Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective January 01-15, 2001)
The year 2000 also witnessed number of communal riots like other years. Unfortunately there has been no year free of communal violence despite the BJP s assurances of riot-free India. However, the post-Babri demolition trend of riots on smaller scale continued this year also. In most of the riots only a few human lives were lost. The riots during eighties were most devastating, each riot involving loss of more than 100 lives.
The account for the year 2000 was opened in Azamgarh, U.P. on 27th January when trouble broke out in Shibli College. The mischief began with singing of ôVande Matramö by the All India Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) students which is a student front of BJP. Other students refused to sing and the controversy took dangerous turn when many people were injured and many shops were looted and burnt. Later on two persons were stabbed in Mubarakpur in Azamgarh district. In these disturbances more than 180 persons were arrested.The senior superintendent of police, Azamgarh was transferred. Six companies of para-military forces were deployed to contain the situation.
Ahmedabad is a perennial trouble spot and has become communally a supersensitive area. Even before the BJP government came to power Ahmedabad was quite sensitive and had witnessed many major communal clashes. In fact one of the reasons of the fast growth of BJP in Gujarat has been repeated communal violence. After the BJP captured power in Gujarat the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have become very bold and often indulges in vandalism against minorities and the police remains mute witness. Now it is the VHP which decides whether minorities should stay in a particular area or not. Often it does not even allow Muslims to set up shops in majority dominated areas. Many of us think that we should encourage people to live in cosmopolitan areas to increase interaction between various religious communities but the Sangh Parivar bigots are preventing minorities from settling in Hindu dominated areas.
Thus in Ahmedabad a mob of 40-50 people attacked the newly constructed five story building in Vishwakunj Society near National Institute of Design in Paldi area in Ahmedabad on February 5, 2000 causing damage to property worth 20 lakh of rupees. A car parked nearby was also set on fire. The mob was shouting Jai Shri Ram . They also threatened the care-taker of the building with dire consequences if he revealed their names to the police. The building was owned by one Wasim Kothiwala. A police officer said that a group of Hindus have attacked the building and ransacked it as it is owned by a Muslim and this area is thickly populated by the Hindus.
The violent attack on Muslim families in Paldi once again stirred the communal passions in Ahmedabad. The city police was groping in the dark about this mindless vandalism. The Deputy Commissioner of Police Shri T.S.Bisht said, ôThese vandals are from the same locality and they attacked the families as they do not want these Muslim families in their neighbourhood.
Next, Tonk in Rajasthan witnessed communal frenzy on 20th February when two groups of students clashed with each other. One student was killed. Curfew was clamped on town.More than 8 persons were arrested in this connection. It all began with some quarrel between students of two communities Hindus and Muslims. Thereafter students belonging to one community attacked the students belonging to another community. One student Nasir was severely beaten up who succumbed to his injuries later. Communal tension spread between the two communities as a result of these incidents. Curfew was clamped in Tonk from 5 A.M. These students also tried to destroy the places of worship. About 40 persons were arrested in this connection.
Next in row was Nanded, Maharashtra where Hindus and Muslims clashed over a piece of land on 2nd March, 2000. The trouble erupted when a shop owner belonging to a minority community tried to raise a permanent structure. Twelve shops were gutted seemingly by short-circuiting in one of the shops. It was difficult to say whether it was short-circuiting or a case of setting fire. The piece of disputed land was claimed by Dhangar Samaj and they proposed to build a temple there. A number of communal incidents were caused by property disputes and it could be said that vested interests used religion as a cover for their purposes. Because of this, entire communities got involved in what could be called private property disputes.
The other major cause for communal clashes are Hindu and Muslim festivals. In some or the other place communal trouble erupts on Holi, Ganesh or Durga procession or Tazia procession in Muharram. Thus on the occasion of Holi on 19th March more than five lives were lost in various places in the country. In Farrukhabad district of U.P. alone 2 persons were killed including one woman when people of two communities clashed over the question of throwing colour. In Calcutta three persons died when the police opened fire on the mob consisting of Hindus and Muslims. Of those died one was killed in Howrah area in the police firing. According to the police, one group of people completely drunk was trying to throw colour on unwilling people of another community. When the police tried to prevent it from doing so it began pelting stones on the police. Another incident took place in Hugli district in which one person died and several were injured. The third incident took place in the suburbs of Calcutta when twenty four year old youth was killed as he objected to being smeared with colour.
On the occasion of Holi in Madhupur village of Behraich district 12 persons were badly injured when Hindus and Muslims clashed. The clashes began when some drunkards tried to throw colour on Muslims and they protested. Fifteen persons were arrested in this connection.
After Holi it was turn of Muharram in April 2000. The Muslims took out Tazia processions on 10th day of Muharram to mourn the martyrdom of Husain, the grand son of the Holy Prophet. In Sasaram, Bihar two groups of Muslims clashed over taking out Tazias. The matter went to such an extent that the police had to fire in the air to disperse the clashing mobs. In these clashes about two dozen persons including a police constable were injured. The two groups attacked each other with lethal and fatal weapons.
Varanasi, another communally sensitive area, witnessed eruption of violence on 19th April. Curfew had to be clamped in Varanasi following communal clashes that left one person dead and two others, including a policeman, injured. Two more persons were injured when fresh bout of violence erupted when miscreants hurled bombs in the curfew bound Telabagh area under Chetganj police station. Indefinite curfew had to be clamped on 19th April under Chetganj, Luxa, Dashmasumer Ghat, Chowk and Bhelupura police stations after clashes.
On 19th April evening, a young man was attacked by a group of unidentified people as he was passing through a Muslim neighbourhood. Following that, members of the two communities clashed in the area leading to the fatal stabbing of a 22 year old man, Vinod Kumar Jain, who was merely passing through the neighbourhood on his two wheeler. This led to violence spilling into other neighbourhoods. Situation became very tense and intensive patrolling had to be done and all schools and colleges were closed for two days and examinations postponed in centres falling under curfew bound areas. One more person was arrested in connection with the stabbing incident and number of arrested in various incidents in Varansi reached 61.
Madhepura, Ahmedabad witnessed communal violence on 21 May when two persons were suddenly stabbed while buying vegetables. Hearing this, rival mobs of two hundred each gathered on both sides and began pelting stones. Arson and looting spread to Dudheshwar Cross Roads. A grain shop and a scooter were set on fire and two other shops and a handcart were destroyed. To disperse the mob police threw 15 tear gas shells. A police sub-inspector was also hurt near the chin. The police said it was looking for one Hindu Vishwa Parishad man who had been arrested earlier for his involvement in similar riots in Madhepura a year back
Next communal violence erupted in Kopergaon, Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. It was on 25th May 2000 the communal tension on the question of eve teasing near a dargah and a temple became palpable. Then some persons began to demand that the dargah be removed from there or the Hindus will install an idol near Idgah. It was after this that some elements belonging to Shiv Sena-BJP who began to set fire to Muslim shops. Three bangle shops, two waste material shops, two spare parts shops, one pan shop, one repair garage and one truck, all belonging to Muslims were set on fire. The police, Muslims in Kopergaon alleged, did not help them. It remained mute spectators. It was after 9 P.M. that SRP reached the spot and controlled the situation and enforced Article 144. About 7 persons were arrested but released in the morning.
On 24th June 2000 police post of Yamunapushta, Delhi came under attack as the police arrested one Ishaque and Shah Alam, Bangla Deshis as suspects in a bomb blast. However, people around the place maintained that Ishaque was working during the day and teaching children in the madrasa at night. Then rumour spread that the police had desecrated the Holy Qur an. The Muslims of the area surrounded the police post and began pelting stones. Even lathi charge and tear gas shells did not bring the situation under control. The mob set fire to a motor vehicle of policeparked nearby and ransacked the police post destroying all the records. The police then resorted to firing in which one person Ganga Ram was injured and another person Mujahid 18 was killed. The policemen who were trapped inside escaped death narrowly as the mob thought they were dead and left the place. Two constables coming to the post were also surrounded and beaten up as they were carrying tear gas lobs.
Guntur came under curfew on following a bomb explosion in a mosque on 26th June 2000. According to the police, curfew was clamped on Monday morning in Kothapet, Lalapet and parts of old city areas, while rest of the town continued under prohibitory order under section 144. No reports of violence were received after the curfew was imposed and no arrests were made in connection with the incident. An all party procession was taken out in Mangalagiri town in protest against the explosion in the mosque. Some shops also downed shutters to register their protest.
The Andhra Pradesh government announced a reward of Rs.25 lakhs to anybody providing information about the persons responsible for the attacks on religious institutions in the state. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu who visited the blast site made this announcement after a meeting with religious leaders. He also announced that police protection will be provided at all religious places belonging to minorities. An additional police force including two companies of the RAF were deployed to maintain peace in the area.ö
However, violence did break out in Guntur next day. The Guntur police arrested 30 persons in connection with the torching of buses and attack on APSRTC bus station after the bomb blast in the Markaz Mosque. Some trains were also detained at the Rapatla railway station. A massive procession of about 800 people was also taken out at Tenali.ö
I n Malpura area of Tonk district communal violence broke out on 10th July, 2000 after killing of Kailash Mali who was an accused in the post Babri Demolition riots of December 1992. Apparently it was a revenge killing as Kailash Mali was involved in several cases. However, communal disturbances started after his killing which claimed six lives in Malpura.. After the death of Mali a jeep was discovered according to Gulabsingh Shaktawat, Home Minister of Rajasthan with 4 dead bodies in it. These bodies carried the signs of attacks with sharp weapons. Curfew was clamped in the area and two companies of Armed Constabulary were deployed.
Fresh disturbances broke out in Tonk district on July 12 in which one woman was killed. Indefinite curfew had to be imposed on Tonk district. According to the police a woman was killed and three children injured at a village on the Toda Raisingh Road in Malpura town where communal clashes had claimed 10 lives till Tuesday. The curfew continued for the third day at Malpura and for the second day at the district headquarters, Tonk. Three companies of Rapid Action Force had to be rushed from Delhi for maintaining law and order.
In Ahmedabad particularly in the old city area like Kalupur, Dariapur, Jamalpur communal situation is always extremely fragile. On ordinary incidents Hindus and Muslims start fighting with each other. On July 14 2000, for example, situation became very tense with the rumour of one Muslim youth teasing a Hindu girl. Mobs of more than 500 gathered on both sides and began pelting stones at each other. The police arrested 26 persons and detained 200. At about 8-30 P.M. heavy stone pelting and clashes took place near Nagina Park and Wadilkam area. Officials of Dariapur police rushed to the spot with the SRP jawans, even as a mob of 1000 residents pelted stones on the police officials. The police resorted to tear gas shelling and firing in the air to disperse the mob. However, no one was injured in the firing
However, worse was yet to come on communal front in whole of Gujarat when the VHP gave a call for Gujarat Bandh after killing of about 100 pilgrims in Kashmir allegedly by the extremists. The VHP went on rampage in Gujarat and destroyed properties worth lakhs besides places of worship and dargahs.Many secular activists and NGOs from Gujarat prepared a comprehensive report running over 44 pages titled Saffron On the Rampage- Gujarat s Muslims pay for Lashkar s Deeds..
According to the Report, ôIn Ahmedabad, Surat, Sabarkantha (Lambadiya, Khed Brahma and Modasa villages) and Pahlanpur and Rajkot, Muslim business establishments power looms, granaries, printing presses, shops and godowns were cold-bloodedly targeted by indigenous terrorist squads led by elected representatives belonging to Bhartiya Janata Party, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. In Surat alone, a senior correspondent of the Financial Express has estimated the total damage by the selective destruction through full fledged arson of only Muslim-owned power looms at Rs.10 crores totally. In Modasa Village of Sabarkantha district, of the 63 business establishments charred to nothingness, 51 belonged to Muslims, 12 to Hindus totalling to a loss of not less than Rs. 1.5 crores.ö
The report further says, ôIf Gujarat is Hindutva s laboratory, as the proud proponents of this political ideology have so often declared, what took place in Gujarat on the day of the Bandh on August 3, and for a week thereafter, should be viewed as one more test case of Hindutva in action.ö.
The report continues, ôDespite the fact that many sections closed down businesses and shops on that day fateful day, in support of the outrage against the Amarnath yatris, for the squads of Hindu Rashtra, this was just not enough. Publicly, office bearers of the VHP and BD, and in many cases helped by selected representatives of the BJP, bayed for more blood in revenge for the Amarnath yatris, and got it with the help of the government and the police: destruction worth crores and all the form of property and businesses owned by Muslims in the state.
It is not possible in this report to give all the details of what happened in various places in Gujarat on the fateful day of strike (3rd August). However, it is enough to say that it was display of naked fascism by the Hindutva forces who would never tire to claimthat Hindus were much more tolerant and the BJP, as pointed out earlier, would bring riot-free India in its manifesto. A Dargah was also burnt. According to Deepak Trivedi of Asian Age, ôThe VHP s bandh call officially endorsed by the BJP in Gujarat, took a violent turn when VHP and Bajrang Dal activists carrying saffron flags moved around in different parts of the state forcing people to close shops. Brandishing trishuls and mashaals the activists shouted anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim slogans and attacked people and establishments belonging to minority communities.
According to Trivedi, in Ahmedabad a dargah was razed to the ground opposite the Amdapur police chowky in Nafroda area. The police was a mute witness to the miscreants storming the dargah, breaking the roof and destroying it completely before setting it on fire. No arrests had been made in this case. In another case of vandalism, St.Xaviers School in Meghraj taluka of Sanbarkantha district was attacked by VHP and Bajrang Dal activists. Father Peter was injured in the attack. According to Father Cedric Prakash, the school remained closed in support of the bandh but the miscreants rushed inside the school promises, where over 380 tribal boys and girls were lodged in hostels.
In Surat bandh took violent turn in which several stabbing cases took place and left a student dead. Violence broke out in Surat in the afternoon when the VHP activists tried to force closure of shops. A number of shops were looted and burnt.
Mathura in U.P. witnessed outbreak of communal violence on August 15, 2000. The police resorted to firing in which two persons were killed and 15 others were injured following clashes between Hindus and Muslims. The dead were identified as Kale (12) and Mushtaq (22). The violence took place in front of Govindnagar police station near Krishna Janambhoomi site. The violence was sparked off by a dispute over a plot of land. When Hindus started constructing a wall on a plot of land Muslims objected to it saying that plot was being used as a cemetery under the supervision of the Wakf Board, a claim rebutted by the majority community. The members of the two communities threw crude bombs besides acid-filled bottles at each other. Finally the police had to resort to firing killing two persons.
Nanded in Maharashtra again witnessed violence on 13th September 2000. Four persons were stabbed to death in a fresh outbreak of communal violence and the authorities clamped a dusk to dawn curfew. The four villagers who had come to city were stabbed. About 25 persons were arrested in connection with stabbing incident in the Itwara area of Nanded. The disturbances started apparently when some miscreants threw stones on Ganesh procession from one of the bye-lanes in Itwara area. The news spread like wild fire and large scale riots broke out. When, according to the police, lathi charge proved ineffective it resorted to firing injuring four persons. One of the injured was in critical condition.
The next town to witness communal violence was Biharsharif, a town communally sensitive and which had witnessed communal catastrophe in 1981 in which more than 400 persons had lost their lives. This time it happened on the question of installing a Durga idol on a disputed piece of land on October 9, 2000. Violence broke out and the police opened fire in which one woman Bachia Devi was killed and three others were injured. The police opened fire at several places to quell the mobs in which four persons were injured. Three columns of army and Rapid Action Force and Bihar Military Police had to be employed to quell the disturbances.
Tension had gripped the town on 8th October when thousands of kar sevaks had started building a temple on the disputed site where they had earlier installed an idol of goddess Durga on October 4th. The idol was removed by the authorities later.Enraged by the removal of idol and partial demolition of the construction the frenzied mobs started vandalising private and public properties leading to imposition of curfew. According to eyewitness reports, the members of a community came out defying curfew regulations, blocked streets with burning tyres and wooden logs. The number of arrests went up to 145 following night-long raids in connection with the incidents of arson when shops belonging to the minority community and government officials were attacked. The marble idol of goddess Durga was removed to the police lines and the police authorities asked the organisers either to install it at a private place of their choice or at a place earmarked by the authorities to defuse tension
Azamgarh in U.P. has become sensitive not only from the point of view of Hindu-Muslim conflict but also from the viewpoint of Shia-Sunni mutual problems.On 6th November violence between Shias and Sunnis broke out with great fury in Mubarakpur in Azamgarh district. The police authorities described it as ôwell planned sectarian clashesö.The death toll mounted to 11 and three out of those injured were quite critical. Even after few days after the clashes the situation in Mubarakpur was highly tense. Six companies of PAC and two companies of RAF had to be deployed to maintain peace. Many people thought that the sectarian violence in Mubarakpur was a result of murder of the Shia leader Agha Syed Mahdi in Srinagar. But this could not be confirmed. Even days after the clashes the town was simmering with tension
Communal violence also broke out in number of places after Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee gave a statement that the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya was an expression of national sentiments . Some Hindutvawadis took cue from P.M. s statement and went on rampage in several places like Rae Bareli and Moradabad in U.P. and Nawsari in Gujarat. Nawasari has been very peaceful town and even during communal frenzy in nearby Surat in 1992-1993 it had remained peaceful. It witnessed communal violence almost for the first time.
In Nawsari in South Gujrat communal disturbances broke out on 3rd December in which 14 persons were seriously injured. Indefinite curfew had to be imposed in the town police station area. First disturbances broke out in Alipur area where two communities clashed on the question of cow protection. About 15 shops and hawkers stalls were set ablaze. The police had to fire 15 rounds in air to disperse the mob. There was once case of stabbing also.
In Moradabad the violence broke out on 9th December when a boundary wall of a place of worship was demolished in Galshahid area at the instance of some local politicians. The police had to lathicharge in more than 12 places as the disturbances spread to different areas. About 20 persons were held but no one sustained serious injury.
A Muslim, 45-year-old was beheaded inside the mosque in Trinulveli district in southern Tamil Nadu. Communal tension spread in neighbouring districts also after the gruesome incident. The two unidentified assailants who killed the Muslim made good their escape. However, the police authorities maintained that the situation was under control and police pickets had been put in all sensitive areas. According to the police sources two persons scaled the mosque s wall around 11 p.m.Saturday night and singled out for attack Abdul Rasheed among the three men preparing gruel for Ramzan prayers. Six other persons were sleeping inside the mosque. First a petrol bomb was thrown and thereafter they attacked Rasheed with knives.
Though as a result of Ramjanambhoomi movement the BJP gained tremendous political ground and ultimately succeeded in capturing political power as a major coalition partner, the communal situation eased in the post-Babri demolition period. The decade of eighties was the most dangerous communal decade in post-independence period. It witnessed the most aggressive form of communalism after the partition of the country. The Sangh Parivar went all out during this period to expand its political base by misusing religious and communal issues one after the other.
However, once it came to power at the Centre at the head of coalition it began to downplay communal issues. It wanted to maintain law and order situation under control and also wanted to give a message to Muslims that they will be safe only if the BJP is in power. It even promised to Muslims a riot-free India in its election manifesto of 1999 if it comes to power. Some politicians who made an alliance with the BJP even argued that to ensure riot-free India one should keep BJP in power and hence these otherwise secular parties legitimsed their alliance with it.
However, it would be knave to think that BJP can become secular if it is voted to power. BJP had been provoking communal hatred in order to get Hindu votes but as a ruling party obviously it cannot risk provoking communal violence. It will tarnish its political image. As a ruling party it has to ensure communal peace. But communal peace or absence of communal violence should not be mistaken for communal harmony. To spread communal feelings is the very ideological basis of Sangh Parivar. If communalism and communal ideology remains alive communal violence can be incited whenever needed. The BJP itself is not indulging in communal propaganda. The other members of the Saffron family RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal fill this void. Of late the Christian community has come under attack for conversions.
The BJP for the time being is going soft on Muslims. It is even following Mrs.Gandhi s policies of early eighties in reverse. Mrs.Indira Gandhi who traditionally depended on minority votes tried to switch over to the Hindu votes to compensate for its loss of popularity among the Muslims. The BJP who is witnessing loss of popularity among the Hindus is now appealing to Muslims to come closer to it and repose confidence in it. The wooing of Muslims by the BJP thus can be compared with the wooing of Hindus by Mrs.Gandhi. These are political games which the politicians play to come to power. People of this or that community are used as vote-banks and object of rather than subject of politics.
Democracy should be an effective tool for empowerment of people but it is rather used for empowering politicians at the cost of the people. The Congress always used Muslims as vote-bank. The Congress in its long rule hardly did anything to solve acute problems of Muslims. Muslims in India are very poor and backward. Their main problems are economic and educational. But the ruling parties did nothing substantial in these fields. Only promises were made. The literacy rate among Muslims tends to be around 35% and among Muslim women it is even more depressing not more than 18 per cent. Their share in political power and in government jobs is also very dismal. Though the Muslim population is more than 12 per cent (according to 1991 census) and may touch 15% level in 2001 census, number of M.P.s (members of parliament) is usually around 5 per cent. In state assemblies also it is no different
Even at the lowest level of government jobs class three and class four jobs their share does not go beyond 6 to 7% and at the level of higher administrative positions like the IAS it is no more than 3-4 per cent. It is true it is difficult to find qualified Muslims for various jobs and the Muslim leaders also have done near to nothing to disseminate education among the Muslim masses. But Union and State Governments have also done nothing to redeem the situation. They make all promises at the time of elections but except repeating these promises during next elections hardly anything happens. The Muslim grievances are quite justified. They hardly have any share in power as the largest minority in India. The share, if any, is woefully inadequate.
Thousands of Muslims not only participated in freedom struggle in India and made great sacrifices but also vigorously opposed creation of Pakistan. They dreamt of secular India hoping for creation of just society where they will be not only able to follow their religion but also share power on equitable basis. However, things did not go that way. Though Jawaherlal Nehru was committed to justice to minorities in independent India other Congress leaders were not. The majority in the Congress did not share Nehru s commitment. Also, creation of Pakistan marred to an extent, the future of Muslims in India. It created powerful prejudices in the minds of Hindus and Indian Muslims were seen as more loyal to Pakistan than to India and they generalised few such instances to reinforce the conclusion which they already had drawn.
The Muslims also did not draw up proper strategy for their own advancement in secular India. Their leaders, as pointed out before, cared more for religion and identity-related problems than the education and economic progress-related ones. These leaders always looked to the past then to future. They negotiated deals with political parties mainly the Congress to preserve their past heritage than to build future for the Muslim masses. Now it is dawning on Muslims that apart from preserving their Islamic identity they also have to carve out their niche in democratic secular India. Though still the emphasis is on building madrasas but more and more secular educational institutions are also coming up. More and more Muslims are realising that girl education is also very important for their progress. A new middle class is also slowly coming into existence which is increasingly championing the cause of modern education. Pressures are also building up from below for certain necessary changes in the status of women, particularly certain necessary changes in the shari`ah law as it operates in India.
Though still there is mass poverty among the Muslims, particularly among the lower caste Muslims, they have turned the corner and many of them are striving for upward mobility. However, they have far to go and many powerful obstacles to overcome. It is certainly convoluted way to forge ahead. Even the BJP has discovered that anti-Muslim tirade cannot yield more results and is negotiating a new political space which is likely to have some place for Muslims though it is not easy for it to do this. It s ideological mentor RSS may not allow it to do this. Much will depend on the response of its Hindu voters to this new orientation of the moderate section of the BJP leadership. It will be tested in coming elections particularly in U.P.
Whether the BJP forges ahead with its new Muslim policy or not the Muslims have to sink or swim in the Indian political ocean and from all available signs it appears Muslim masses have decided to swim even if the ocean is choppy. If right now the future of Muslims is not bright it is not dismal either. Given little more wisdom and pragmatic approach Muslims can succeed in shaping their future in democratic India even if its secularism is undulating.
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