Muslim residents of the village accused that the police entered their houses and destroyed the furniture and belongings and beat up people (Sunday Express 28/7/13).

On 16/8/13, 2 people, including one woman was injured in stone pelting involving both the communities. The fight was over approach way to Kabristan land in Modi Mira village in Meerut Dist (Sahafat 18/8/`3).

Majority of incidents in UP took place on September 7 and 8. Total 128 incidents of communal violence took place between 27th August and 16th September. 50,000 people were displaced and staying in appalling conditions in Muzaffarnagar. The state govt. did little to provided for relief camps, even though paying lip services. At least 40 kids died in the relief camps for lack of medical facilities, facing severe winter in tents without adequate number of blankets (Indian Express dtd. 3/12/13). Till 6th October, 46 Muslims and 16 Hindus were killed. 57 Muslims and 11 Hindus were injured in the Muzaffarnagar Riots. according to the official figures (Indian Express 18/10/13). Till October 13, 352 FIRs have been registered and 1,068 persons booked for incidents in 5 districts – Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Meerut, Baghpat and Saharanpur. 243 persons have been arrested, majority being from Hindu community. 17,000 persons are still living in Relief camps. The BJP MLA from Saradha, Meerut – Sangeet Som was booked under the National Security Act, but soon released by the Advisory Board as the case was not made full proof either by collusion or due to negligence. BJP later publicly felicitated the MLAs and other accused from their party after their release on bail encouraging the riot leaders.

The role of police in the Muzaffarnagar riots was one of gross negligence of their duty. Political interference in policing made the situation worst. The Director General of Police admitted to inefficiency of the police force (TOI dtd. 25/9/13). The police could have intervened when campaign against “love jihad” was ongoing to stigmatize the Muslim community. Small incidents were used to create anti-Muslim consciousness. They didn’t. Police arrested several Muslims for murder of Sachin and Gaurav. However, sting operations revealed that the accused were released by the police on the Azam Khan’s intervention. Then in violation of orders prohibiting assembly, Muslim community was mobilized in which MPs from BSP as well as SP were present and the SP himself received the memorandum from the leaders of unlawful assembly. BJP then found it convenient to mobilize Jats calling for a mahapanchayat. The Jats gathered in thousands with arms and some even kidnapped Muslims along the way. The armed participants passed through the police posts and pickets and nobody stopped them, even though the mahapanchayat there were prohibitory orders banning assembly. No attempt was made to enforce the ban, even though the anger of the crowd assembling with arms was not hidden from anybody. Provocative speeches were made and then riots started with the mob attacking Muslim villages as they were returning. Police miserably failed in reaching the trouble spots to control the riots, except in few cases.

Muslim miscreants waylaid a tractor of Jats returning to their village into nearby cane fields and killed them. In other villages where Muslims were in majority, Hindus were attacked. Sarpanch of Kharad village saved lives of 150 Muslims by giving protection to them in his house.

Some riot survivors were offered compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs if they submitted an affidavit to the effect that they would not return to their villages and the state government issued a notification to that effect. Such a notification was hitherto unheard of, and is unsustainable Constitutionally. Article 19 gives right to settle anywhere and the executive does not have a right to “purchase” from the citizen their right to settle in their villages. The Government finished the unfinished task of the rioters of throwing them out of the villages by ensuring through affidavit that they did not want to return. If anybody wanted proof of collusion between the BJP and the Samajwadi Party, here it was.

The Samajwadi Party seems to be in collusion with the BJP as both the parties calculated their gains in Western UP. However, for the Samajwadi Party, the violence escalated beyond its calculation and now more likely to harm their interests as Muslims are already moving away from the Samajwadi Party. Western UP and particularly the affected districts is stronghold of Rashtriya Lok Dal headed by Ajit Singh. Charan Singh consolidated Jat Muslim votes and created a strong base for his party. Communal polarization would weaken Ajit Singh’s Party as Jat votes would be chipped away by BJP and by providing some compensation, Samajwadi Party hoped to strengthen its Muslim base. Such cool calculations over human tragedy seems to be unfortunate but a reality. When the SP could prevent 84 kosi parikrama, they definitely could have prevented the Jat mahapanchayat too! Not doing so was criminal collusion on part of the SP and it must take primary blame for the Muzaffarnagar riots along with the BJP.

MP

On 20/8/13, 45, including 30 policemen were injured in communal violence in stone pelting incident in Chandan Nagar Thana in Indore. Fight began over the result of a cricket match and carcass of an animal found near a temple, which turned into a slogan shouting by Sangh Parivar connected people. Shops were damaged and 100 vehicles were set to fire and two policemen were critically injured.

On 19/9/13, Communal violence started in Chhipabad of Harda district caused huge losses to several residential properties and injuring 22 people, but the major impact seems to be on the psyche of the victims, especially women and children. Miscreants from Bajrang Dal destroyed even foodgrains inside the homes of Muslims. Several homes were torched using petrol from a nearby pump. 60-70 children stopped going to school and caused psychological problems to a person. A mob had entered school asking children of Muslim community be handed over to them. The authorities had locked these students up safely and told the mob that they had returned home. A fact-finding team led by L S Herdenia demanded immediate arrest of Surendra Rajpurohit alias Tiger, who allegedly was the main inciter of the violence and investigation into the role of the son of a local BJP MLA and to book all those guilty. The violence occurred over a Muslim hitting a cow and the rumours of death of the cow spread like wild fire with active participation of Saffron Brigade. Police were mute spectators to the entire incident. It is ironic that human beings think they should violently attack others in retaliation for death of a cow!

Bihar

On 9th August, a Nagpanchami procession in Bettiah turned violent. There was stone pelting and vehicles of Dist. Magistrate and the SP were burnt. Curfew was imposed. The precession had political sub-text and provocative political slogans were being shouted against political leaders like the Bihar Chief Minister, the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi. This is aftermath of separation of JD(U) from the NDA. Lathi wielding men of Mahabir Akahada were leading the procession of tractors and carrying political placards (The Hindu, 15/8/13).

Nawada witnessed bloody violence for over 48 hours between groups of two communities leading to death of two persons. The communal clashes started here on August 10, a day after Eid, when some Muslim youths objected to the presence of burqa-clad Muslim girls at Baba ka Dhaba, owned by a Hindu, on the outskirts of the Nawada town. The youths attacked the dhaba and damaged the furniture. Some of the youths were captured by the people of the majority community who had gathered there by then. Then a bigger group of minority people reached the dhaba to secure release of the captured youths, and this resulted into clashes and arson at large scale. A big mob of the majority community, armed with firearms, came up from the Bundelkhand locality and attacked on Moghlakhar locality dominated by the minority community. In fierce stone pelting on either side several people were wounded. During the clashes, gunshots were fired from the majority community resulting in the death of one Md. Iqbal. The clashes and gunfire happened in the presence of the police and the site of the violence was at stone’s throw from the police station. Soon after the incident, the district administration clamped curfew in areas that fall under police stations of Nawada town, Mufassil and Sadar. Five were injured during the riots.

Locals said the curfew has virtually imprisoned the minority areas and taking benefit of that, shops of minority community were looted and burnt in majority areas. Several shops of Muslims were burned down and when the police were trying to control the rampaging mob, one majority youth tried to snatch the gun of a policeman, forcing the police to open fire leading to death of the youth from the majority community. Nawada riots were the sixth communal riot in Bihar since chief minister Nitish Kumar parted ways with the BJP in July.

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Assam

On 25th August, meat was discovered near 3 temple areas which sparked off communal violence in Rangpur (Cachar Dist.). 7 policemen were injured and army had to be deployed. The Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi blamed the VHP and the BJP for the riots in which several shops and vehicles were burnt.

Conclusion:

Slightest of provocation like a Muslim beating a cow, meat discovered near temples/mosques, teasing of women belonging to another community, inter communal marriages / love affairs, political processions in religious garb, use of loud speakers, dispute over restaurant bills etc. are used as provocations to spark off riots. Police inaction and often collusion encourages the rioters and anti-social elements and help them acquire religio-political clout making them powerful politicians. While these issues need to be handles sensitively, the real challenge is in de-constructing communal identities in a way that help realize the diversity that exists within each community and which contributes to enjoyment of our wonderful lives and adds to better understanding of our worlds. The prejudices against the other are the bonds that cement an imagined community and these need to be replaced with bonds of humanity, love, justice and compassion for all. But for that to happen, we need a law that makes state accountable for its acts and omissions and failures in controlling violence. A legislation that provides for effective procedures to punish the guilty and provide entitlements to survivors of communal violence for adequate standards of relief, rehabilitation and reparations.

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