PUCL Bulletin, December 2001

Police suppress an anti-war protest and provoke communal riots in Malegoan, Maharashtra

Friday, the 9th November, 2001

Also see,
Concerned Citizen's Inquiry Report in to Malegaon Riots
Police blamed for Malegaon violence, The Hindu Nov 11, 2001

A preliminary report by the joint Fact Finding Committee constituted by the Lokshahi Hakk Sanghatana (LHS) and the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR)

Members: Vijay Hiremath, Advocate; Kannan Srinivasan, researcher; Sakharam Sathe, Jennifer Coutinho, members, CPDR; Sanober Keshwaar, Angel Mary, members, LHS.

The terms of reference of the enquiry were as follows:

  • 1. (a) To enquire into the police firing on the 26th October 2001 in
    Malegaon, Nasik District (b) To ascertain and record facts about the killings and injuries, loss of property following the firing and to ascertain the cause of the subsequent riots
  • 2. To record the local context of the incident, to gauge the
    sentiments of the people of the area, to investigate the forces at work in
    Malegaon, and to place all these in the context of the politics at the
    state and national level at this point in time.
  • 3. To review and record the State's response to the incident and the
    response of the people.

The teams visited the riot affected areas of Malegaon, and Satana town
and the nearby villages of Patne, Ajang, Wadner (Khakhurdi), Nampur,
Talavde and Antapur.

The team met the victims of police firing and of
attacks by communal organisations, the Additional Superintendent of
Police, local journalists, politicians, social workers and visited the
Farhan Hospital.

About Malegaon
Malegaon, in the Nasik District of Maharashtra, is one of the 3 main
powerloom towns in the state. It is famous for its lungis and coloured
saris. It first grew in the late 19th century when large numbers of Muslim
weavers fled here from North India to escape the repression unleashed by
the British in the aftermath of the First War of Indian Independence in
1857. They settled here and at Bhiwandi, the other town on the Agra Road,
and over time these two towns became powerloom centres. Malegaon lies in
the Nasik district of Maharashtra. Out of its population of 6.5 lakhs,
over 70% are Muslims.

Most of them are Ansari Muslims -- descendants of the weavers who settled here over a century ago --and they still have links with their original homeland, now in Uttar Pradesh. Their mother tongue is Urdu. The rest are local Maharashtrians called Dakhani Muslims (i.e. from the Deccan) who consider their mother tongue to be Marathi. Though there is amity between these two kinds of Muslims, there is, however, no intermarriage between them.

Ninety per cent of the powerlooms are owned by Ansari Muslims, but the
loom workers are mainly Dakhani Muslims and Hindus from nearby villages
such as Soyegaon and Dyanegaon. There are no unions of the workers in
evidence here, though Nihal Ahmed has organised them in the past. The
traders in Malegaon are mostly Marwaris and Gujaratis: they supply the raw
materials to the loom owners and then buy the finished product from them.
The Union Home Ministry has long ago described Malegaon as an
"ultra-sensitive" spot, mainly because of its large Muslim population.
Some residents said that the atmosphere here is always tense, and small
skirmishes take place often. One major reason pointed out for this is that
there are hardly any recreational facilities or spaces for the citizens to
let off steam.

Background to the riot
The tension in Malegaon has been building up for the last many months.
Early this year, the Muslims were hurt over the incident of the burning of
the Koran in Delhi. Then a liquor bottle was thrown into a local masjid
to provoke a riot. A quarrel between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy of
Karajgaon was falsely reported as a rape. The bombing of Afghanistan by
the US and Britain has angered the Muslims, as it has all democratic-minded people.

Nihal Ahmed led a morcha on October 19th, 2001, to protest against the war
-- the processionists were arrested, but later released by the police.
This sparked rumours all over the city that all Muslims were supporters of
Osama bin Laden and therefore of terrorism. All these incidents reinforced
the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists and anti-nationals in the minds
of common Hindus and created a sense of being wronged, and persecuted
unfairly, in the minds of common Muslims.

Generally deteriorating economic conditions have also raised levels of
stress for residents here. The powerloom industry has been in recession
for the last 8 months with only 50% of the looms operating. The situation
was slated to improve slightly , when the riots took place. Now, people
say, the economy has been set back by many months. People are out of jobs,
youth cannot find employment and everything is getting dearer. Mr Raj
Vardhan, the Additional Superintendent of Police, opined that "The
economic problem has created a schism between Hindus and Muslims --each
feels that the other is somehow responsible for their economic downslide."

It is in this context that we must see the events which sparked off the
riots in Malegaon city.

Sequence of Events
Events were really sparked off by the suppression of an anti-war protest
by local Muslims by the SRP (state reserve police) and the police. The
anti-Muslim sentiment in these state forces manifested itself in
unwarranted lathi-charges and the consequent firing which killed many
innocent Muslims.

We have tried to reconstruct events below.
After Nihal Ahmed's morcha on October 19th, a SRP van was stationed
outside the Jama Masjid (the biggest masjid in Malegaon) after the Friday prayers. At 2.15 p.m. on 26th October (Friday) when people were coming out of the Jama Masjid after the Juma prayers, a young man started distributing pamphlets in Urdu entitled "Be Indian, Buy Indian" which exhorted Indians to boycott American and British products in protest against the bombing of Afghanistan. (Even the Mr. Raj Vardhan, present Additional Superintendent of
Police, then posted to ---- found nothing objectionable in the pamphlet
whatsoever.)

An SRP constable grabbed a pamphlet from the distributor, tore it up and
assaulted the man, whom the SRP constables then arrested and dragged towards the van. This angered the crowd who immediately rushed to get the pamphleteer released.

Hearing the commotion, the Imam of the Jama Masjid, Mufti Mohammed Ismael, rushed out of the Masjid and tried to disperse the crowd around the SRP van. He was soon joined by Suresh Ahire, the Superintendent of Police,
R.K.Rathod, the Deputy Superintendent of Police and Sheikh Rashid, the
Congress MLA of Malegaon. The moment Sheikh Rashid arrived on the spot, a
section of the crowd started shouting and clamouring for him to go back
and became restive. They managed to get the pamphleteer released from the
clutches of the police. In the melee, this section also damaged part of
the Navratri pandal which had been put up near the Masjid. The police then
lathi-charged the crowd and chased them out of the Jama Masjid area. The
crowd responded to this attack by pelting stones at the police and the
police kept lathi-charging and pushing them back.

It is reported that no sooner had the crowd been chased out of the Jama
Masjid area by the police than a huge group of Hindus led by Dada Bhuse
(the chief of the Shiv Sena-spawned outfit called Jaanta Raja) arrived on
the scene and held a demonstration to protest the damaging of the
Navratri pandal by the Muslims. Soon thereafter, this crowd moved towards
the Sangameshwar masjid destroying Muslims' shops in front of it. Their
numbers swelled as they went along leaving a trail of selective
destruction in their path.

In the meanwhile, the police continued the lathi-charge on the namaazis
and drove them towards

the Kidwai Road and Mohammed Ali Road area -- which is the main Bazaar
area of Malegaon city and is about half a kilometre away from the Jama
Masjid. As Friday was Bazaar day in Malegaon, the crowd of namaazis was
joined here by many people who had come to shop in the bazaar.
Then, according to the police, a section of the crowd torched the Gupta
Dairy shop on Mohammed Ali Road after bringing out all the property from
inside the shop and burning it on the street.

The police then opened fire, firing a total of 35 rounds, leaving three
dead and 10 injured. One bullet pierced Bilkees Bano (52 years) in the
chest while she was hanging out her washing on the first floor balcony of
her house on Mohammed Ali Road. She died in hospital soon thereafter.
Ijaz Baig Aziz Baig, the President of the Malegaon Municipality, was
witness to the police firing. He saw a young man on the street, later
identified as Ibrahim, get shot in the head and immediately slump to the
ground. Whilst people were running helter-skelter, another young man came
to pick up the bleeding Ibrahim but he too was shot down. This young man
was identified later as Shafique Azizullah, 23 years, a vendor of ready
made garments. The police did not bother to pick up the dead and injured
and take them to hospital. It was the people who did this.

Baig stated that at the time of the firing the Tehsildar, Mr. Sapkale, and
the SP, Mr. Suresh Ahire were present on the spot.

The news that three people had been killed in police firing and several
others wounded spread like wildfire and the Muslim populace got incensed.
Consequent to this, the Imams of all the masjids in Malegaon began to call
the azaan beginning that evening right through the night. This is a
practice in times of emergency to give succour to the people, as in time
of floods, earthquakes, etc.

From Friday evening through Saturday to Sunday, Hindu and Muslim mobs went
on a rampage in the town burning and looting shops, industrial units,
powerlooms and vehicles belonging to each others communities.

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.
Thirty-two rounds were fired here leaving two young men killed. One of the
victims was Mohammed Salim Shahadat Hussain, a loomworker of 25, who is
survived by a young wife and two infant children. The other victim was
also a 22 year old loomworker named Rafique Shah Hamid Shah who was the
only breadwinner of his family. Three more youth were hit by bullets but
they survived.

On Sunday, 28th of October, the police opened fire once more near the Mira
Datar Dargah in the early evening at 4.30 p.m. A police van came to be
stationed next to the dargah and a nearby masjid and someone spread the
rumour in the surrounding slums that the police had come to destroy the
masjid. This rumour was believed because some other masjids had been
desecrated in the past two days. So hundreds of people collected and went
towards the dargah and masjid to protect it from destruction. The police
called for more force and another van arrived on the spot and started
firing into the crowd. 24 rounds were fired killing two men. One of the
victims was Ahmed Khan Murad Khan, a 22 year old stove repairer, who was
hit in the chest and died on the spot. The other victim was Sheikh Riyaz
Sheikh Safiuddin, a 17 year old loomworker, who also was shot in the chest
but died later in the Farhan Hospital.

Destruction
On Friday itself a Hindu mob completely destroyed one of the bigger
powerloom units in Malegaon, the Diamond Mill, and all the small houses of
people in the compound. This powerloom unit was owned by Haji Zahir Ahmed
and Salik Rizvi and employed 300 loom workers. They also damaged the
masjid in the Diamond Mill compound and burnt down all the vehicles parked
there.

On Friday at 6 p.m., the A1 Bakery, owned by Mohammedbhai Kutchi, was
burnt down. The damage to this and another bakery is estimated the damage
to be 20 lakhs. A large warehouse was destroyed on the Old Agra Road, a
lorry and a forklift truck were also burnt down within its compound. The
Proprietor, Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed Yasim estimates the damage to amount to Rupees 25 - 30 lakhs. The team visited the Paltan Masjid in the Camp area which has been severely damaged due to arson committed around 6 p.m. on Friday 26th. There is a police chowkey just outside the Masjid. The mob went up to the minarets, damaged them and destroyed the speakers used to call the azaan. The team visited the Apni bakery in Malegaon Camp which
was burnt down. At the Mohammed Baug Bada Kabrastan in Camp which the team visited, the team saw twelve graves smashed up and the main building
severely damaged by fire. Workers say that this was done by a mob
shouting "Jai Bhavani". There is a large Shiv Sena poster just outside the
Kabrastan. The team visited Jain Plastics, an industrial unit
manufacturing agricultural pipes, owned by Abdul Jalil Ghulam Mohammed,
which was completely gutted. The damage here has been estimated as Rupees sixteen lakhs.

The team also visited the Navkiran Powerloom Co-operative in Dyane village
on the outskirts of Malegaon headed by Nimba Kadam, where extensive damage was done by what observers claim was a Muslim mob. The extent of the damage is estimated at Rupees sixty lakhs, which includes a pre-powerloom processing unit. About thirty lakhs was insured. The team also visited Datta Mandir at Dyane where the idol was taken out and destroyed.

The ones who survived the firings
At Farhan Hospital, the team met Rizwan Ahmed Iqbal Ahmed, 23 years, who
had gone to buy clothes on Kidwai Road and was shot in the leg by the
police. Saeed Ahmed Saeed Kader, 22 years, a hotel worker, was
speechless. He was hit in the right hand and in the stomach whilst he was
passing by on Mohammed Ali Road. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, 23, powerloom
worker, was shot in the foot and, as a result, his leg has been amputated.
Ashfaque Ahmed Abdul Khalil, 17 years, had gone shopping to Kidwai Road to
buy provisions for his mother when he was shot through the lung. Mohammed
Farooq Abdul Jabar, 39 years old, a powerloom worker, had gone to collect
his weekly salary when he was shot in the stomach. Abdul Hamid Khan Abdul
Khalil Khan, a young boy, was shot in the head on Friday night. Irfan Amin
Mohammed Amin, 17 years, a pan shop worker, was shot in the right thigh
whilst at Kidwai Road. Mohammed Ibrahim Mukhtar Iquilabi, 18 years, loom
worker, shot in the left arm on Sunday, 28th in the maidan in the Mira
Datar Nagar area. The team interviewed Dr. Sayyid Ahmed Farhani, the head
of the hospital.

The Police estimate that in Malegaon town the total loss amounted to
thirteen crore eighteen lakh one thousand six hundred and eighty four
rupees.

The police and every one we spoke to admitted that most of the property
destroyed belonged to the Muslims.

Murders during the riots
Apart from the twelve people killed in police firing, two people, one
Hindu and one Muslim, were murdered in the midst of the riots.

On Friday 26th October, at around 9 p.m., the mob that destroyed the
houses and powerloom unit in Diamond Mill compound, stabbed to death a
former Municipal Councillor named Khalil Ahmed Haji Mohammed Saeed there
itself. Khalil Ahmed was a much loved and much respected local leader and
was 47 years old. He was stabbed whilst he was trying to reason with the
crowd not to destroy the masjid which is situated in the compound and
where he had just offered evening prayers. His murder was witnessed by his
borther, Jalil, who himself too was attacked but survived. Jalil, in his
statement to the police, implicated Dada Bhuse and a former Shiv Sena
councillor named Suresh Gawli, in the murder of his brother.

On Friday itself, a middle aged Hindu rickshaw driver named Bapu Bacchav
was murdered at Kalikutti sometime in the night. Bacchav used to live in
the predominantly Hindu area of Sriram Nagar (which is a known Shiv Sena
stronghold) and was a former vice-President of the Shiv Sena shakha in
Malegaon town. According to his mother, the people of his area came to him
armed with sticks on Friday night and asked him to lead them to fight with
a mob of Muslims who had amassed on the other side of the river behind
their area. Just as the Sriram Nagar mob was crossing the river to take on
the Muslims, the SP Ahire arrived on the spot and fired in the air to
disperse the crowd. Everyone then rushed back to their homes except for
Bapu Bacchav. When he did not return, people began searching for him and
found his dead body at Kalikutti nearby -- he had been killed by a sword
wound on his head.


Anti-Muslim Attitude of the Police
That the prejudice of the police against Muslims in general can take a
very dangerous and destructive turn was evidenced in the Bombay riots of
1992-93 and well documented in the reports by independent bodies as well
as the Srikrishna Commission. That public condemnation and criminal
prosecution (albeit delayed and half-hearted) have not dimmed the police's
hatred of Muslims can be seen in their behaviour in Malegaon.

  1. Most people of Malegaon whom we interviewed feel that had the SRP
    not suppressed the distribution of the pamphlet, and had the police not
    resorted to lathi charge so insensitively in response to the demand of the
    crowd to release the arrested pamhleteer, subsequent events would not have taken place. In people's minds, it was ultimately the shooting at Mohammed Ali Road which triggered the rioting.
  2. Mobs from both communities indulged in arson and looting of shops
    and houses of the other community. Most of the property destroyed was that of Muslims. But all those who died in police firing are Muslims, without a single exception. The police did not fire on marauding Hindus mobs, only on Muslim mobs. When the team asked Mr. Raj Vardhan to explain this anomaly, he accepted the truth of this fact but could not offer any explanation.
  3. Many Muslims we met said that when they rang up the police station
    for help when their property was being destroyed, the policeman would ask them their names and, on hearing that they were Muslims, promptly put the phone down. If at all they answered, they replied that they could not help due to lack of force.
  4. There are two blood banks in Malegaon - one called the Ansar Blood
    Bank which is in a Muslim locality and the other is Bhavsar's Blood Bank
    which is in a Hindu locality. The Ansar Blood Bank is open 24 hours, but
    was compelled to close down for two full days during the riots when its
    services were needed the most. Around midnight on Friday the 26th, the
    police arrested Dr. Riyaz who was running the bank on the night shift and
    took him away. As curfew was clamped, the other doctor in charge could not come to take his place, with the result that no blood was available for
    those wounded and dying in the police firing. When questioned about Dr.
    Riyaz's arrest, the police stated that they arrested him because he was a
    known instigator of Muslim youth. It was only after two public-spirited
    citizens took the initiative and made a curfew pass for Dr. Haroon, the
    other doctor who also works at the blood bank, that the blood bank started functioning again.
  5. Several shops of Muslims right outside and next to the Chawni
    Police Station have been completely gutted. It is a strange sight as one
    should imagine that the police would normally take prompt action against
    any arson at least in their own backyard. Here is an evident case for
    disciplinary action against the concerned policemen.
  6. Some Muslims who had lost their shops in the arson and looting
    complained that even though policemen were present on the scene, they did not lift a finger to stop the destruction from taking place.

Attacks in the villages
In the city, both Hindus and Muslims suffered loss of property, but in the
villages it was only the Muslim community that was attacked.
Muslims are a minority in the villages of Malegaon taluka and the other
nearby talukas such as Satana, Kalvan and Deola. There are, on an
average, about 25 to 30 families of Muslims in each village. From 27th
October onwards, mobs of around 500 Hindu youth led by the Shiv Sena and
Jaanta Raja leaders went on a looting and burning spree from village to
village.

People were mobilized by the spread of vicious rumours such as
the following: that Muslims had cut the breasts of Hindu women in Malegaon
and then inscribed the name of Osama bin Laden on them; that Muslim men
had stripped and raped Hindu women and were keeping them confined in a
masjid where they were being repeatedly raped; that Muslim men had slit
the stomach of pregnant Hindu woman and yanked out the foetus with a
sword; that Muslims had destroyed mandirs and killed a pujari
These rumours, according to the villagers interviewed and Mr. Raj Vardhan,
were spread by some people who travelled from village to village in a
vehicle.

They were also reportedly spread by villagers who were returning
home from the Friday Bazaar at Malegaon and who had to suffer a lot of
inconvenience due to the curfew and the rioting. People also told us that
one Dr. Surana, the President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of Deola
Taluka, addressed a public meeting in Deola on 29th October where he
described how Muslims had cut the breasts of Hindu women and stuck bin
Laden's picture on them.

Such inflammatory rumours and false stories played an effective role in
mobilising Hindu youth to join the Jaanta Raja and Shiv Sena rioters in
attacking Muslims in the villages.

The mob would descend on the village shouting slogans like "Jai Bhavani"
and Jai Shivaji" armed with petrol cans and swords and lathis. Local
recruits would identify houses of Muslims which would then be surrounded
and threatened. The Muslims inside would be permitted to slip away to
safety from the back door and after that, the mob would loot the house,
smash the TV if there was one, take away all the grain, and then burn any
vehicle the family owned. Furniture and other possessions were either
brought out into the street and burned or were destroyed in the house
itself.

In the villages where the attacks have taken place, the local masjid has
been damaged or destroyed in almost all cases we investigated. In Nampur
village (Indira Nagar), a madrassa where 150 Muslim youth were studying
has been damaged.

About Jaanta Raja
The Jaanta Raja Mitra Mandal is an organisation set up by some members of
the Shiv Sena some years ago by a friend and admirer of the Thane Shiv
Sena leader the late Anand Dighe. The Jaanta Raja in this area was set up
by one Dada Bhuse, a 40 year old civil engineer who resigned his job with
the State Government Irrigation Department some years ago to become a
builder and businessman.

Jaanta Raja members undertake social service in the villages, settling
petty problems of the villagers and providing help in small ways. Most of
its members are young men. Its influence has grown after these riots and
the attacks on the villages and the common Hindu villager perceives them
as saviours -- they feel that if the Jaanta Raja had not attacked first,
then the Muslims would have surely finished them off.

There are some cases of beating up of some Muslim women by the Jaanta Raja troopers in some villages. In Nampur village, two women named Sabiha Moosa Saeed (who is six months' pregnant) and Shugrahi Raj Saeed were chased out of their home by the attackers and beaten with big sticks. When the team met these women, their bodies bore marks of the beating. But by and
large the attackers concentrated on first scaring the Muslims so that they
would flee their homes; and then looting and burning their property. Some
Muslims told us that the policy of the Jaanta Raja is not to kill
Muslims, but to finish them off economically and frighten them into
submission as second class citizens.

Most Muslims have not as yet returned to their villages since they fled
after the attacks. Those whom we met in the refugee camps in Satana were
feeling very insecure and were not confident of going back to live in
their villages. They have lost everything in the attacks and the
subsequent looting and burning.

Some of them are seriously contemplating shifting to the city where they
will be comparatively safer in Muslim localities. Those who have land in
the villages will most probably sell it off at throwaway prices and then
shift to the city.

Communal amity in the midst of communal madness
There have been many instances of communal amity in the midst of this
communal madness. In most villages, some Hindu neighbour or other gave
shelter to Muslim families on the run from the looters and then escorted
them to safety. For example, Anjana and Suresh Nikam of Ajang village gave
shelter to ten Muslim neighbours during the attack on 27th October. When
they intervened to stop the attacks on the Muslims, they were threatened
with death by the marauders. In Wadner village, some Hindu families gave
shelter to their Muslim neighbours and then escorted them to their
relatives' houses in Malegaon.

In Malegaon camp area, Dr. Yeshwant Deore risked his life to escort young
Muslim children home and young men of a Muslim family that resides in his
area, which is predominantly Hindu. Because of this, he was accosted in
the street and asked whether he was a Hindu or not and told that if he
were a Hindu, then he should not be helping Muslims.

In the village of Ajmer Soundana in Satana taluka, no attacks could take
place because the police patil and sarpanch of the village took prompt
action by telling each and every family not to believe rumours which were
floating about and not to harm their Muslim brethren in any way.

Conclusions
A peaceful anti war protest, asking that foreign goods be boycotted: "Be
Indian, buy Indian", was suppressed by the State.

So complete is the communalisation of the police and the paramilitary
organisations that all Muslims were portrayed as pro-Bin Laden, supporters
of terrorism. This action of the police gave rise to a communal tension
and subsequent riots.

Rumours spread by political parties and communal organisations were
responsible for the spread of the rioting and the continuing attacks on
minorities.

The police reaction was brutal and one-sided. Rioters belonging to Hindu
communal organisations moved around freely, and there was no attempt to
curb them.

Political leaders have sought mileage from this fresh polarisation of the
two communities; there may now be electoral advantage for more than one
political party.

The attacks in the villages were organised by Jaanta Raja, and have been
uncurbed by the local police.

Demands

  • We demand punitive action against those policemen who acted
    communally and provoked further communal tension.
  • Action, both departmental and criminal, should be taken against
    those policemen involved in communal acts of commission and omission
    during the riots in Malegaon and the villages.
  • Criminal attacks on inhabitants of Malegaon, businesses in
    Malegaon and villagers across the district should be investigated and
    punished.
  • Government relief camps have to be set up for those who fled the
    villages and have therefore been displaced; since all those relief camps
    presently functioning in Malegaon depend on private initiative and limited
    resources of community organisations.
  • Adequate compensation for all the dead and injured should be paid
    promptly by the Government.
  • Compensation for those whose property has been destroyed should
    likewise be paid.
  • The terms of reference of the judicial enquiry ordered by the
    Government should include coverage of all the riot-affected villages,
    police acts of commission and omission, and the role of political parties
    and communal organisations.

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