PUCL Bulletin, November 2001

Police blamed for Malegaon violence
The Hindu, Nov 11, 2001

A non-official probe team has criticised the police
handling of the communal violence in Malegaon in
Maharashtra's Nasik district. A joint fact-finding
committee constituted by the Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana
(LHS) and the Committee for the Protection of
Democratic Rights (CPDR), in its preliminary report,
said a peaceful anti-war protest was suppressed by the
State. It also alleged that there was complete
communalisation of the police.

The team, which visited the riot-affected areas of
Malegaon and Satana towns and the villages of Patne,
Ajang, Wadner (Khakhurdi), Nampur, Talavde and
Antapur, said rumours spread by political parties and
communal organisations were responsible for the spread
of the rioting. The police reaction was brutal and
one-sided; rioters belonging to Hindu communal
organisations were allowed to move about freely, it

The committee demanded punitive action against the
policemen who acted communally and provoked further

Out of Malegaon's population of 6.5 lakhs, over 70 per
cent are Muslims. On October 19, Mr. Nihal Ahmed, a
former MLA, had led a morcha to protest the U.S.
bombing of Afghanistan. The processionists were
arrested, but later released. After the Friday prayers
on October 26 afternoon, when people were coming out
of the Jama Masjid, a man started distributing
pamphlets in Urdu titled ``Be Indian, Buy Indian'',
which called for a boycott of American and British
products to protest the bombings.

A State Reserve Police constable grabbed a pamphlet,
tore it up and assaulted the man and dragged him
towards the police van. This angered the crowd. The
Imam of the Jama Masjid, Mufti Mohammed Ismael, rushed
out and tried to disperse the crowd. He was soon
joined by Mr. Suresh Ahire, Superintendent of Police,
Mr. R.K. Rathod, Deputy Superintendent of Police, and
Mr. Sheikh Rashid, Congress MLA of Malegaon. The
moment Mr. Rashid arrived, a section of the crowd
started shouting that he should leave. They managed to
get the pamphleteer released. In the melee, a part of
the Navaratri pandal put up near the Masjid was
damaged. The police then lathi-charged the crowd,
which responded with stone-throwing.

The committee said it was reported that no sooner had
the crowd been chased out of the Jama Masjid area that
a huge group headed by leaders of the Shiv
Sena-spawned Jaanta Raja Mitra Mandal arrived and
staged a demonstration to protest the damaging of the
Navaratri pandal. Soon thereafter, this crowd moved
towards the Sangameshwar Masjid, destroying shops in
front of it. The numbers swelled as it went along
leaving a trail of selective destruction in their
path, the report said.

In the meanwhile, the police continued the lathi-
charge on the ``namaazis'' and drove them towards
Kidwai Road and Mohammed Ali Road area - the main
bazaar area of Malegaon city. As Friday was bazaar
day, the ``namaazis'' were joined by many of those who
had come to shop. Then, according to the police, a
section of the crowd torched a shop on Mohammed Ali
Road. The police then opened fire, leaving three dead
and 10 injured. One of those killed was Bilkees Bano
(52), who was hit by a bullet while she was hanging
out her washing on the first floor balcony of her
house on Mohammed Ali Road.

From Friday evening through Saturday to Sunday, Hindu
and Muslim mobs went on the rampage burning and
looting shops, industrial units, powerlooms and
vehicles belonging to the other community. The police
opened fire yet again on Friday night in the Azad
Nagar area. They claim they were challenged by a
stone- throwing mob of Muslims. Two young men were
killed. On Sunday, October 28, the police opened fire
near the Mira Datar Dargah to disperse a mob, killing
two men.

All those killed in police firing were Muslims. The
police and everyone the team spoke to admitted that
most of the property destroyed belonged to Muslims.
Apart from those killed in police firing, two persons,
a Hindu and a Muslim, were murdered in the riots.

Most of the people whom the probe team interviewed
felt that had the police not suppressed the
distribution of the pamphlet and had they not resorted
to a lathicharge so insensitively in response to the
demand of the crowd to release the pamphleteer, the
subsequent events would not have taken place. Many
Muslims the team met said that when they rang up the
police station for help, the policeman would ask them
their names and, on hearing that they were Muslims,
put the phone down. Some Muslims who lost their shops
in the arson and looting complained that even though
policemen were present on the scene, they did not stop
the destruction.

While in Malegaon town, both Hindus and Muslims
suffered loss of property, in the villages only
Muslims were attacked. Muslims are a minority in the
villages of Malegaon taluka, Satana, Kalvan and Deola.
The probe team was told that from October 27, mobs
went on a looting and burning spree from village to
village. They mobilised support by spreading rumours
that Hindus were being targeted.

Most Muslims have not returned to their villages since
they fled the attacks. Those the team met in the
refugee camps in Satana were not confident about going
back. Some were contemplating shifting to the
comparative safety of the town.

The probe team comprised Mr. Vijay Hiremath, advocate,
Mr. Kannan Srinivasan, researcher, Mr. Sakharam Sathe
and Ms. Jennifer Coutinho, members, CPDR; and Sanober
Keshwaar and Ms. Angel Mary, members, LHS.