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PUCL Bulletin, February 2007

Communal riots in 2006 - A review

-- By Asghar Ali Engineer

This is as usual our annual survey of communal riots and events during 2006. This was comparatively a year with few riots. In fact post-Gujarat India has witnessed fewer riots. Gujarat was indeed another watershed like the one after post-Babri riots. It has been witnessed that after some major riot, subsequent years witness smaller and fewer riots. Mumbai riots after demolition of Babri Masjid by Sangh Parivar fanatics were also very intense and widespread in 1992-93 in which more than one thousand persons perished. After Mumbai riots there was no major riot with the exception of Coimbatore riots (in which 40 persons were killed) until Gujarat happened.

Gujarat was really earthshaking both in its intensity and in its brutality and direct involvement of state machinery. In fact nothing like Gujarat had happened in post-independence period. Gujarat happened in 2002 and since Gujarat no major riot like it has happened. Such major riots perhaps make even communal forces make so nervous by exposure of media that it takes quite sometime for them to gather courage for next major communal riot. Also, after riots like the ones in Gujarat, 2002, it becomes difficult for communal forces to get people’s support for another one for quite some time. It is also important to note that the next major riot does not usually occur at the same place. For example, after Mumbai riot of 1992-93 next major riot took place in Gujarat, not in Mumbai. Similarly earlier during eighties many major riots took place but subsequent riot never occurred at the same place.

So after Gujarat there has been no major riot so far. During 2006 several small riots took place in different places. The first riot occurred at Baroda on 17th January. Two groups of Hindus and Muslims clashed on some petty matter in which two persons were injured. The police and Rapid Action Force came into action and prevented further trouble. Three persons were arrested.

On 3rd February there were clashes between those going for Friday prayers in Kamalmaula Masjid and Bhojshala temple for worship in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh. The Hindu Jagran Manch, a Sangh Parivar unit has been claiming that Kamalmaula Masjid is a Hindu temple and Dhar has become communally highly sensitive place and clashes occur here frequently. More than 300 Muslims were prevented from entering the mosque to pray and police had to resort to lathicharge and fire teargas shells and impose curfew. Muslims had to pray in a temporary structure outside. Later on curfew was relaxed and Hindus were allowed to perform puja.

Very surprisingly clashes between Muslims and Buddhists occurred in Leh in J&K on 10th February. The mob set ablaze a house at Horay Gonpa in protest against the alleged desecration of Qur’an. 31 persons were arrested in clashes between Muslims and Buddhists. The Qur’an was allegedly kept inside the mosque in Bodh Kharboo in Kargil. Curfew had to be imposed which continued for few days and Army had to stage flag march. Leh, in a sense, is communally sensitive as earlier too clashes had occurred between Muslims and Buddhists.

There were clashes in Muzaffarnagar, U.P. between communities on 17th February during demonstrations against cartoons of the Prophet of Islam. Six persons were injured. The sentiments were inflamed as U.P.’s minister of Haj Haji Muhammad Yaqoob announced reward of 51 crores of rupees for anyone who brings the head of the cartoonist. PAC was posted to control the situation. In Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh also clashes occurred between Muslims and Hindus in which one shop was set on fire and 5 persons were injured on same day i.e. on 11th February in Char Minar and other areas. Hyderabad witnessed similar disturbances again on 24th February when a religious place was desecrated in Karwan locality. The faces of lions installed outside the religious place were found broken. Immediately large number of people collected and began stoning the houses of other community. Police had to resort to lathicharge to disperse the mob.

On 3rd March Lucknow which is not so communally sensitive witnessed communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims in which 4 persons were killed while Muslims were staging demonstrations against Prophet’s cartoons after Friday prayers in Aminabad, Qaiserganj, Latoosh Road when Muslims forced shopkeepers to down their shutters. However, according to Muslim source disturbances started when Khatiks (Hindu slaughterers) stoned Muslims protesting against Prophet’s cartoons. Then firing started from both sides in which 4 persons were killed. Majority of those injured were Muslims. In retaliation Muslims stoned many vehicles and damaged them and set fore to effigies of Bush.

Goa also witnessed communal violence on 4th March when Muslims took out protest march against demolition of a structure used for prayer by the minority community. To save the minority community, police claimed, they were evacuated. The Congress blamed the Hindu fundamentalists for disturbances. The Hindus stoned the Protest march. Then the mob ransacked several establishments and torched vehicles. Police fired in the air when someone attacked inspector Gaad and snatched his revolver. Two persons were injured in the firing. About 100 persons were arrested.

Bangalore saw communal violence on 10th March when dispute started between members of two communities in a Muslim majority area of city on the question of barking of dog. The argument between youths of two communities and 9 persons were injured when stoning started and one person was seriously injured in stabbing. The police brought the situation under control.

On March 26 Baroda witnessed communal violence once again in Fatehpura area. More than 100 persons gathered and stoned in which 6 persons were injured. The dispute between the two communities arose on small matter and soon engulfed the area in violence. Of the injured four were seriously injured and had to be hospitalised.

Aligarh flared up on the eve of Navratri on April 6 and four persons were killed. The two communities indulged in stoning and firing. It was alleged that Muslims removed the decorative lighting of a temple and violence flared up. Then the clash occurred with Muslims in Sabzi Mandi and Daiwali Gali. In fact, some alleged that when a piyao (structure for drinking water) was sought to be used as temple and was decorated with lights on the occasion of Navratri, the dispute started and took violent form. Besides 4 persons who died, 13 were injured of which 6 were in critical condition. Curfew had to be imposed in the area of five police stations.

On April 11, on the occasion of Prophet’s birth day Khandwa was engulfed in communal violence and in Pali in Rajasthan was also affected on this occasion. Twelve persons were injured in stoning in Khandwa. In both the places indefinite curfew was imposed. The police sources in Khandwa said that dispute started when some Muslims removed a Raavi Pandal in Jalebi chowk. In Pali, 10 persons were injured when a procession of Mahavir Jayanti was stoned. Some Muslims objected to procession being taken from Pinjara Mohalla and trouble started.

Thana experienced communal disturbances on 24th April. It is reported that one Muslim was unloading wood from a truck when two Hindu youth objected. However, matter was apparently settled but at night around 10 p.m. some Hindu youth came with swords and attacked Muslim houses. But Bajrang Dal group leader Prakash Ramkumar Yadav claimed that clashes started when he and his father were attacked and injured. But Mahmood Dalvi said he received a phone call from the area and when he reached there Ramprakash Yadav, along with 150 others were attacking Muslim houses. They were saying that we will make this area Gujarat. It was also alleged that when Muslim houses were being attacked the local MLA Eknath Sinde and policemen were silent spectators. Muslims alleged that police was arresting us instead of mischief mongers and attackers. Muslims felt terrorised by Bajrang Dal activists and lack of police support.

On April 25 one person was killed in Bhivandi, a Shiv Sainik, on the question of playing cricket. Four others were injured. It all started with a cricket ball hitting a Hindu woman and Muslim boys refusing to stop playing cricket. They forcibly stopped and slapped the boys. The boys threatened to return and settle score. They, some 30 in all returned with sticks, chains and stumps and attacked Mohan. Mohan later succumbed to his injuries. Police arrested six boys and was looking for 20 others.

Baroda, communally highly inflammable place since early eighties, once again was in flames on May 1st when a three hundred year old dargah of Chishti Rashiduddin was demolished by Vadodara Municipal Corporation which sparked riots in which 4 persons were killed and more than 12 were injured in police firing. Two of the dead had bullet injuries while other two were stabbed. It was demolished as an ‘illegal structure’. How can a three hundred year old dargah be declared as illegal?

Initially there was argument between residents of the locality but matter worsened when police intervened leading to riots which soon spread in different parts of the city. The police failed to disperse the mob by lathicharge and resorted to firing. Later on one Muslim was burnt alive along with his car and when people phoned control room police allegedly said ‘Go to Pakistan’. According to one estimate in all 6 persons died.

On intervention by Kamaluddin Bawa, it was agreed by Muslims that a portion of Mazar could be sliced of for road widening but when Muslims discovered that VMC plans to demolish entire Mazar they protested. The corporators most of whom were from BJP, also maintained that when they could demolish temples why can’t VMC demolish dargah. But they forgot that temples were unauthorised and of recent origin whereas dargah was three hundred years old and could not be called ‘illegal’. Anyway it resulted in serious communal violence resulting in death of six persons. On 18th May dead bodies of two children were found in decomposed state in the dicky of a car belonging to a VHP leader. How heinous crimes these communal fanatics can commit!

Aligarh witnessed another bout of communal violence on 29th May when a BJP leader was murdered and in retaliation two persons were killed. The police further extended the curfew which was already force since last eruption of violence and clamped it in two more areas. Thus curfew was clamped in all five police station areas. Ahmedabad also experienced communal violence after a scooter rider knocked down person of another community near a place of worship. The police resorted to lathi charge and in all 30 persons were injured both in lathicharge and stoning between persons of two communities.

Next communal violence erupted in Karoli, Rajastan on 16th June when at a tea stall a mentally unstable person put cow dung on Qur’an and wrote objectionable things on it and showed it to people. This caused provocation to Muslims who set fire to two Hindu shops besides damaging some stalls. They then marched to collector’s office and submitted a memorandum demanding action against the offender. Some Hindus set fire to an autorickshaw. There were some incidents of stabbing also.

On 18th June there was incidence of communal violence in Goda village in Pratapgarh district of U.P. Two girls were burnt alive after the murder of a Hindu youth by some unknown persons. As the news of Hindu youth’s murder spread hundreds of people poured in Gonda village with weapons and attacked establishment of a Muslim community in Gonda, Baldu and Subedar villages. Over 100 houses were set ablaze in which two girls were charred to death. These three villages border on Pratapgarh and Raebareli districts. Immediate police reinforcements were rushed and situation was controlled. Some 100 persons were arrested. On fourth September Raesen town in M.P. saw eruption of communal violence. Some persons allegedly threw pieces of beef at Jain temple. Hearing this news Hindus began to gather in large numbers and began stoning shops belonging to Muslims and damaging them. The police tried to disperse mob by firing teargas shells and when crowd did not disperse it fired three rounds in the air. Police reinforcements and rapid Action Force was brought to keep situation under control.

Ganpati festival is another occasion for eruption of communal violence. This year on 7th September Rabori area of Thane, near Mumbai and Usmanabad in Marathwada saw eruption of communal violence. In Rabori Muslims and those in the Ganpati procession clashed and began stoning but the police was quite alert and immediately brought the situation under control within 15 minutes.

However, it was more serious in Usmanabad where those in the Ganpati procession began throwing gulal (red powder) at Muslims in an inebriated state. They threw stones at the mosque and several Muslim shops. They also began to set fire to shops and vehicles and broke open some shops. It went on till late at night. It began from Khwajanagar of Shams chowk and continued right up to Samtanagar, near the place where Ganpati is submerged in water. Police arrested 64 persons from both the communities.

Nanded is another communally sensitive town in Marathwada region of Maharashtra. It witnessed communal violence on 29th September when student organisation Chava took out procession against reservation on religious grounds and passed through a Muslim locality and began stoning a mosque and damaged stalls selling iftar (breaking fast) eatables as it was month of Ramadan. These students having support of Shalinitai, a Maratha leader, were carrying lathis and other sharp weapons. They were shouting slogans against Muslims and attacked Abidin mosque near Bank of Hyderabad and damaged stalls selling fruits for Iftar. The vehicle belonging to Chava was full of stones. They were also carrying and waving swords. The police remained silent spectator and did not take any action against students. This procession was taken out when article 144 was in force. But police Dy.S.P. Abdurrazzaq claimed it lathicharged the processionists and arrested 30 of the Chava Organisation.

Mangalore in South Karnataka is highly sensitive area and BJP has its stronghold here. Since the BJP became part of ruling coalition in Karnataka, the communal situation has deteriorated there. The police is playing partisan role and Sangh Parivar members have become quite bold. Mangalore area has history of communal violence. In 1998 Surathkal riots 8 persons were killed and Muslim properties were widely damaged. This time around 2 persons were killed in Mangalore area between October 4 and 7 but also in between hundreds of minor skirmishes took place between Hindus and Muslims.

The communal polarisation has been created by BJP since 1992 when Babri Masjid was demolished and JP has reaped benefits in elections by winning 11 seats in Assembly elections of 2004 from the region. According to T.A. Jhonson of Indian Express “several flashpoints for communal violence have emerged from the issue of transportation of cows in violation of a state law to eve teasing to inter-religious relationships.” Also, the minorities complain of administration’s bias since the BJP became partner in coalition. Ironically the Mangalore district is under the charge of a BJP minister. The rightwing Hindu youth feel that they can get away with anything. Those in 15-25 year age group are cause of frequent violence against Muslims and over-react on issues like cow transportation as they feel no action will be taken against them.

However, Hamid Khan, member of the Muslim Central Committee said that police acted swiftly after outbreak of violence on October 4 and imposed curfew effectively, otherwise situation would have got out of control. The BJP minister Nagaraj Shetty also gave assurance that action will be taken against the guilty “without politics”. The Janata Dal (Secular) which allied with BJP blamed Bajrang Dal and SIMI for violence.

On the occasion of Diwali on 22nd October communal violence erupted in three districts of U.P. Muzaffarnagar, Blandshahar and Ambedkarnagar. In Khalapar region of Muzaffarnagar a firecracker was ignited and dispute started with this between some Hindus and Muslims and violence erupted in which one person was killed and more than three were injured. There was firing from rooftops, which continued for half an hour resulting death of one person. Mulayamsingh declared compensation of Rs.5 lakhs for family of Pankaj killed in the clashes. Another person, a student of 11th class was murdered in Ambedkarnagar and communal disturbances started in which several people were injured including some police officers. Here many shops and houses were also damaged.

From what has been narrated above it can be seen that several small riots take place on small matters like playing cricket or lighting a cracker or someone being knocked down by a scooterist and so on. Why does it assume communal colour? The obvious reason is that communal forces indulge in communal propaganda and poison the minds of people and this continues throughout the year without any respite. This helps create communal mindset and even personal disputes between Hindus and Muslims then acquire communal colour and becomes cause of communal violence.

Communal propaganda going on unceasingly becomes greatest obstacle in smooth relationship between two major communities of India. Unfortunately the governments even in the Congress ruled states do not contemplate any action against such propaganda though there are laws prohibiting such propaganda creating ill will between communities. Not only this, there is pronounced bias in text books taught in government as well as private schools from primary to secondary levels. These text-books also help create polarisation in our country. Education has thus become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

One more thing which we observe from description of riots above that these incidents sparking communal violence do not assume major proportions only because political parties do not perceive any political benefit in spreading communal violence and police curbs violence by taking effective action. However, if politicians perceive any direct benefit they immediately exploit the incidents to create major communal flare up. Thus it is mainly politicians who are responsible for major communal flare up. The violence will be contained if politicians do not want and it will assume major proportions, if they desire communal violence for electoral politics like in Mumbai in 1992 and Gujarat in 2002.

It is only proper awareness among people and active role of civil society actors which can help contain major mishaps. We need aware and vibrant civil society to contain outbreak of major communal violence. When civil society gets polarised on communal lines as in Gujarat, it becomes very difficult for civil society to intervene

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014